TUKWILA, Wash. — After a torrid month of August that saw Seattle play eight matches, the Sounders return to the pitch on Saturday in their first match since their US Open Cup semifinal win over FC Dallas on Aug. 30.
Head coach Sigi Schmid hopes their five days off will be a boon when Real Salt Lake come to town on Saturday (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“I think we needed the break mentally,” Schmid said. “Like I said, when we get into that first game, the rust usually comes off when you get that first kick of the ball or when a guy kicks you for the first time.”
In Real Salt Lake, the Sounders host a team that is both six points behind them in the Western Conference standings and have two games in hand — truly making Saturday’s contest a proverbial six-pointer.
The visitors will also be boosted by the return of several players from international duty, including Álvaro Saborío and Will Johnson. After a forgettable month of August that included losses to Houston and Toronto FC, RSL come to CenturyLink Field with two consecutive victories in their pocket.
Kyle Beckerman, who led RSL with a goal and an assist in their last match before joining the US national team in Belgium, will be a focal point of Seattle’s defensive approach.
“He’s the anchor for them in the midfield,” Schmid said of Beckerman, who has found himself back in the US national team picture under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “The game revolves around him and he is the one who balances off the other midfielders.”
RSL currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, but with the two games in hand, are hot on Seattle's heels. Sounders defender James Riley is definitely aware of RSL’s place in the table.
“We put a lot of emphasis on playing our own game and not worrying about other people do,” Riley said. “Sigi always talks about how some teams may have games in hand, but they still have to win those games.
“We have to put pressure on them to win those games,” Riley added. “As long as we keep winning games, they have added pressure to catch us.”
Schmid was cagey about Seattle’s strategy against Salt Lake. The Sounders beat Jason Kreis’ team in their other meeting this season, a 2-1 victory that snapped a 29-game home unbeaten streak for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
No doubt, Kreis will have his team motivated to even the score on Seattle’s home field. To counter, Schmid wants his team to keep possession and pick its spots to pressure RSL’s defense, which is currently the league’s best in goals allowed, having conceded just 21 times.
“I expect them to play like they always play, which is good soccer,” Schmid said. “We have to combat that as well by playing good soccer ourselves and being able to possess the ball, hold the ball and put them under pressure at the right moments.”
Terry Boss (concussion) has been ruled out for the rest of the season by the team’s medical staff. Boss’ absence may mean Seattle will sign another goalkeeper before the roster-freeze deadline.
With Seattle already cap-constrained, signing another GK may use up the cap room that could have been used to sign either Bratislav Ristic (most recently with Chicago) or Wes Knight (most recently with Vancouver). Both players are in Seattle and being looked at as possible depth at right back, behind incumbent Riley.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.