Interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni believes that Real Salt Lake are growing in belief as they prepare to take on former boss Fredy Juarez’s new side.
RSL edged a thrilling battle with San Jose Earthquakes 4-3 on Wednesday, a game they twice trailed, to make it two wins in their last three matches.
Mastroeni has overseen those two victories after stepping up to replace Juarez, who left to become Brian Schmetzer’s assistant with the Seattle Sounders at the end of last month.
That is one of many subplots to Saturday’s showdown at Rio Tinto Stadium, which Mastroeni’s men enter with their tails up.
“There’s a lot of belief in this group and it’s really important as we move into the latter part of the season,” Mastroeni said.
“When you have the likes of Albert (Rusnak) and Dami (Kreilach) on the field, who believe we’re going to win, everyone else follows suit and has the same belief.
“Moving forward, we’ve got to tighten up a few things defensively, but the belief is certainly that if they score three times then we’ll score four.”
Seattle are returning to MLS action following their midweek win over Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the Leagues Cup through a last-second goal from star striker Raul Ruidiaz.
Schmetzer left out Nico Lodeiro and Nouhou Tolo for that second successive 1-0 win in all competitions, though both players are expected to be available against Salt Lake.
“I purposely kept those guys out because they had a little soreness,” Schmetzer said. “This club is winning in many different ways with many different line-ups.
“My message after the last game was to enjoy this moment because we should enjoy it. We’re in a final.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Real Salt Lake – Albert Rusnak
Rubio Rubin stole the headlines with the second of his two goals to snatch a dramatic win for RSL last time out, but the comeback would not have been possible if not for Rusnak. The Slovakian midfielder was also on the scoresheet and assisted two of his side’s goals, including Rubin’s winner. He now has six direct goal involvements in his last five games.
Seattle Sounders FC – Raul Ruidiaz
The prolific forward showed his quality yet again with the late winner against Santos Laguna, taking his tally for the season to 16 goals in 24 matches. Ruidiaz has gone back-to-back games without scoring in MLS, but his 14 goals overall this term is already level with last season’s total and one short of his all-time best.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Real Salt Lake is unbeaten in nine straight home matches against the Sounders, winning eight in a row before a 2-2 draw in the last meeting between the teams at Rio Tinto Stadium in September 2020. The Sounders have lost 10 away matches against Real Salt Lake (including playoffs), more than against any other MLS team.
– Real Salt Lake has won four straight home matches for the first time since a five-game winning streak at home from May to July 2019. Prior to this run, RSL had won only five of its previous 18 home matches (D7 L6) dating back to the start of the 2020 season.
– The Sounders have won four straight away matches, equaling the second-longest streak in club history. Seattle won five straight on the road from August to October 2011, a run that ended with a loss at Real Salt Lake in the playoffs.
– There have been at least five goals scored in each of Real Salt Lake’s last four matches with 22 goals scored in total. This is the first time there have been five or more goals scored in four straight matches in RSL’s history while the 22 goals equals the most in any four-game stretch in team history (August 2013).
– The Sounders last six MLS goals have been scored by six different players (J. Medranda, N. Benezet, R. Ruidíaz, X. Arreaga, W. Bruin, João Paulo). Seattle’s prior eight league goals were scored by just two players (Raul Ruidíaz, Fredy Montero – 4 each).