All summer, Real Salt Lake has been fending off challengers for the top spot in the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield like a prized fighter running through contenders for his belt. The toughest challenge to the club's place at the top of the mountain comes Friday night.
RSL puts first place in both races on the line at CenturyLink Field when it takes on the most in-form team in MLS, the Seattle Sounders.
Sigi Schmid's Sounders have won seven of their last eight matches to rise from outside of the playoff places to within two points of first-place RSL with two games in hand. Seattle has not lost at home since the first game of the season -- a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact -- but the club has dropped both of its matches to Jason Kreis' RSL in March and June.
Since the 2-0 loss to RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 22, the Sounders have lost just three times, going 8-3-1, and acquiring USA captain Clint Dempsey in the process. Even though Dempsey has not scored upon his return to MLS, and could be limited in playing time along with Eddie Johnson following Tuesday's World Cup qualifying win over Mexico, the Sounders boast forward depth with in-form striker Lamar Neagle and Obafemi Martins.
RSL will happily welcome captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando back from USA duty, with both being charged with silencing Seattle's multi-pronged attack. RSL has yet to lose to a Cascadia-based club this season, going a combined 4-0-2 against Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, and the club is 10-2-4 against those teams in the last two seasons.
There is plenty of history between the two sides as well, with the clubs meeting in each of the last two postseasons. RSL eliminated Seattle from the 2011 playoffs in the conference semifinals before Seattle returned the favor last season in the same round. Seattle was also the site of RSL's lone MLS Cup triumph, with the club topping the LA Galaxy in the Emerald City in 2009.