Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake

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• Seattle Sounders FC is on a 12-game unbeaten streak at home, which is the longest in club history. However, Real Salt Lake has been the best road team in the league this season and the only club with a positive goal difference away from home.

• Seattle has a 7-0-2 record in games with attendances of 40,000 or larger — and a 5-0 tally in front of more than 55,000. As of Wednesday, 52,000 tickets had been distributed for the match, one of a small number in which all of CenturyLink Field is opened up.

• Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando could all play part in the game after international duty with the United States, while Alvaro Saborío is out with a calf strain suffered with Costa Rica. Brad Evans is still questionable with his calf injury.

It doesn’t get any better than a game in which the winner takes first place. That’s what Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake will play for on Friday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Salt Lake has been near the top of the table all season, but Seattle has won seven of its last nine games and joined the Utah club at the forefront of both the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. RSL seems to have bounced back from its most difficult part of the season, winning the last two games after losing three of five.

At one point, the Sounders had four games in hand on RSL, but they were also in eighth place in the nine-team conference at the time. Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid commonly brushes away mentions of games in hand, saying that they’re not guarantees of anything because the team still needs to win them.

But it can only help if Seattle manages to take all three points against RSL — or even if it doesn’t. It should provide a fairly pressure-free atmosphere for the Sounders, knowing that first place is well within reach even if they lose or tie. Of course, that won’t make anything less than a win feel any better, but it should allow the players to play without fear.

What they’re saying

Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid on the occasion: “It’s a massive game next week from that standpoint — from the standpoint of the standings — and hopefully, we can do what we did against Portland and sell this place out again and fill it up because it’s a game you don’t want to miss.”

Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis on the expected crowd: “This is, I think, a little bit special, if there’s going to be 60 [thousand people] rather than the typical 35. Apart from all of that, it’s still first place versus second place in our conference, so it’s a huge match. Even if there was no crowd, I think our guys would be up for it.

Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning on playing Real Salt Lake: “RSL [games] are always good games. We’ve built up a little rivalry, and it’s fun to play against these guys because it’s a very good team, too, and of course, they want to take the Supporters’ Shield, [and] we want to take the Supporters’ Shield.”

Prediction

If the crowd is as massive as expected, it will be difficult to keep the Sounders from winning their fifth game in a row and extending their home run to 13 undefeated. Regardless of how good RSL is on the road, CenturyLink Field is one of the most difficult atmospheres in the league, and its unique mixture of a raucous crowd and a turf surface that Salt Lake is unaccustomed to point to Seattle’s first regular-season win over RSL since May 28, 2011.

Vardy joins chorus of Leicester players lauding Ranieri

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri congratulates Jamie Vardy of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle and Leicester City at St James Park on November 21, 2015 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images
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Jamie Vardy has joined several Leicester City voices in refuting claims that he helped usher in the dismissal of championship-winning manager Claudio Ranieri.

Vardy led the Foxes in scoring during last season’s run to the Premier League title, but has struggled to follow that success this season. He has five goals in 22 matches.

[ MORE: Ranieri – “My dream died”

Ranieri was fired this week with Leicester on the verge of dipping into the relegation zone, where they now sit ahead of Monday’s match against Liverpool.

Vardy wants the world to know this wasn’t his preference, saying, “There is speculation I was involved in his dismissal and this is completely untrue, unfounded and is extremely hurtful!”

WATCH: Kane’s first half hat trick includes gorgeous volley

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Harry Kane spent the first half hour of Sunday’s tilt versus Stoke torturing the visiting Potters.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli‘s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

[ WATCH: Spurs-Stoke live, replay ]

His second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant.

The third carried a bit of luck, with his low free kick taking a turn off the leg of wall end Peter Crouch to elude a lunging Grant. 3-0.

Here are the first and third, too:

Liverpool, Southampton lead EFL Cup Team of the Tournament

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The EFL Cup has named its team of the tournament ahead of Sunday morning’s final between Southampton and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

Liverpool and Southampton lead the way with two players each, while finalists Manchester United have just one player in the team.

[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea ]

That’s Ander Herrera, who joins a midfield with Sofiane Boufal (Saints), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle United), and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal).

Up top are Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, the latter for his work at Bristol City.

The back four is led by Saints’ Maya Yoshida and Hull City’s Harry Maguire, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Matty Pearson (Accrington Stanley) joining the unit.

The backstop is Leeds United’s Marco Silvestri.

Watch Live: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City (Lineups, Stream)

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Wifried Bony of Stoke City and Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur battle for possession during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The penultimate Premier League match of the weekend pits Stoke City against third-place Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Jan Vertonghen is back alongside Toby Alderweireld in the heart of Spurs’ back line, and it’s no surprise that PL Download stars Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris also start.

Geoff Cameron‘s four-month layoff appears to be reaching its end, as the USMNT back is on the subs bench for Stoke City. He last played on Oct. 22.

LINEUPS

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Winks, Sissoko, Son, Janssen.

Stoke City: Grant; Bardsley, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Whelan, Adam; Arnautovic, Allen, Ramadan; Crouch. Subs: Given; Muniesa, Berahino, Afellay, Diouf, Cameron, Imbula.