Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – Match Preview

Well I still haven’t re-watched the complete match from last weekend, because it will only upset me and make me mad at MLS and PRO, so like the players I have moved on to this next match, and again another huge match against a top Eastern Conference opponent and again thanks to this unbalanced schedule crap a team we only get to see live every two seasons. The Red Bulls are currently tied for second in the East, with 32 points from 21 matches, from a 9-7-5 record with 29 goals scored and 24 goals allowed, at home they are a more impressive side with a 6-2-2 record with 18 goals scored and just 8 allowed.  For RSL the home loss last weekend has to sting a bit, but RSL are a very good road team this season with a 5-4-1 record with 15 goals scored and just 10 goals allowed away from Rio Tinto Stadium.

These teams have faced off 15 times in MLS regular season action where RSL holds a 5-3-7 advantage with 21 goals scored and 20 goals allowed.  While most folks don’t see this as a rivalry match, think about a couple facts; the first match RSL ever played was a 0-0 draw at the then New York Metrostars (a match played in tropical storm conditions), the first ever MLS match at Rio Tinto Stadium was the 10-9-08 match against the Red Bulls (a 1-1 draw), and RSL’s first ever conference final match was against the Red Bulls back in 2008 (a 1-0 heartbreaking loss for RSL).  In more recent history RSL haven’t lost to the Red Bulls since April of 2009, and hold a 5-0-1 record against them since that loss, including a win and draw in our only two matches at Red Bull Arena.

The challenge for RSL will be huge this weekend, as we are still missing a huge number of players (3 – Beckerman, Rimando, and Beltran on National team duty, 1- Chris Wingert is suspended, 6 – Balchan, Salcedo, Saunders, Schuler, Stertzer, and Watson-Siriboe are out or questionable with injuries).  New York are missing Connor Lade and Heath Pearce with injuries but beyond that may be one of the most available rosters in MLS right now.  Should be interesting to see what lineups both sides put out for this one.

The Good:

Robbie Findley – After a good match against Sporting KC last weekend, and looking like one of the sharpest players on the practice pitch (from my observations on Wednesday), I think this is the type of match that could see Robbie get some quality chances to use his speed and recent form to punish a backline that despite the presence of Jamison Olave has a lot of question this season.  Robbie has never scored against the Red Bulls, but in his previous 7 matches against them he does have 3 assists, the most among RSL players who will be in action today.

Alvaro Saborio – Back from national team duty in both World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup, and free from injuries, could we start to see Sabo return to the RSL lineup?  It is tough for a team when their top scorer and offensive threat for the last couple of seasons has only started 1/3 of the teams matches so far this season but Sabo has made just 7 starts and 1 other appearance so far this year.  The upside is that Sabo delivers when he plays, in just 655 minutes of action he has 4 goals and 2 assists.  It is hard for me to believe that if Sabo is 100% fit that Jason wouldn’t start him and a potential partnership with Findley could really expose and wear down the Red Bull defense that has given up multiple goals in 7 of their 21 matches so far this season.

Jeff Attinella – Jeff is now heading into his 2nd MLS start in goal for RSL, and while his GAA might look a bit high at 1.40, the two goals last weekend were far from the fault of the keeper. Instead he has jumped in and performed very well as the 3rd keeper the team has used this season, a unique combo of size (6’2″), skill and quickness has served him well in goal. His task has been made a bit tougher by the ever changing backline, but in practice this week he looked confident and a bit more at ease with the role he is now in.  I expect he will make more than a couple quality saves this week against a very good New York team.

The Bad:

Fabian Espindola – OK it is hard to cast Fabi in the villain role after cheering for him for years and to be honest in every Red Bull match up to now.  He has played in 19 matches for the Red Bulls, has 4 goals and two assists for the team and has as RSL fans know been a thorn in the side of the opposition.  While most of the guys he might have been expecting to see on the pitch won’t be there this weekend, you have to believe that Fabi, who is known to be an emotional player, will be very up for a chance to face his former side.  Will that famous temper get the best of him as he tries for some revenge against Jason and RSL?  I don’t know but that is something everyone should keep their eyes on.

