SANDY — It’s pretty easy to see why Seattle has surpassed Colorado as Real Salt Lake’s biggest rival.
Besides the relatively close proximity, the teams play similar possession styles, have a recent playoff history, have passionate midfield captains who’ve butted heads on the field, and above all, both franchises have an absolute burning desire to win — and usually do.
“We both have similar philosophies in that we want to dictate the tempo of the game, we want to get the ball down and move it and be dynamic in our attacks, and we’re both very much focused on being at the top of the league every single year,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
The playoffs have fueled the rivalry the past two years, with Real Salt Lake eliminating Seattle in 2011 and then Seattle returning the favor at Rio Tinto Stadium last November.
Nick Rimando isn’t concerned with avenging that loss when RSL hosts Seattle this Saturday at 7 p.m., but admits it will be tough to completely forget about last year’s four intense matches.
“The proof is in the pudding. When both teams go on the field there’s no friends out there. It’s a battle, and you’re doing everything to win,” said Rimando.
Neither Real Salt Lake nor Seattle are off to the strong start they’re accustomed to, and Saturday’s match could have a playoff intensity as a result as the clubs fight for much-needed early points.
“We have to put a lot of pressure on ourselves in this next game, I don’t know if I’m going to call it a must win, but we expect to get three points against Seattle. We’re 1-2-1 in the league right now, and we expect to get some results here,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
Seattle is winless through three games this season, but with a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal game next Tuesday against Santos Laguna, it’s unlikely the Sounders will field a first-choice line-up on Saturday.
Real Salt Lake will be relatively back to full strength with the return of Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Kenny Mansally back from national team duty. Alvaro Saborio is also back, but the Costa Rican international picked up a slight knee injury last week and didn’t train on Friday.
Kreis said Saborio is very questionable against Seattle.
“We’ve had it before where he hasn’t trained the day before the game and then played the game and played very well. So it’s touch and go,” said Kreis.
Saborio is the only RSL player to score in 2013, and if he can’t go, someone else will need to step up against Seattle’s stout defense. Even if Saborio does play, breaking down the Sounders won’t be easy.
Real Salt Lake was shut out in three of four meetings against Seattle last year, including twice in the playoffs. Conversely, RSL shut out Seattle in three of four meetings too.
Considering the emphasis both coaches put on defense, the stalemates weren’t entirely surprising.
“I think both teams have a very clear idea of how they want to defend, I think both teams are very committed and all the players on the field are willing to do that for each other, and that means both teams are typically hard to break down,” said Kreis.
With that said, Kreis doesn’t necessarily expect another defensive struggle.
“Both teams are also typically very good in the attacking end of the field, so it’s a little bit of an enigma as to why the past year, year and a half we haven’t scored goals against each other,” said Kreis.
If the match unfolds as a defensive one, Borchers is up for the challenge.
“Maybe it’s tougher for the fans to watch games like that when there aren’t a whole lot of chances created, but from a defensive standpoint it’s always fun to play in those games ’cause you can’t slip up once or the game can be over,” said Borchers.