Playoff memories stoke Real Salt Lake anticipation of top-of-the-table clash at Seattle Sounders
SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake are heading to Seattle on Saturday for what could be the biggest MLS game of the season to date (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and while most teams look forward to the atmosphere of CenturyLink Field, it has a special spot in the minds of several RSL players.
It was in Seattle, of course, that Real Salt Lake won the 2009 MLS Cup title on penalty kicks over the LA Galaxy.
“The memory's still there a little bit,” RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy told reporters. “That place holds a little bit of a special meaning to our club and all the players on this team that were there.”
Since Seattle joined the league in 2009, RSL have had more than their fair share of success in Seattle, getting results in four of six regular-season games and going 2-2-2 on the Sounders' home field.
The two teams also met in epic playoff series in 2011 and 2012. RSL eliminated Seattle at CenturyLink Field in 2011 despite losing 2-0 (having won the first leg 3-0). One year later, RSL escaped a first leg in Seattle with a scoreless tie, only to be eliminated 1-0 at home.
“We've done well there, for the most part, in the past,” Grabavoy said. “I think this group usually likes to play in front of big crowds. It's going to be a really great test for our club somewhat early in the season, and I think it's good to go up there and play under somewhat difficult circumstances.”
Seattle (8-3-2, 26 points) and Salt Lake (6-0-6, 24 points) are not only No. 1 and No. 2 in the Western Conference, but they are also the top two teams in the Supporters' Shield standings, which will add a bit of heat to Saturday's 1 pm local kickoff time – and no doubt get that big Seattle crowd going.
“The difference between going to play in CenturyLink and going to play in Dallas — it's obviously quite different,” RSL defender Nat Borchers added. “I think that with the atmosphere, with the memories we have there, it's always significant to go there and play big games. I feel like we always get up for the Seattle trip. It's a great city to be in, a great vibe surrounding the game, and we're always playing against a good team.”
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RSL are currently tied for the longest season-opening unbeaten streak in MLS history at 12 games; head coach Jeff Cassar is tied for the longest such streak by a first-year coach. Although a win or tie on Saturday would give both team and coach sole possession of those records, Cassar and his players maintain they are uninterested in the record books.
“The sky is falling,” said Borchers with a laugh, mocking any talk of a record. “I don't know. The universe will explode. Not really sure. I think I've said it a lot: How we're playing right now is the most important thing. Are we making strides forward? Are we making strides backward? We still have some things to work on, and we're not celebrating just yet.”
RSL is “just going about our business,” insisted Cassar. “I think it's fantastic the way the guys are focused on the opponent and not the streak, because that's the most important thing to our team is points.”