Six players on the NYCFC roster have worn the Claret and Cobalt of Real Salt Lake in the past, and two of their assistant coaches are former RSL staff members and of course their head coach is Jason Kreis, who’s history with RSL is written on the wall of Rio Tinto Stadium as the only MLS player to have his number retired by a team. NYCFC is an expansion side that Real Salt Lake should beat with ease, but this hasn’t been a normal season for RSL so far, in fact very few things about the team make any sense this year.
A 3-3-5 record would be more than good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but in the West that record isn’t good enough. In fact even if RSL wins on Saturday vs NYCFC it wouldn’t move them into a playoff position unless they can win by at least 3 goals, something that is very unlikely given have only scored 3 goals once (that crazy match against Philly) and each of our 3 wins so far have been by a single goal. However given our 4-1 loss last weekend at Montreal, the only team in the East below NYCFC in the standings, a win of any sort isn’t a sure thing.
There will likely be a welcome surprise to the RSL 18 man roster for this match, the return of Joao Plata a player who last year was perhaps as much of the heart and soul of this team as anyone else on the roster. However with Javier Morales still likely to be out as he recovers from his concussion and Jordan Allen off with the US U-20 team, our midfield will be a bit light if RSL sticks with their modified 4-1-3-2 formation. I do think the combo of Sabo and Sandoval up top poses real problems for the NYCFC defense, their size and strength will force Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert to likely have to stay back more on defense and close to keeper Josh Saunders in order to deal with them. The RSL defense which looked oh so shaky last weekend will have their own hands full as NYCFC try to figure out what their offense is all about, you would think with names like David Villa, Patrick Mullins and Mix Diskerud that they would have things figured out, but when your leading scorer is Mehdi Ballouchy, well things probably aren’t going as planned.
In years past RSL has been a quick starting team, but this season just 2 goals have been scored in the first 30 minutes of matches and they will look to change that against a NYCFC side that has given up 7 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches. Both teams leak late goals, with RSL giving up 5 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, while NYCFC has given up 4 in that same time period, what makes this more troubling is that RSL has scored just 2 goals in that final 15 minutes of matches (including that dubious PK against Philly), while NYCFC have scored 4 in the final 15 minutes. With the possible ability to bring on speedsters like Joao Plata and/or Olmes Garcia later in the match after Sabo and Sandoval have beat up the NYCFC defense, RSL should have a real advantage late in this match, if they can take advantage of it.
Most teams that come to Rio Tinto have to deal with the elevation as the match goes along, however knowing that Jason Kreis and the others at NYCFC are so familiar with that and Jason’s demand for very high fitness levels I am not sure RSL will get that advantage in this match. RSL is going to have to deal with the familiarity of a few guys at several points during this match, few players in the league know RSL as well as Chris Wingert and Ned Grabavoy, RSL will also need to deal with the speed of Khiry Shelton and Patrick Mullins. It was the speed of forwards and some creative midfield play that caused a lot of our issues last weekend, so RSL will need to be better on defense.
I normally would predict a 2-0 RSL win at home, maybe even 3-0 or 3-1 vs an expansion side, but this RSL team is very hard to predict, as they showed last weekend. The reality is that RSL is in as close to a must win situation as the regular season can produce, a weak expansion side from the Eastern Conference at home is a match that you expect RSL to win with ease. When you toss in a midweek match at LA and then a tough road match at Vancouver next weekend, this match becomes all the more important if RSL want to keep pace with the leaders in the Western Conference and keep themselves in reach of a playoff spot. This is an ideal match for RSL to get back on track, it looked like they had done with a tough draw in which they outplayed the LA Galaxy and then the road win at Chicago, but that got derailed last weekend in Montreal, now with 7 of our next 11 matches at home, it is time to put things right or the call for changes will get very loud from the RSL faithful.
That’s How I See It!