SANDY — Every team in MLS knows the best way to disrupt Real Salt Lake's possession attack is to frustrate midfielder Javier Morales. Some do it more subtly, while others resort to a "Hack-a-Javy" strategy.
Through the years, nobody has harassed Morales more efficiently than Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso. Their battles in midfield are often fascinating to watch, and their matchup could hold the key to their teams' upcoming Western Conference semifinal series.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle have squared off 11 times in MLS play and the playoffs since the Sounders joined the league in 2009. Morales and Alonso and have gone head-to-head for 90 minutes in six of those 11 meetings, with a dead-even record of 2-2-2.
In those six meetings, Alonso has limited Morales to one assist and zero goals.
Morales acknowledges that playing against Alonso is a challenge, but it's something he always looks forward to.
"With him (or) Mastroeni or that kind of player, I like to play against them 'cause they're tough. They're good players. I'm happy to play against him always," said Morales.
Even though the records are split down the middle, Alonso's physicality in the midfield has often diminished Morales' effectiveness.
When asked about the matchup, Kreis didn't seem too concerned about how effective Morales could be.
"The last match Javier played in was probably one of his best ever for us against Herediano. Some of the passes he played and some of the balls he served and just his overall effort and the ground he covered in the match was unbelievable," said Kreis. "If we can get him to perform close to that level consistently over the next two games we'll be fine."
While there were three matches between Real Salt Lake and Seattle during the regular season, Morales and Alonso only went head-to-head once — with each missing a match.
SETTING IT UP: Following last weekend's 0-0 draw with Vancouver, RSL's third straight scoreless draw, coach Kreis said the team needed to become more dangerous on set pieces.
Incredibly, despite outstanding targets in the box like Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers and Alvaro Saborio, RSL scored just two goals off corner kicks in 34 regular-season games.
Heading into Friday's first-leg playoff game at Seattle, RSL addressed the concern by spending roughly 15 minutes during Wednesday's training session working on attacking and defending set pieces.
"It's just not something we typically spend a lot of time training, and I know there are a lot of teams out there that spend a ton of time on them. We choose to focus on other things," said Kreis. "In my world and my way of thinking, you only have a set amount of time to keep these guys on the training field and expect optimal performance on the weekend. You have to make choices, and we've made choices to do more playing, more soccer-specific things, instead of just focusing on dead balls. To each their own."
INJURY CONCERNS: Despite sitting out last weekend's regular season finale, Kreis said there's still no guarantee that RSL regulars Olave, Borchers and Morales will be healthy enough to play in the playoff-opener this Friday.
Chris Schuler is also a question mark, as is Fabian Espindola, who picked up a slight knock in training Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake on the air
Western Conference Playoffs
No. 2 Real Salt Lake at No. 3 Seattle
Friday, November 2, 8:30 p.m.
CenturyLink Field, Seattle
TV: NBCSN Radio: 700 AM