The two teams have essentially played to a standoff since the Sounders began MLS play three years ago. The teams split this season, with each winning on the other's field. The all-time series is knotted at 2-2-2.
In late May at Rio Tinto, RSL defender Jamison Olave was hit with a red card and Seattle won 2-1 to break Salt Lake's MLS-record 29-game home unbeaten streak.
Then, on Sept. 10 in Seattle, each team earned a red card within minutes of each other and Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller muffed a Fabian Espindola cross into the net as RSL won, 2-1.
It should be a crowd-pleasing series, pitting RSL's possession and passing game versus the Sounders' lightning counterattacks. Both teams also take pride in their defense.
Seattle (18-7-9) is the second seed and RSL (15-11-8) is seeded third in these Western Conference semifinals, with the team scoring the most goals after two games advancing to the single-elimination Western Conference championship.
Should the teams remain tied after 180 minutes, there will be a 30-minute overtime (divided into two 15-minute periods) and, if needed, penalty kicks.
"They are very strong in transition and have plenty of speed," RSL defender Robbie Russell said of the Sounders. "When they win the ball, they're going. It's one of the things you have to pay attention to. We have to stay focused."
Lack of focus cost RSL in its final regular-season game against Portland. Real dominated the contest, only to concede a goal in extra time to settle for a 1-1 tie.
Fredy Montero leads Seattle with 12 goals, while RSL is led by Alvaro Saborio with 11 and Espindola with 10, the first time in Real history that the team has had two double-digit scorers in the same season.
But while RSL was outscored 13-3 in its final six games, Seattle has scored 20 goals in going 6-0-2 down the stretch.
"You have to give a lot of credit to [Seattle coach] Sigi Schmid," RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "He knows how to get the best out of his guys, just like Jason."
Beckerman noted that RSL opened at home in 2008 and 2009 and used first-leg victories to advance to the second round. Real went on to win the MLS Cup in 2009.
"Last year we didn't have it," Beckerman said of RSL's first-round exit.
He hopes that's not the case this year.
Breaking down the RSL-Seattle matchup
Attacking • The suddenly hot Sounders they were 6-0-2 down the stretch have been paced by Fredy Montero's 12 goals this season. Seattle has scored 20 goals in its past eight games, while Real Salt Lake has not scored more than one goal in a game since late September. But RSL looked much more aggressive in its final contest against Portland, as Alvaro Saborio scored his 11th goal while his partner, Fabian Espindola, was a constant threat. Seattle could also be without midfielder Mauro Rosales. RSL's potent midfield tandem of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales will finally play together for the first time in six months.
Defending • Seattle has allowed 37 goals this season, while RSL yielded one fewer. But it is the timing of those goals that makes the difference. Real opponents scored 12 times in a four-game stretch near the end of the season, but just once in the final two games. Both keepers are excellent, with RSL's Nick Rimando, who leads MLS with 13 shutouts, and Seattle's Kasey Keller, each allowing a tad more than a goal a game. RSL's defensive focus remains an issue.
Intangibles • RSL midfielder Andy Williams' presence on both sides of the ball can make a difference. RSL coach Jason Kreis has kept his team together through injuries, national team call-ups and suspensions. It might be his best-ever coaching job. Meanwhile Seattle's Sigi Schmid is a Coach of the Year candidate. Then there is CenturyLink Field. A huge crowd at least 40,000 is expected for the return leg Nov. 2. Seattle comes into the series with all of the positive momentum, while RSL hasn't won in six games.
P Seattle at RSL
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Soccer