Heading to San Jose for an early season match is nothing new for RSL, this will be the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons that we have played at Buck Shaw in March. In 2011 we kicked off the season there and picked up a 1-0 win, then last year it was a 2-0 win over the Quakes on opening day. So while we kicked off our season last weekend with the win in LA, this will be the first MLS match for San Jose and while RSL’s roster remained largely the same as last year, that is far from true for the Quakes who missed the playoffs last year despite breaking the 50 point plateau (51 points).
For me this means two things, despite all the changes they are really the same basic team, there are no huge moves, no mega DP’s for San Jose they will still rely on the same guys up top (Wondolowski, Gordon, and Lenhart) and they hope that Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi their big off season pick up from France can provide them some type of creativity in the midfield, something they lacked last year.
While San Jose missed the playoffs last year they were the hottest team down the stretch with just 2 losses in their last 14 matches, to go along with 3 draws and 9 wins but it was goals scored that kept them out as they lost that tiebreaker to Colorado (45 to 35). Their 35 goals scored last year was less than half of their 2012 total, but nobody really thought that they would get another record year from Chris Wondolowski, or that their last minute antics of that season could really be repeated on a regular basis over a full season.
The season got off to a great start for Real Salt Lake, after everyone urged caution in getting expectations too high, the exciting result in LA has a lot of people buzzing.
Real Salt Lake looked a bit rusty against the Galaxy, it was far from a perfect or dominating performance but it did show that the team was again committed to playing together as a team and we saw several instances of our guys doing a hell of a job in cleaning up mistakes made by others. One thing was clear last week for RSL, Nick Rimando is still the best keeper in MLS.
This week RSL will need to overcome a big injury to Javier Morales, which will likely force Luis Gil to the top of the diamond (a spot I think he does better in) and will likely bring Luke Mulholland who shined as a sub last week into the starting lineup as Sebastian Velasquez is still hurt. On the upside we saw a very solid season debut for Aaron Maund against the Keane & Donovan last week, and he will need to be that good again against a very different set of forwards in Wondo and either Gordon or Lenhart.
While Keane and Donovan tend to dominate matches with passes and their presence Lenhart most often looks to bully his way into dangerous positions and capitalize on opponents mistakes. Wondo is simply a player who knows how to be in the right place at the right time and if he gets the ball in those situations he will make you pay.
I am going to worry more about Lenhart this week than I did all of last year given his past antics and knowing we have replacement refs again, in this case it will be Jorge Luna who was in charge of the FC Dallas vs Montreal match last weekend which got plenty of attention from Simon Borg on Instant Replay on Monday. We saw some very iffy calls last week in our match and I fully expect this could be worse given the overall nature of how Luna called the match last weekend.
So the MLS roster rules really do confuse me at times, a couple years ago RSL had to trade a player to Seattle (Andy Rose) for the rights to a player (Leone Cruz) that Seattle had drafted the previous season but released, so I am not sure how RSL draft pick Ryan Neil who didn’t make the RSL roster was available to San Jose without a similar trade but they picked him up early last week and the projected lineup has him starting this weekend. I am sure there is some logic to it all but that lack of transparency really can get the best of me at times.
Why is that move important, well when you factor in the San Jose centerbacks of Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson being paired with a rookie in Neil and very unproven Shaun Francis on the backline it could be something that Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata can really take advantage of with their speed and interlinking play.
I think two things will be key for RSL, first can Luis Gil run the offense if Javier Morales is out, for me Luis always looks a bit more comfortable at the top of the diamond than he does on the side of it, and we have seen him do it in the past, so I expect he will be just fine. Second, can Luke Mulholland deliver for 90 minutes, we have seen him look really good in limited play both in the preseason and in the opener against LA, but this will be one of the big questions of the season can he step up to a full role with the first team. I am fairly optimistic about both of these, and that is a good thing.
RSL historically has been very good playing in San Jose, 4-4-1 in 9 matches there including that opening day win last year, but Wondolowski has been very good against RSL with 5 goals, 1 assist in 789 minutes of playing time, both Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart have two goals against RSL. For RSL it usually is Javi who ruins the day of Qualeks fans with 7 career goals and 6 career assists, but Sabo has 4 goals and 1 assist in just 609 minutes and Kyle Beckerman has been very good against San Jose with 3 goals and 4 assists. Nick Rimando holds an edge over Jon Busch in goal, but it isn’t a very big one but with Nick we don’t need much of an edge to make a huge difference.
I think RSL will match up well against San Jose who honestly have to be thinking about their trip to Toluca for the 2nd leg of their Champions League series, with 3 matches in 7 days you have to expect some of their players to be holding a bit back and against RSL that is not something you can do. I will pick a 2-0 RSL win as the Quakes continue to struggle at home against the Claret and Cobalt.
That’s How I See It