Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Match Preview

Well the RSL season started out at San Jose and in that match “The Goonies” were silenced as RSL picked up the 2-0 win, and after a 2012 season that saw the Quakes lose just 6 matches all season while scoring 72 goals (2.12 per match) on their way to winning the Supporter’s Shield, 2013 hasn’t been so kind.  San Jose has lost 5 of their first 14 (the same number as RSL), they have won just 3 matches and are 0-4-2 on the road, but perhaps more alarming is that they have scored just 13 goals (0.93 per match).

Now they still have that never say die mentality and have been able to score 7 of their 13 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, and that has given them a 2-5-4 record when allowing the first goal (RSL is 1-4-1), but the lack of goals is clear in the fact that they have only scored the first goal in a match 3 times (RSL has 8 times) for a 1-0-2 record (RSL is 5-1-2).  Last year a lot of San Jose’s success came from Alan Gordon (13 goals and 7 assists) and Steven Lenhart (10 goals and 2 assists), but neither of them have scored a goal yet this year. Instead it is rookie Adam Jahn (4 goals) who has been the support for the main Quakes threat, which remains Chris Wondolowski (5 goals and 3 assists).  San Jose will come to Rio Tinto missing a few players for various reasons; Nana Attakora and Ty Harden will be out with injuries, Marvin Chavez and Victor Bernardez who are gone for international duty.  They are also coming off a US Open Cup loss on Tuesday, they lost to the Charleston Battery, and the Quakes have just a single win in their last 10 MLS matches.

Real Salt Lake has one thing in common with San Jose, the ability to score late goals, RSL has 8 of their 18 in the final 15 minutes, and 11 of their 18 have come in the final 30 minutes of matches.  Another thing is that both sides have given up goals late in matches, both sides have given up 6 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches, for RSL 5 of those have come in the final 15 minutes.  We say late goals rob RSL of points a couple weeks ago in Montreal, and even last weekend RSL had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire.  For RSL the international call ups will hit after this weekend, but injury issues will keep Alvaro Saborio out of action on Saturday, it was Sabo who scored both goals against San Jose on the opening weekend of the season.  Still RSL has plenty of weapons, 6 players have scored multiple goals so far this season (Saborio, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, Olmes Garcia, Luis Gil, and Robbie Findley) and 3 more have scored one. San Jose has two players with multiple goals (Wondolowski and Jahn) and 3 others players have scored a single goal for the Quakes.

The Good:

Luis Gil – if you believe the projected lineup from the match guide, Luis will be getting the start at the top of the diamond after Javier Morales went a full 120 minutes on Tuesday in a very physical match in US Open Cup action.  I think this plays perfectly for Luis, at the point of the diamond he is able to dictate the match and gets a good number of touches, unlike when he is on the outside of the diamond where he sometimes gets lost in the match.  I liked what Luis did early in the season when Javi was out hurt, and expect that we might see him back to that much more active role on Saturday.  With the U20 World Cup coming up this summer, the more quality minutes we can get from Luis now will allow other midfielders a chance to rest a bit. In that 2-0 opening day win, Luis went all 90 minutes with 2 shots taken (1 on goal), it should be interesting to see how he matches up against the Quakes midfield.

Ned Grabavoy – Ned came on early in the second half of the US Open Cup match on Tuesday, and was very productive, and last weekend against the Chicago Fire he was a force to be reckoned and while the Fire defenders kept him off the scoreboard, he was able to create a number of quality chances for himself and others.  I think a more offensive minded Ned is a very good thing for RSL, and I like that in recent weeks we have seen him take a more active role in not only creating chances for others but as we saw in the Chivas USA match, he can create for himself as well. Ned has been good for RSL against San Jose (one of his former teams) with 2 assists, and I would not be surprised to see him either get another assist or maybe a goal on Saturday.

Khari Stephenson – Like Ned, Khari is a former San Jose player, and as we have often seen in MLS former players can be very motivated against their old teams.  Khari has played several different roles for RSL with 3 starts and 9 appearances in MLS action, his first goal for RSL came in extra time on Tuesday in the US Open Cup as his 101st minute goal was the eventual game winner for RSL.  His size could be a real weapon for RSL against a San Jose team that isn’t afraid from physical play, and none of the antics that often come from San Jose players should be able to shake him.  I expect he will likely come off the bench on Saturday, but know that he can be a real game changer and he should be highly motivated for this match.

