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Sounders and RSL have night to themselves
by Ridge Mahoney, September 12th, 2013 11:34PM

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[MLS PREVIEW: Week 29] It’s rare that a showcase MLS match features two rivals close to full strength, and rarer still that the game gets the evening all to itself.

All the elements are in place for a Friday night special at CenturyLink Field, where Seattle hosts Real Salt Lake (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in a showdown of the Western Conference’s top two teams. More than 52,000 tickets have already been distributed for the game.

Leader RSL (14-8-6, 48 points) has taken the teams’ two meetings so far this season by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, yet Seattle (14-8-4, 46 points) would take over the top spot by winning. It also holds two games in hand over RSL.

There will be aftereffects of the recent international fixture dates, as many of the principals involved were in action earlier this week. RSL forward Alvaro Saborio was a late sub for Costa Rica against the USA last Friday and left camp early to return to his club team. RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman and the Sounders strike force of Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson all played against Mexico Tuesday: Beckerman and Dempsey went the full 90, Johnson notched a goal in 75 minutes of action before leaving the field after he banged his head on the grass.

Beckerman scored one of the goals in RSL’s 2-0 defeat of the Sounders at Rio Tinto Stadium June 22. Robbie Findley tallied in both of the games against Seattle and is third on the team in goals this season with six, trailing Saborio (10) and Javier Morales (7). Morales is among the league leaders in assists with 10, and RSL is getting good production out of Joao Plata, second on the team with eight assists.

Despite playing only 16 of Seattle’s 26 matches, Johnson is tied for the team lead in goals for Seattle. Lamar Neagle, Obafemi Martins and Johnson each has seven. Dempsey has yet to record a goal or an assist while starting three of his four appearances for the Sounders, yet his acquisition is a main reason many observers are picking Seattle to reach MLS Cup for the first time.

Seattle is also the league’s hottest team with seven wins in its last eight games, including home victories last week over Chivas USA (1-0) and Chicago (2-1). RSL is on a two-game winning streak with 4-2 and 4-0 wins and sat out last weekend’s league action.

EASTERN FACTORS. Two crucial games will likely shuffle the standings amongst the bubble teams in the Eastern Conference as the teams sitting fourth through seventh, which are clustered within three points of each other, square off head-to-head.

Fourth-place Philadelphia (10-9-9, 39 pts.) hosts sixth-place Houston (10-10-7, 37 pts.) Saturday (7:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick). The reeling Dynamo is 0-3-1 in its last four games and the Union is coming off a tough 1-0 loss at San Jose last weekend.

Houston is actually tied for fifth place with New England (10-10-7, 37 pts.); the Revs hold fifth place on the second tiebreaker, goals scored, heading into their game at seventh-place Chicago (10-11-6, 36 pts.).

New England opened the season with a 1-0 win in Chicago, and also won the last meeting, 2-0, at Gillette Stadium Aug. 17 on goals by Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe. That victory pushed New England ahead of Chicago in the standings and nearly a month later, the teams are still separated by just one point.

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 29:
Friday, September 13
10 pm ET
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake, NBCSN

Saturday, September 14

2 pm ET
Montreal vs. Columbus
4 pm ET
D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy, UniMas
7 pm ET
New York vs. Toronto FC
7:30 pm ET
Philadelphia vs. Houston
8:30 pm ET
Chicago vs. New England
9 pm ET
Colorado vs. FC Dallas
10:30 pm ET
San Jose vs. Vancouver
Chivas USA vs. Portland

MLS RESULTS, Week 29:
Wednesday, September 11
Toronto FC 1 Chicago 1.
CHI: Dilly Duka (Chris Rolfe) 20
TFC: Robert Earnshaw (Bobby Convey) 23
------------------------------------------------------------
MLS STANDINGS:
Eastern Conference:
PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T +/-

45 (26) Montreal 13-7-6 45/37
45 (28) New York 13-9-6 44/36
45 (28) Sporting KC 13-9-6 41/27
39 (28) Philadelphia 10-9-9 37/38
37 (27) New England 10-10-7 37/29
-----------------------------
37 (27) Houston 10-10-7 31/35
36 (27) Chicago 10-11-6 33/38
32 (28) Columbus 9-14-5 31/38
23 (28) Toronto FC 4-13-11 24/40
14 (27) D.C. United 3-19-5 16/44

Western Conference:
PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T +/-
48 (28) Real Salt Lake 14-8-6 52/35
46 (26) Seattle 14-8-4 35/27
43 (27) LA Galaxy 13-10-4 43/33
42 (28) Colorado 11-8-9 35/29
42 (27) Portland 10-5-12 43/30
-------------------------------
40 (27) FC Dallas 10-7-10 39/39
37 (27) Vancouver 10-10-7 39/38
37 (28) San Jose 10-11-7 29/40
25 (28) Chivas USA 6-15-7 27/48
------------------------------------------------------------
MLS LEADING SCORERS:
G PLAYER (TEAM)
17 Marco Di Vaio (Montreal)
15 Mike Magee (Los Angeles/Chicago)
14 Camilo (Vancouver)
12 Robbie Keane (Los Angeles)
10 Claudio Bieler (Sporting KC)
10 Diego Fagundez (New England)
10 Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake)
10 Blas Perez (FC Dallas)
10 Jack McInerney (Philadelphia)


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