Real Salt Lake has 12 MLS matches left in the regular season, half of those will be in August and 4 of them will be against 3 Western Conference opponents (at Colorado, at LA Galaxy, at Portland, Portland at home), 3 matches at home (Houston, Columbus, and Portland). With just 6 MLS matches scheduled in September and October(who makes these schedules?) RSL will need a strong August to keep the top spot in MLS locked up heading into the fall.
As if that wasn’t a big enough month you can toss in the US Open Cup semifinal next Wednesday when RSL will host the Portland Timbers, the winner will host the Open Cup final. It has been clear that Jason and the team have made the US Open Cup a priority, not only does allow the most direct path back to CONCACAF Champions League but it also is the quickest way to a trophy (well other than beating the Rapids on Saturday for our 7th straight Rocky Mountain Cup) and that is something this team seems really focused on this year.
The upside for RSL is the return of the rest of our Gold Cup participants, lets be honest there aren’t many teams that if you took away 4 starting players for a month, would have been able to hold on to the top spot in MLS, then add in the injuries and it would be even less likely. So with Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, and Nick Rimando back the starting lineups should be even more formidable going forward. There is also the issue at centerback as Carlos Salcedo continues to get healthy, Chris Schuler gets closer to a return, and newcomer Brandon McDonald fights for minutes, hopefully getting all 3 of them might let us get Nat Borchers a little bit of rest over the tail end of the long summer.
Let’s take a look at those August matches a bit more closely:
First up is the final leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup, and let me say it is a damn shame that a rivalry that really hit its peak when it was on the final weekend of the season and often with playoff spots at stake, seems fairly mundane when it ends in mid-august. Just saying. So Saturday RSL will need a win, nothing else will do in order to secure the Rocky Mountain Cup. The rules are that if the teams are even at the end of the series, the team with it retains it, for me I would love to see us bring in away goals and goals scored as tiebreakers to spice things up a bit. This will be no easy task, the Rapids are hot, going 3-0-2 in their last 5 matches, while RSL struggled in July and are 2-2-1 in their last 5 matches.
While RSL will get back Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman, we will be missing Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, and Yordany Alvarez due to suspensions, and still without Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and others due to injuries. We could see the RSL debut of Brandon McDonald, who would be the 27th player to see MLS action for RSL this year. The Rapids are relying in large part on two rookies, Deshorn Brown (5 goals, 4 assists) and Dillon Powers (4 goals, 4 assists) and a pair of former RSL players, Atiba Harris (5 goals, 1 assist) and Nathan Sturgis (4 goals, 1 assist). It should make for an interesting match, and a great chance for RSL to get back on the winning path.
A short turn-a-round for RSL will have them taking on the Portland Timbers on August 7th in a US Open Cup semifinal, and to be honest this is likely the most important match of the month. It represents the quickest path to silverware and back into CONCACAF Champions League action, it will also provide us with our first look of what will be a common part of August, that is RSL vs Portland. RSL has been lucky to win every coin toss this year and has hosted all of their US Open Cup matches, should they win this huge match on the 7th they would host the US Open Cup final on Oct 1st against the winner of the Chicago Fire vs. DC United. Everyone from the coaching staff to the players, from the front office to the fans are all focused on this match and it should be an amazing night.
Of course then RSL has to get back into MLS action with another short turn-a-round as they will play host to the Houston Dynamo, who find themselves on the outside of the playoff hunt in the East for now, but we all know that Houston is a second half of the season team and while they won’t have the blistering heat and humidity of their home pitch, expect a heated battle against a very solid team from the Eastern Conference.
After the Houston match, RSL will head down to LA to take on the Galaxy, yes back to back matches against the teams that have played in the last two MLS Cups. RSL has done well against the Galaxy over the years and with LA taking part in the International Champions Cup they would be a bit tired and the team could still be without Robbie Keane. It should be a huge match as both sides will want the edge over the other in this their final regular season match of the season.
That match will lead us into the second match of three in 7 days (for the second time in August) as they head to Portland for their first MLS match up of the season against the Timbers, but the second match of the month against the Timbers. I expect RSL fans will get more of the same from the Timbers as they get in the US Open Cup match, the difference will be the turf at Jeld-Wen an the insanity of the Timbers Army. Every time RSL faces a Western Conference opponent, they have to be looking to get as many points as possible. The playoff race will be tight, and positioning is very important so ever point will matter.
To cap their 2nd 3 matches in 7 days strech of the month, RSL will return home and will take on the Columbus Crew. The Crew have struggled this year but with a new owner you have to believe that everyone in the organization will be looking to do whatever they can to impress the new boss. For RSL getting 3 points at home down the stretch isn’t just a goal it is a necessity.
To end the month, RSL will play a rare Friday night match on the 30th as the, you guessed it< Portland Timbers come to town for the second time in August. This will again be a huge match as it also represents one of the 3 times this year that RSL will actually be on national TV as NBC Sports will be in town as well. It is going to be hard for me (and I am sure a lot of RSL fans) to have to cheer against Will Johnson 3 times in a month but the former RSL player will be bringing his new team in to Rio Tinto looking to keep their incredible season going, as of this post the Timbers have only lost 3 matches this year.
As you can see it is a huge month for RSL with 7 matches in 27 days, and while that pace is brutal when you consider RSL will have just 6 MLS regular season matches over the next 54 days, each of them is really a keystone match if RSL wants to make a run at multiple pieces of silverware this year.
That’s How I See It