It seems almost amazing that Real Salt Lake already has two matches under their belts and now as spring has sprung they will start the home portion of their season by taking on the LA Galaxy again. The first time around it was the Galaxy home opener and RSL was able to rain on their parade thanks to a Joao Plata goal and some amazing stops by Nick Rimando. It was an exciting match as both side showed a little bit of rust but both showed that they can be very dangerous, it was lucky that Robbie Keane didn’t get a goal and unlucky that the officials got the call wrong on Luke Mulholland’s goal. In the end it was a 1-0 win for RSL who notched their 5th straight opening day win, and now RSL will look to extend their undefeated home opening streak. Oh I know that someone will think I am going to jinx them, but RSL has never lost a home opener, they may not have won all of them but never a loss.
For RSL it will be a real test as the injuries are piling up early on in the season, Findley, Sandoval, Velasquez, Morales, Allen, Maund, Schuler and Watson-Siriboe all have some type of injury issues they are dealing with. The upside is that newcomer Luke Mulholland has been a great surprise and Plata has started off the season as well as anyone in MLS. So with the home crowd behind them on a rare afternoon start, it should be a perfect chance to catch the two best teams in MLS over the last 5 seasons.
For the LA Galaxy their attempted run at the Champions League title is over after a 4-2 loss in Tijuana on Tuesday, one has to wonder will their slow start in all competitions be a motivational factor on Saturday? Or will a bit of fatigue at their 4th match in 2 weeks and the elevation lead to some roster changes and perhaps tilt the scales a bit in RSL’s favor? One thing that could pay a huge role is the announcement of several Galaxy players being loaned to the Galaxy II for their USL Pro opener also on Saturday, Jack McBean, Rafael Garcia and Charlie Rugg may not be household names but last year when the Galaxy beat RSL 2-0 at Rio Tinto at the end of April, they all played a major role in that match, Rugg actually scored the second goal with McBean getting the assist. This could mean that the Galaxy bench will be a bit shallow for Saturday given their recent schedule.
The RSL bench will be a bit shallow as well due to the injuries I mentioned earlier, it was good to see both Javier Morales and Chris Schuler actively involved in the practice session on Friday, I expect we may see one of them in the lineup on Saturday but I don’t want to hazard a guess to which one it might be. I do think the way RSL looked in the first 45 minutes of the match against San Jose that unless Javi is 100%, letting Luis, Ned, Luke, and Kyle have a run at a tired Galaxy side that has some issues on their back line could be the way to go. I also expect that we might just see Alvaro Saborio who has come close on several shots this season finally open his account as well, joining Joao Plata, Mulholland and Beckerman who have found the back of the net for RSL.
I was able to talk with Luke for a couple of minutes after practice on Friday and here is the interview I did with him (more general stuff than LA specific match stuff):
I love that Luke is so honest about being able to jump into the “deep end of the pool”, so far he is looking like a very strong swimmer. RSL has really done well over the years with players who have come up from the lower leagues, and it looks early on like Luke could be around for a long time with RSL making a big impact. You have heard it said by many that RSL has built one of the deepest rosters in MLS over the last couple of years, and they have done so by great youth development (Salcedo, Allen, Lopez, Fernandez) and by finding players outside of the draft (Plata, Garcia, Watson-Siriboe, Maund, and now Mulholland). OK now that I have helped inflate the reputation of Luke, lets all remember that MLS is a very long season, it is very demanding and tough times for every player are something they need to deal with.
I think there are two guys, both very young would could step up on Saturday in big ways for their teams, first for the Galaxy it is time for Gyasi Zardes to live up to the hype. He has all the potential to be a game changer week in and week out for the Galaxy, as teams are forced to deal with Landon and Keane, it opens space for the young speedster and now he needs to start delivering. In a match where others might be a bit emotionally detached after the midweek CCL loss, what a perfect time for Zardes to step out of the shadows of others and grab the spotlight.
For RSL I think Luis Gil is ready to get on the stat sheet, he was very good pulling the creative strings in the first half against San Jose, injuries and substitutions in the second half really took him out of the match. I asked Luis after practice which position he likes to play more on the side or as the “10″ and his answer is no surprise:
I think Luis is talented enough to do well in either position but I think on the side of the diamond he often gets disconnected from the match at times (it happens to Ned or whoever is on the sides at times) and it seems that he is developing a nice chemistry both with Luke as well as with Plata. I think Saturday in either position you could see Luis either get a couple assist or end up with a ball in the back of the net.
One of the keys for Saturday is going to be set piece marking, I was a bit surprised not to see more focus on it at practice on Friday but I expect it was talked about all week. I usually am impressed with the defensive marking of Alvaro Saborio on set pieces but I thought last week he looked very distracted and rather un-engaged on them last weekend, perhaps some offensive success will help solve that issue. Another key for RSL will be Nick Rimando coming up big in goal once again, it is almost impossible to keep Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan from getting great chances to score, but Nick has shown he is up to the task to keep them from making RSL pay for any mistakes.
I think RSL is as good as a team as LA when you look at the two sides position by position, while they might have the big Mega DP’s the overall consistency of the RSL roster gives them an edge in my book, but on any given day either of these sides can beat the other. I am going to pick a 3-1 RSL home win to kick off the home portion of the season.
If you are going to attend the match, be there early the prematch TIFO is stadium wide and really needs everyone in their seats. Remember parking and traffic will be bad as the convention center is hosting the Auto Show this weekend and that always brings a lot of people to the area.
That is How I See It