Well a four match home stand provided RSL with a perfect chance to gain ground on their Western Conference opponents but a late goal given up to the Chicago Fire leaves RSL with just a 1-1 draw to show from what on paper was a dominating performance. I like stats as much as the next person but in soccer I have found that few stats really matter, the couple that really do are scoring first (RSL is 5-1-2 this year when scoring first, 14-1-0 last year) and the home team will most often win in MLS (RSL is 64-28-34 all time at home), beyond those two there is little on the stat sheet that matters. Take Saturday as an example, RSL had a 67.5% to 32.5% edge in possession, RSL had 572 passes, Chicago had 251, RSL completed 87% of their passes, Chicago just 73%, RSL took 20 shots to 12 for the Fire, had 9 of those on goal to just 2 for the Fire, but the final scored didn’t reflect that, instead it showed 1-1. It is what it is, and while it is a bitter pill to swallow for players, staff and fans, it shows that there is no such thing as an easy match, no such thing as a sure thing in soccer. Now it is about moving forward.
On Tuesday night, RSL will again attempt to advance in the US Open Cup, they will face a NASL side in the Atlanta Silverbacks, a team that they should by all accounts defeat with any 11 of their players in the lineup. Of course this is soccer and there are no sure things, last year RSL went out on a limb and bought the hosting rights for their opening US Open Cup match. In return the visiting Minnesota Stars thumped RSL 3-1 in a match that could have been much worse on the scoreline as RSL looked flat and the Stars had nothing to lose in a match where few would have picked them to win. So be it a year later or 3 days later from disappointing results, it is about how you pick yourself up, about how you respond.
I expect that we will see a rather loud statement from RSL head coach Jason Kreis on Tuesday, now some of his options will be limited by injury issues, but I expect after a couple of matches where the team’s performance hasn’t been as good as some would have expected, we will see names that often wouldn’t be seen in and USOC match this early. I think we will see Nick Rimando get a rest, but one can hardly consider Josh Saunders (two time defending MLS Cup Champion keeper) a huge drop. I think we might see Nat Borchers rest and perhaps a return of Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe at centerback, perhaps Lovel Palmer steps up to give Chris Wingert a rest, and it would be hard to keep Tony Beltran out of the lineup unless he has some injury issues.
I do think in the midfield you will see some changes from Saturday, perhaps a start for Sebastian Velasquez up top as Javier Morales gets a rest, maybe Luis Gil gets a rest and David Viana gets some minutes after several very good reserve outings? I think Kyle Beckerman will stay in the lineup to provide that veteran leadership, but will it be Ned Grabavoy or a recently returned Enzo Martinez (who recently faced the Silverbacks) get the start? I expect maybe Ned will start but we could see Enzo enter in at some time.
Up top I expect that with the injury to Alvaro Saborio, we will see Devon Sandoval and Robbie Findley get the start, with Joao Plata and hopefully Olmes Garcia (who has been battling an injury) available. The pressure will be on RSL, this is a match they should win, this is a match at home, where the home team most often wins, and RSL should be able to use that other stat to their advantage, a quick start and early goal or two will be huge for RSL.
Don’t mistake the Silverbacks with a pushover, their Technical Director is Eric Wynalda, yeah the guy who took a 5th tier team into the 5th round of the US Open Cup last year with Cal FC. This time around he has a mix of local players, former MLS players and some international players to make up a roster that is 4-1-2 in NASL play, that has them in first place in their league. Oh and this just in, Eric is going to give up a role that would normally have him up in a box during the match, to play Asst. Coach on Tuesday, and their head coach Brian Haynes is no stranger to the RSL staff, as he played on a US Open Cup winning team (1997 FC Dallas) with Jason Kreis, Jeff Cassar and GM Garth Lagerwey.
This Silverbacks team is a side that isn’t afraid to play a wide open attacking style, and while many teams come into Rio Tinto Stadium looking to just hold on and try to get a draw, I expect that will be the last thing on the minds of the staff and players from Atlanta. This could mean a very exciting match for RSL, who should welcome a chance to play a more open style, the big question will be if RSL can take advantage of their scoring chances and punish any mistakes the Silverbacks might make, while limiting their own mistakes. I expect this to be a tough match, but RSL should be able to pull off a 3-1 win.
That’s How I See It