Thierry Henry – Another player it is hard to cast in the villain role (yes the Irish still have a grudge) but a player who has never had a bad word to say about RSL and in fact is always complimentary about how we play the game and our ability to get good results.  None of that should make us think he won’t be looking to take full advantage of a RSL side that is missing a number of players.  He will be looking to add to his 7 goals and 4 assists and for the first time since coming to MLS walk away with a victory over Real Salt Lake.

Dax McCarty – There are few players who get overlooked in MLS as much as Dax, who is just a very solid player who does most of the little things very well.  For me in this match the biggest question will be how does he match up with Javier Morales?  Javi is one of the most fouled players in MLS, and while Dax actually had very few fouls committed this year, will he be forced into a more physical style against the RSL midfield?  I think the matchup between Dax and Javi could be one of the most important and maybe the most entertaining of the match.

The Ugly:

Real Salt Lake’s lineup by Committee vs. New York’s new found lineup stability – By the end of the match on Saturday RSL will have 21 players who have over 500 minutes of MLS action already this season, while the Red Bulls will have just 14 who have hit that landmark, that unique depth that RSL has been forced to deal with this season is both a curse and a blessing.  It has been a blessing that despite so many off season and in season changes to the lineup that RSL have been able to not only get the job done, but sit as the top team in MLS with the most wins and most points.  Perhaps the downside is what might have been, it is hard to play the what if game in MLS, but where might RSL be if Alvaro Saborio was able to play in more than just 1/3 of his teams matches at this point of the season?  How would the backline look if Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe had been able to stay healthy?  You can’t look back, the reality is that injuries and callups have lead to RSL finding out how good guys like Carlos Salcedo, Olmes Garica, and others could be.  The depth of RSL has been their strength all season, and nothing is going to change on Saturday when once again they will be forced to dig deep and see who will step up and answer the call this week.

Last year the Red Bulls were crippled almost all season by injuries and other issues with their roster, but this year things have been very different for them and while the consistency on the lineup card hasn’t always resulted in consistency on the pitch, it has added some stability. They have had just Luis Robles in goal for them this year, and the result is a stable 1.14 goals against average for the season, he has benefitted from the stability of their backline. The projected back 4 (Brandon Barklage – 17 matches played, Jamison Olave -18 matches played, Markus Holgersson – 19 matches played, and Kosuke Kimura – 16 matches played) have done well even with the season ending injury to Heath Pearce and Roy Miller’s frequent national team call ups.  That consistency is also there in almost every other position, Henry has played in 19 matches this year, as has Espindola, in the midfield it is Eric Alexander who has played in every match (21), Jonny Steele who has played in 20, Tim Cahill with 18 starts, and Dax McCarty with 17 matches played.  I don’t know of many teams that have had that level of consistency with their roster this year, if any.  I don’t see how that type of consistency can do anything but help this team as the season moves along.

My Prediction:

Listen I never want to believe that RSL can’t win a match, but on paper you just have to scratch your head as a RSL fan and wonder what it might take to get a win over a very good New York side.  Like so many MLS matches it will likely come down to who can score first, RSL is 10-2-2 when scoring first, New York is 9-3-1 when scoring first, New York hasn’t gotten a single victory this year (0-4-2) when giving up the first goal, while RSL has come back once (1-4-2) to get a win after giving up the first goal.  That could be rough for RSL as the Red Bulls have scored 14 of their 29 goals in the first half of matches, RSL has just 11 of their 33 goals in the first half, both sides have given up 7 first half goals this year.

The final 15 minutes (give or take 7) will likely be as critical as the start of the match, RSL has scored 13 goals in the last quarter hour of matches, while giving up 7 goals in that same time frame.  New York has scored 10 and given up 9 goals in the final 15 minutes, so yes like has become far too common for most RSL fans this season, you will need to pay close attention at the end of the match.   A big factor could be the recent form of the sides, we know that the 2-1 loss to SKC stopped a 11 match unbeaten streak for RSL, well the Red Bulls have been far from consistent in results and are just 2-3-1 in their last 6 matches, failing to score in 3 of them, and keeping a clean sheet in 3 of them.

This match has all the markings of a 2-1 Red Bull win, but if RSL can get them out of their comfort zone, perhaps a couple of roster changes (McDonald for Maund and Stephenson for Gil) could provide RSL with a bit of a physical presence that could keep the Red Bulls at bay.  I am going to pick a 1-1 draw in this one but folks as crazy as the season has been anything could happen on Saturday night.

That’s How I See It

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