SANDY, Utah – There are a lot of stories coming out of Real Salt Lake camp this week. There’s the “second chance” aspect, the return of Morales and Beckerman, the “we’re flying under the radar” mentality.
But there’s also this: RSL are looking forward to a very, very good game of soccer against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday (10 pm ET; Fox Soccer, TSN 2) in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. Two of the league’s most stylish attacking teams should make for a spectacle that even the managers can sit back and enjoy.
“I do think that it’s beneficial to the way we play. I think it’s beneficial to the game itself,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said after training on Friday. “At the end of it, I’m a fan of the game. So I’m looking forward to this match-up, both games of it.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many of Kreis’ players, including captain Kyle Beckerman.
“The standings tell it all. It’s two of the top teams in the league going against each other in the first round," Beckerman said on Thursday afternoon. "It’ll be kind of a chess match to see who can get the game going better.”
The winner of the chess match will likely be the team that can impose its will on the other, dominating possession and creating scoring chances. Both sides are at their best when they’re holding onto the ball and controlling the tempo.
In the teams’ two regular season meetings this year, however, it was a bit more “blood and guts.” Seattle came to Rio Tinto at the end of May and took a 2-1 win, ending RSL’s home winning streak in a game that saw four cautions and the ejection of Jamison Olave.
In the return match on Sept. 10, RSL returned the favor by taking a 2-1 win out of CenturyLink Field. That game was even chippier, and very bizarre. Kasey Keller tossed the ball into his own net to open the scoring just 13 minutes in. Tony Beltran was sent off after picking up two soft yellow cards, and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was shown the door just four minutes later.
So the reality is that neither team has played the other at full strength in 2011. The futebol d’arte that both teams verge upon hasn’t happened against each other – not yet, anyway.
But the players, at least, are hoping that changes soon.
“It is fun to play a team like [Seattle],” said RSL’s Javier Morales. “It’s going to be a great match, and we’ll see what happens.”
Beltran scratched for Saturday
After going full-tilt earlier this week in practice, Beltran spent Friday’s session on the bike. Kreis ruled the fullback out for the first leg, with the aim of having him healthy and ready to go next Wednesday for the second.
Beltran had expressed a desire to get on the field for another match-up with Seattle star Mauro Rosales – who, it turn out, is also a scratch for Saturday.
“He’s like [Morales], he can make a special play at any time, but it’s a little personal vendetta,” Beltran said with a laugh. “I got sent off in the last game at Seattle, and I thought he was pretty soft on one of the fouls; he went down pretty easily. So it would be nice to get back out there and go up against him again.”