We’re starting to sniff around the Supporter’s Shield, we’re sniffing around first place and I think that’s what is really important. —Jeff Cassar
SANDY— With a full head of steam, Real Salt Lake will take on Western Conference foe Seattle in a top of the table clash Saturday afternoon.
The highly anticipated match could have serious implications in the conference standings and the Supporter’s Shield race that seems to now be within reach for RSL.
“We’re thinking of course we want to be in first place in the league, but also this is a pivotal game in the Supporter’s Shield race,” RSL defender Tony Beltran told reporters after Friday’s training session. “If we get three points out of this game, it really puts us back in there. Seattle had run away with it for a while, and now they’re within striking distance. It’s something we want, something we’ve never achieved, and when it’s within sight you’ve got to grasp it.”
RSL is coming off arguably one of its best performances of the season in the 3-0 win last Saturday against DC United.
“Everyone’s spirit is good. Everyone is feeling really healthy, and obviously this is a game for first place, so the competitiveness has been high this week,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
Seattle travels to Salt Lake to play its third match in a week.
“It’s their third game in seven days. If we come out with the right energy, passion and commitment, it could be a great night for us,” said Cassar.
With Obafemi Martins suspended for Saturday’s match, all eyes will be on Clint Dempsey at the top of the Seattle formation.
“I think you really have to be honest, because he can beat you several different ways,” Cassar told reporters when asked how to defend against Dempsey. “He’s got a ton of different ideas in the box, he can score with his head, his feet, volleys and he’s great with free kicks. You’ve got to know what he’s capable of and really being honest and ready for that little bit of anything.”
Beltran echoed what Cassar said in regards to Dempsey.
“He’s faster than you think, and one of the things that I noticed right away is that he turns better than anyone I’ve ever seen when he gets the ball. He shows up in the right spot and is able to turn and push forward and break lines, and he finishes chances.”
There’s no love lost between the two clubs, which have shared a young but storied regular season and postseason clashes in the past. Both have eliminated each other from the playoffs, and the Sounders have already posted a 4-0 result against RSL at CenturyLink Field back in May.
“That game is in the past for us. There’s nothing that we can do about that one anymore. This is a new challenge,” said Cassar. “It’s their third game in seven days. If we come out with the right energy, passion and commitment, it could be a great night for us.”
Midfield maestro Javier Morales was absent from Friday’s training, and Cassar said it could possibly be a game-time decision for Morales. If that’s the case, expect Luis Gil to move up to the top of the diamond and try to duplicate his spectacular performance Tuesday night versus Club Tijuana.
“We’re starting to sniff around the Supporter’s Shield, we’re sniffing around first place and I think that’s what is really important,” said Cassar.
STERTZER UPDATE: RSL midfielder John Stertzer underwent successful surgery after suffering a season-ending injury Tuesday night.
“The surgery went great. I talked to Dr. Cooper and he’s really pleased with how it went,” said Cassar. “This is an injury that you can come back 100 percent from, and I think he’s going to be back in December, so he’s going to be ready for preseason.”
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