Real Salt Lake-Sounders FC Preview

National Sports

Brian Schmetzer is treating Tuesday’s first round showdown with Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup Playoffs as his side’s 35th “final” of the campaign.

The Sounders are competing in the postseason for a 13th season running and are aiming to go one better than last term’s runners-up finish.

Seattle finished second in the Western Conference after 34 regular-season matches, but they are winless in six games and Schmetzer accepts the pressure is on against RSL.

“We treat every game like a final,” he said. “I know it’s difficult to say a game on March 3 is the same as this playoff game, but the message is the same: Every game counts.

“Each game has a nuance, and there is more pressure in this game, which we’ve discussed between us, but the message is that we have to go into this game believing we can win it.”

Real Salt Lake finished seventh in the Western Conference to return to the playoffs after missing out last season.

Like opponents Seattle, RSL have had a two-and-a-half week break between games, and interim boss Pablo Mastroeni hopes he has found the right balance in training.

“It’s been interesting. There’s obviously been a lot of time between games,” he said. “It’s about making sure you train well and have the right amount of rest.

“But we’re looking sharp in training now that we can feel the game. The players are switched on. The regular season is about learning lessons on and off the field. You learn from certain moments.

“Now the stage has been set for these guys to play the game they love and represent the club in a game they love.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Seattle Sounders FC – Raul Ruidiaz

Ruidiaz rounded off the regular season with three goals in his final two appearances to take his tally to 17 for the campaign – only Ola Kamara and Valentin Castellanos (both 19) scored more, having both played more times.

That includes a goal in the Sounders’ 2-1 home win against RSL in June, though he fired a blank when the sides last faced off two months ago in a 1-0 win for Real Salt Lake.

Real Salt Lake – Damir Kreilach

Kreilach is Real Salt Lake’s leading scorer in 2021 with 16 goals – just one shy of Alvaro Saborio’s single season club record set in 2012 – with an MLS-high seven of those coming via headers.

The former Union Berlin player has been involved in five of RSL’s eight playoff goals since 2014 (four goals and one assist), making him the man for Seattle to keep a close eye on.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Real Salt Lake won the last meeting between the sides, a 1-0 home win on September 18, but the Sounders have won each of the last four meetings between the sides in Seattle, including in the 2019 playoffs. In fact, Seattle have recorded wins in 11 of their last 12 home games against RSL, with Salt Lake’s 1-0 win in May 2018 their only result at Lumen Field in the last nine seasons.

– This will be the fourth postseason meeting between Seattle and Real Salt Lake, the first not in the conference semi-finals, with the Sounders advancing in 2012 and 2019 and RSL moving on in 2011. RSL scored three times in the first playoff game between the sides but have been shut out in the four games since.

– Seattle return to the playoffs for the 13th time in their 13-year MLS existence, the longest streak in MLS history. The Sounders have dominated at Lumen Field in the playoffs, winning a league-record 15 consecutive home playoff matches dating back to the 2014 Western Conference Final. Seattle have scored 37 goals in those 15 games, scoring at least three times in eight of them.

– Real Salt Lake are back in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons after missing out last year. RSL got in thanks to wins in their last two away matches, at Dallas and Kansas City, their first consecutive road wins since August 2018. RSL have not won three consecutive away matches (including playoffs) since July-August 2017.

– Nicolas Lodeiro, who was limited to nine games this season, has been Seattle’s talisman in the playoffs. Lodeiro contributed to a goal in eight straight playoff matches from second leg of the 2018 Conference Finals through last season’s Conference Final (four goals, eight assists), before the Sounders were shut out in MLS Cup. Lodeiro has 13 goal contributions (six goals, seven assists) in 12 playoff games at Lumen Field.

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