The Bad:

Steven Lenhart – I still laugh everytime I hear someone defend the tactics that Lenhart often uses in matches, listen I think he has some talent, but you can’t call what he does playing hard, it isn’t it is playing dirty, between the dives, play acting, baiting opponents, and the nasty off the ball play, there is no excuse for it.  It was actually nice to see MLS do something about it early this season with his multiple match suspension.  I believe if he could get beyond those antics, that he could be a hell of a good player, and while it may be un-popular to say as a RSL fan, I think he is better than that. Perhaps if he focused on playing more he might have more than 1 goal and 1 assist against RSL in his 7 appearances.  No matter how he plays, he is still a player that you have to pay attention to on the pitch, we know he can score and we know that wherever he goes chaos is sure to follow.

Chris Wondolowski – I don’t know of another player in MLS that if he had 5 goals and 3 assists in his first 14 matches of the season it would be called a slow start, but after the sizzling 2012 season with 27 goals and 7 assists (14 of those were road goals) and signing a new DP level contract, it has happened to Wondo. For me it isn’t a case of Wondo slowing down, it is a case of him not getting the service and chances he did last year.  In 2012 Marvin Chaves had 13 assists, 5 other players had at least 6 (Gordon, Corrales, Salinas, Cronin, and Beitashour) for a total of 46 assists, in 2013 those same players have a total of 9 so far.  Clearly for Chris Wondolowski it is about the service he gets, now he still is a player who knows how to score, he knows to leverage his soccer smarts to get into the right positions and rarely when he is given a chance does he not at least get it on goal.

Shea Salinas – For San Jose I think Shea Salinas is the key this year, with Marvin Chavez dealing with injuries and national team duty, with Simon Dawkins being gone, it seems a lot of the creative work of their midfield has fallen on his shoulders.  I have always thought there was something I liked about the skill set of Salinas, but so far this year I think the rotating cast in their midfield has cause him some issues. Only two other San Jose midfielders (Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca) have double digit appearances, and whatever they are doing just doesn’t seem to be working on either side of the ball. In his 9 matches (4 starts) against RSL Salinas has never scored a goal, but he does have two assists.  As the player who usually plays behind Chris Wondolowski, you have to keep him off the ball as much as you can and apply high pressure on him in the midfield to limit his effectiveness.

The Ugly:

Looking for Revenge vs. Looking for Momentum – Real Salt Lake rarely gets swept by a team in a season series, it rarely happened when we played everyone twice and is even more rare with our new 3 matches against Western Conference opponents, but last year RSL didn’t just get beat all 3 times by San Jose, we were out scored 10-2, controversy reigned in every match, and it was just ugly.  With the opening day win at San Jose, I expect more than a few RSL players would like to ice this season series with a win at Rio Tinto on Saturday.  RSL have scored multiple goals in 4 of their last 5 MLS matches, and are in the second match of a four match home stand, no better time to get some revenge than Saturday night.

As the defending Supporter’s Shield champions, San Jose is just looking to get their ship headed in the right direction, just on goal scored in their last 3 matches, just 3 wins on the season, and their trip to Rio Tinto is the second in a four match road trip that started with a 1-0 loss at FC Dallas last weekend.  The next 6 matches could really leave them in a deep hole if they can’t find some momentum, 5 on the road, 3 trips to the East coast. The Quakes almost always make a mid-season move to bring in some new talent, and I expect they will likely do the same this year, but unless they get things going in the right direction soon, it could be a tough second half of the season for them.

My Prediction – Both sides are going to be a bit tired, San Jose had to travel to the East coast for their midweek US Open Cup match, while RSL had to play an extra 30 minutes on Tuesday to secure their USOC win, both played tough matches last weekend as well and both have some banged up players or guys gone or going on international duty.  The cast of characters for San Jose remains largely the same from last year, but for RSL the lineup often features 4 or more players that are either new or getting more minutes this year.

I expect that San Jose will play a fairly tight match, they will look to defend, disrupt, and distract RSL as often as they can, and hope that they can leverage that into a couple of good chances for Chris Wondolowski or Alan Gordon.  I almost worry more about Gordon, than I do Wondo, in 608 minutes against RSL for various teams Alan Gordon has 3 goals and 4 assists, that is better than 1 per 90 minutes played.  With no Olave, and with Chris Schuler out hurt it will put a ton of pressure on the RSL centerbacks and backline in general, there will be no room for mistakes.

To pick up the three points at home RSL will have to finish their chances, a tough job against Jon Busch, who has a 0.85 GAA against RSL in the past, but he has a 1.43 GAA so far this year, so finishing our chances will be important.  It might catch San Jose a bit off guard as RSL can throw a combo of Robbie Findley, Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval and hopefully Olmes Garcia at them at some point of the match, exciting options that San Jose won’t know much about and I think will cause them some headaches.  These two team don’t generally score much in the first half, RSL has just 4 and San Jose 3 goals in the first half of matches this year, but I think RSL will get a goal in the first half and the sides will exchange late goals for the eventual 2-1 RSL win.

That’s How I See It

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