For Real Salt Lake Saturday night will provide one of measuring stick moments of the season, when they head to Sporting Park and take on SKC. Most folks acknowledged that moving SKC and Houston to the West made a very tough conference even tougher, for RSL that is especially true given their history with both sides. Tough hard fought matches are the norm when these two meet, last year saw a 0-0 draw but more often than not the guys from KC have gotten the better of RSL, a over all 8-5-4 advantage for SKC, with a very good 5-1-3 when the match is played on their pitch.
Both sides have been kinda neurotic in how they have played so far this season, RSL adjusting to the 4-3-3 and national team callups, SKC dealing with some big roster changes (gone are Collin, Saad, Bieler, Sapong and both Kronberg and Gruenebaum) then toss in a hamstring injury to Zusi and you see a very different looking side than you have been used to. To the credit of both sides they have adjusted fairly well, with 2 wins and 2 draws, SKC did lose one match while RSL still have to taste defeat this season.
The teams have two opponents in common early on in the 2015 season, both sides had 0-0 draws against Portland, and both sides faced Philly, while RSL were lucky to get a 3-3 draw in a very strange match. KC came from behind with two stoppage time goals to get a 3-2 win in a match were they were really outplayed for the vast majority of the match. Those results lead me to believe that both sides are really looking for their new identity in 2015, be it personal or formation changes.
RSL will need to take advantage of a very different looking KC defense, the last time they faced off it was Myers, Collin, Besler, and Sinovic, this time it is likely going to be Anibaba, Opara, Besler, and de Jong. If I were RSL I would push hard at Marcel de Jong, who looked rather suspect in their match against Philly last week. At the same time RSL will need to keep a very close eye on Dom Dwyer, who hasn’t found his scoring touch of last year and has never scored against RSL but is as dangerous as any forward in MLS. Should they bring in Krisztian Nemeth, he showed last weekend that he can change a match in a hurry, at just 5-11 he plays much larger and seems to have a nose for the ball.
The match up in the midfield will be really interesting as the 4-3-3 goes against a 4-5-1 which could make things tricky for RSL if they try to work too much up the middle as they will face Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza (returning from his stint in Europe) just in front of Servando Carrasco (who comes over from Houston and before that Seattle). This will likely force RSL to play as wide as they can, which isn’t a bad thing at all, the pace of Allen and Garcia on the wings of the front 3, as well as the ability of both Beltran and Mansally to get forward from their backline positions should help RSL be aggressive on the attacking side of the ball and able to quickly recover on defense. This isn’t the RSL that used to dominate possession so how will that match up against SKC? It should be an interesting match for sure, but these are two very different types of clubs/teams.
How different, well I usually like to watch what each side put out as their per-match preview to see how my thoughts match up with others and here you see the differences in how these organizations are run:
Real Salt Lake Preview: features Dunny doing a look back at last week and forward to the upcoming match with some insight from players and coaches.
Sporting KC Preview: a quick talk about tickets and a reminder if you get there early you will get a “spirit sleeve” and more talk about how to get tickets or watch the match on TV, no soccer talk at all. OK fine, I was able to find some actual soccer talk on their “By The Numbers” segment. I just thought it was funny what video they link to their preview.
It was funny to hear Andy Gruenebaum talk about the need for SKC to maintain more possession and go with less direct play, something that you used to hear from RSL but now with the 4-3-3 go more direct and worry less about possession. This should be an exciting match, even 0-0 draws between these sides are often intense and fun to watch. This is one of the matches both sides circled when the schedule was released, it might be early in the season but this is a big match for both sides and could set the tone for months to come.
While I have been impressed (as always) with the play of Luke Mulholland in the last two matches, I expect we might see Luis Gil back into the starting lineup after he had a very good trip to Europe with the US u23 team. I said it before the season started that the key to success in the Western Conference would be getting wins against Eastern Conference opponents (especially at home), wins against other WC teams at home and fighting for draws on the road against WC teams. This is a match were RSL might find themselves with a lead to protect, which could be dangerous as Philly found out last weekend. I am going to go with a 1-1 draw in this one. Goals from Alvaro Saborio and Dom Dwyer in this one.
That’s How I See It!