One of Major League Soccer’s newest upcoming rivalries will be renewed tonight.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle will tangle tonight at CenturlyLink Field in Seattle in the first of a two-leg aggregate goals MLS Cup Western Conference playoff series. The match will kickoff at 8:30 p.m. and will be televised live on NBC Sports Network.
It will be the second consecutive season the two teams have met in the first round, with Salt Lake knocking Seattle out 3-2 last season after winning 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg of the match.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game no matter who we played,” Real midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We’re excited to be in the position that we’re in and we know we have a big challenge ahead of us, but we feel confident and we feel like we have every right and every chance to go ahead in the tournament.”
It will be the fourth meeting of the season between the two Western Conference powers, and the eighth of the past two seasons. Real is 2-1-1 in four matches at CenturyLink Field over the past two seasons, with that lone loss coming during the second leg of last season’s first-round playoff series.
“It’s going to be tough. I think anybody from the West I can see going to the championship,” RSL defender Chris Wingert said. “I think a lot of teams are in real good form right now, especially the top four teams have all been in real good form. So it’s going to be a huge challenge for us to play Seattle, just like it was last year. We had one of our best performances that I can remember at home, and they were all over us afterwards and we were fortunate to get through. So it’s going to be a huge challenge for us but we’re looking forward to it. I think no matter who we would have played in that first round would be tough.”
Real (17-11-6, 56 points) will be making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance, which is the longest active streak in the league, and will be looking to advance to the conference final round for the fourth time during that span.
RSL finished the 2012 regular season with the most points (57), most wins (17) and most goals (46) in club history. This year’s team broke the marks set by the 2010 squad, which compiled 56 points, won 15 times and scored 45 goals in its 30-game season.
Real Salt Lake enters the playoffs on a very solid run of form, unbeaten in its last seven games and 6-1-4 in its last 11 — both streaks coming across all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt has been absolutely terrific defensively during its hot stretch, posting eight shutouts and giving up just three goals in its last 11 matches in both MLS and CONCACAF Champions League play.
“Their team (Seattle) has been towards the top part of the league during the past few years, so every game we play against them has been a big game,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. “Everyone is trying to prove that they’re the more dominant team. It’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere up there and huge crowd. They’re a really good team, and maybe one of the best coached teams in the league. (Sounders coach) Sigi (Schmid) is going to have those guys organized and ready without a question, but we need to be ready as well and go up there and be ready for anything.”
The second leg of the series is set for 7:30 p.m. next Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.