The stakes aren’t nearly that high Saturday night, but the Sounders are again pretty desperate to win.
An 81st-minute goal from Mario Martinez gave the Sounders a playoff series-clinching 1-0 win at Salt Lake on Nov. 8, following a scoreless draw in the first leg six days earlier.
Seattle’s run ended in the West finals, losing 4-2 on aggregate to Los Angeles.
The Sounders (0-2-1) entered this season looking to go a step further and reach their first MLS Cup final. However, they’ve struggled to live up to those lofty expectations, scoring one goal through three games and falling 1-0 at San Jose last Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re going through a tough spell. I think it’s a challenging spell,” said Johnson, who has Seattle’s only tally after scoring 14 last year. “I’m trying to think of something positive because we have a very special group and it’s just going to take time for us to gel.”
Johnson might be referring to his anticipated partnership up top with Martins, who was acquired from Spain’s Levante earlier this month. The duo may start together for the first time after spending over a week with their respective national teams for World Cup qualifying.
“He’s learning people and people are learning him,” coach Sigi Schmid said of Martins, a Nigerian international. “As (Martins and Johnson) get to know each other and the team gets to know him, they’ll be good.”
Seattle is already quite familiar with Salt Lake (1-2-1). The teams were each limited to one goal over five meetings last season - three ties - including the playoffs.
The Sounders aren’t the only ones struggling to find the net, either. RSL has been outscored 4-1 while going 0-2-1 over the past three games, but it is welcoming back goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defender Tony Beltran, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and forward Alvaro Saborio from international duty.
Salt Lake struggled without them last Saturday, coming up empty on three shots on goal while falling 2-0 at Dallas.
Saborio’s return will likely have the biggest impact offensively since he has all three of the team’s goals so far. However, he hasn’t scored in five straight meetings with Seattle after netting four goals over the previous four.
Of his 46 MLS goals over two-plus seasons with RSL, Saborio has scored 32 at Rio Tinto.
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