SEATTLE — For everything Real Salt Lake accomplished earlier this season, its opponent this afternoon spent the last month one-upping RSL almost every weekend.
Back in April, RSL earned a monumental tie at Monterrey in the first leg of the Champions League final. Less than three weeks ago, though, Seattle shocked everyone by actually winning in Monterrey 1-0 — albeit in front of 40,000 less fans.
Three days before winning in Mexico, Seattle picked up a 1-0 league win at FC Dallas — a place RSL has never won.
Ten days ago Seattle beat Dallas again to advance to the U.S. Open Cup final, a tournament RSL put plenty emphasis on earlier this summer only to bow out in the quarterfinals.
Considering all of Seattle's accomplishments as of late, which stacked up to a 7-0-1 record in August in all competitions, it's safe to say Real Salt Lake faces its toughest test of the 2011 campaign at CenturyLink Field today at 2 p.m.
"It's a chance for us to measure ourselves against the best in the league," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Andy Williams couldn't agree more.
"Best team in MLS right now, winning everything, home and away. It's a good challenge for us and I'm pretty sure everyone's going to be pumped up," said Williams.
Seattle's resurgence is even more impressive when you consider it lost a friendly to Manchester United 7-0 back on Aug. 20. It was the first of three straight losses, but since then it has been unbeatable.
Real Salt Lake hopes it's experiencing a similar uptick with back-to-back victories on the heels of a frustrating 1-4 stretch. With wins at Chivas and at home to Philadelphia, RSL is confident heading into Seattle.
"I think the teams that have been above us in points, the so-called big games, I think we've stepped up and done pretty well. I think this is another one where we can put a stamp on it and show everyone else that we're peaking in the right direction and continuing on an upward swing right now," said Williams.
The Sounders are plenty confident themselves. Not only were they unbeatable in August outscoring the opposition 17-4, they beat RSL earlier this year at Rio Tinto Stadium as well.
"Against Seattle it's going to be a challenge for us to keep a shutout because they're so good getting numbers forward and we're going to have to be really switched on tracking our runners through midfield — keeping track of guys in the box," said defender Nat Borchers.
Today's match has huge implications in the Western Conference standings for both teams. Seattle is trying to chase down Los Angeles in the race for the MLS Supporters Shield, and can't afford to settle for anything less than three points.
Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, is trying to make its own late-season push up the standings. Even though it trails first-place Los Angeles by 10 points, second-place Seattle by six points and third-place Dallas by four, RSL has played two fewer games than all three.
With a win at Seattle — where the home team has only lost twice this year in MLS play — it would be right back in the thick of the playoff race.