This season has been a hot mess of expectations, anticipation and disappointment, leaving entering the 2nd half of the season with some embarrassing numbers. 17 points from 18 matches, worst in MLS and -20 goal differential, also worst in MLS are the two that are most telling. Now fans will have very different places they put the blame, but the harsh reality is that beyond the coaching change, beyond injuries, beyond players coming and going and national team callups, something changed in the middle of last season. RSL went from a team that appeared to have it all going their way just before labor day, to a group who simply looked like they stopped caring and for the most part that has been the theme of this season.
Now before you jump all over me, I know that the players and staff care, I know they are passionate about the game, I know they hate losing more than the fans do, I know all of that. I also know what it looks like both live and on TV, we get glimpses that give us hope like a good performance vs Minnesota (a not so good team) and then we get duds like the match against San Jose (also a not so good team). I am not sure what changes are needed, I will leave that up to the folks running the team, but I know what I see on the pitch and in the standings and neither of them are close to what the level of expectations has been for Real Salt Lake.
Enter our only national TV appearance of the year, a pre-holiday weekend kick off match against a team with several familiar faces. It will be hard to see Jason coaching Orlando, he was such a huge part of RSL becoming a success (yes that is his name and number on the building, and yes it belongs there). It is always hard to see a guy with so much passion and who plays with the intensity that Will Johnson does in anything but Claret and Cobalt. Then there are the ones with so much potential still Luis Gil and Donny Toia, guys for whom leaving RSL may have been the best thing for them.
Neither side is happy with where they are right now, Orlando got off to a 6-1-0 start to their season, but in their last 10 they have just a single win. RSL is close to setting a record for most losses in a season at Rio Tinto or since moving to Rio Tinto with 11 losses so far and 3 home losses. So which team can find a spark to get their season on track?
Orlando could find their spark in the quick return of Cyle Larin from the post drunk driving arrest stint of the MLS substance abuse program. I am still confused how a guy who was driving on the wrong side of the road for so long gets out of a program so quick but hey he is young and hopefully he has learned from his mistake (dude, use Uber or Lyft, heck even a conventional cab). Larin is the offensive engine of Orlando, with 8 goals and 1 assist in 15 matches he is their go to guy, Carlos Rivas and Kaka both have 3 goals but after those three nobody has more than a single goal this year for Orlando.
They do have some weapons who can provide an offensive boost, Giles Barnes is just such a guy, in 5 matches against RSL with other clubs he has 1 goal and 2 assists off 10 shots. While Will Johnson often plays a more defensive role, he too has a blistering shot that can hit the back of the goal from just about anywhere on the pitch.
These two side have face each other twice, at Rio Tinto a couple years ago it was a 1-1 draw after Kaka saw the first straight red card of his career in the first half. Last year in Orlando, RSL had a 2-0 lead heading into stoppage time, but ended up leaving with a 2-2 draw as our defense withered like a orange left in the sun too long.
So along comes Friday night at Rio Tinto, along comes desperation as both sides need something. Orlando looking for any sign of life after a thumping by the Chicago Fire last weekend and RSL looking for hope that their season may not already be over. We know RSL will have Kyle Beckerman back available and maybe even Albert Rusnak, so what kind of formation will we see, back to a 4-3-2-1? a 4-3-3, maybe another shot at the diamond? There are two realities for RSL, they need to score more goals (only DC and COL have scored fewer than RSL this season) and they need another solid defensive effort at home where they have given up just 9 goals in 8 matches but only 1 in their last 3 home matches.
Sorry for the format change of my match previews, but the other format just didn’t seem to fit as to be honest neither of these sides are anything close to predictable right now.
So what is going to happen Friday night? I expect we will see a fairly wide open match, both sides are going to want to score goals as both are struggling right around the 1 goal scored per match mark and are facing teams with negative goal differentials. While RSL’s habit of giving up early goals could be a huge problem, Orlando has scored 6 in the first 30 minutes compared to RSL’s 2 and defensively RSL has given up 15 in the first 30 compared to 9 for Orlando. RSL has proven they can win after giving up the first goal, or lose after scoring the first but Orlando it all comes down to the first goal, they are 7-0-2 when they score first and 0-6-2 when giving up the first goal.
Will RSL start Yura, our top goal scorer or go with Luis Silva who has looked sharp but hasn’t produced a goal yet? Heading into the silly season in just a few days, every player should be looking to have a highlight reel performance on Friday night or the explosions they see may be their careers going up in smoke. Yeah lots of firework and 4th of July puns, but what did you expect? I think this one likely ends up a 1-1 draw and leaves us with just as many questions as we had heading into the match.