So while MLS seems to have little issue playing some matches during regular FIFA windows, they do respect the Gold Cup and that means a nice mid-season break for most MLS players. For RSL the break came just as the team was getting healthy and ready to try to make a push for a playoff spot (odds aren’t good). Heading into the break with a big 6-2 road win over the LA Galaxy meant starting it on a positive note but RSL still has dug a big hole to climb out of over the final 14 matches of the season.
RSL will get back to action on Monday the 17th with a friendly against Manchester United, a huge match for the club to land for Rio Tinto Stadium. I am not a huge fan of friendlies for MLS teams, they tend to distract from what is most often an already busy summer schedule but with RSL bouncing out of the US Open Cup early, their schedule wasn’t too busy up to now. The reality is this match is completely pointless, despite what many will say. Sure you get a chance to see players in a Man U kit vs players in a RSL kit, but if you honestly believe you will see any of the top players for more than 30 minutes you are fooling yourself. This is the 2nd preseason match for Man U, so you will get 15-30 minutes of their top players who are actually arriving Monday just hours before the match. For RSL with an actual match on Wednesday and another on Saturday, I expect you will see starters for about 30 minutes or similar to a training session.
So in a season where RSL has shown they have serious issues of quality depth, continuity on and off the pitch and have struggled to find many silver linings from the sub-par season so far, this is a great distraction from those issues. It does allow RSL to get some eyeballs on it, as Man U is one of the top clubs in the world with millions and millions of fans who for a brief time on Monday will wonder how a club in Sandy, Utah is called Real, but at least that is less likely less confusing than a club called the Galaxy. This is their warmup for their bigger matches in the US against Man City, Real Madrid & Barca.
So from a marketing and brand perspective this is great stuff for a couple days, demand for tickets has been huge and premium seats are reselling for premium prices (triple or better original selling prices). For me this is a chance to take pictures of some of the big names in European football as well as a chance to see some of the Monarchs wearing the first team colors, but it is just a distraction. Yes, Virginia #TrophiesNotFriendlies still matters for fans who expect their club to deliver matches that matter in the fall, vs pointless ones in the summer.
Wednesday will see RSL return to action against a Timbers squad up in Portland that while they currently sit in 4th place in the West have struggled after a hot start with just 2 wins in their last 12 matches. If RSL is going to claw their way back into real playoff contention a win against a team above them in the table is needed and this is the one they should be focused on. The Timbers have just 1 more victory than RSL, but 5 fewer losses and 4 more draws, creating the 7 point gap. A win for RSL would close the gap to just 4 points with plenty of action left.
The Timbers didn’t schedule a friendly during the break and will have had a full 14 days to prepare since their 2-2 draw against the Chicago Fire back on July 5th. The biggest question for the Timbers heading into this match is can someone other than Diego Valeri and Adi step up for the team? Both Adi and Valeri have 10 goals each so far this season and multiple assists, the rest of the team has 13 combined goals. I keep waiting for Nagbe to show up on the stat sheet, but his contributions simply haven’t shown up there but he is a guy who can make a difference in a flash if you don’t keep your eyes on him.
Despite being tied for most goals scored in the West, the Timbers have just a +3 goal differential after giving up 31 in their first 20 matches. Just 3 clean sheets for the Timbers so far this season, with 10 goals allowed and 8 scored in their last 5 matches the Timbers are -2 over the last 5. RSL has allowed 11 goals in their last 5, while scoring 10 for a -1. These are two teams looking to start the second half of their seasons with a win and I expect neither side will be happy with a 2-2 draw.
For me the best rivalry RSL has going right now is with Sporting, these two teams simply don’t like each other and while there will be fireworks after the July 22nd match, I expect plenty on the pitch as well. Sporting hold the top spot in the Western Conference and will likely still be on the top when they arrive at Rio Tinto next weekend. It may be hard to believe but at this point RSL has more wins in their last 5 matches than SKC does (2 vs 1) but RSL has as many losses in their last 6 matches at SKC does all season (4). The gap in points is 12 between the teams, despite SKC having just 2 more wins, the simple reality is they have only 4 loses so far this season. SKC are another club that didn’t schedule a friendly during the break, they did however play a US Open Cup match, a 3-0 win over FC Dallas to advance to the semi-finals of that tournament.
Perhaps the most shocking stat of the season is that Sporting has scored just 1 more goal than RSL so far this season, their 24 goals scored is low but their league leading 14 goals allowed gives them a +10 goal differential. The recent struggles of Sporting could feed into a RSL resuragence as SKC will still be without 3 of it’s top players who are with the USMNT on Gold Cup duty, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, and Dom Dywer so this may be the best chance all season that RSL has to close the gap with the leader of the West. Despite missing their stars this is still a dangerous SKC side as Dallas found out in the Open Cup. At home RSL simply can’t afford not to get 3 points anymore this year, home wins are a must if they want to make a serious run for a playoff spot.
RSL will likely debut their latest signing on Monday, no not the many Monarch players who will sign one day deals for the chance to face off against famed Manchester United, but Marcelo Silva our new centerback form Uruguay. Despite RSL having some decent defender already on the roster, Schuler, Horst, Glad, Maund and others the depth there and lack of consistency have left RSL needing to find mid-season help.
As I said at the beginning I am not a fan of mid-season friendlies, but for player a chance to take the pitch against players like Pogba, Lukaku, Herrera and others will likely only come once in their lifetime, so I can support that.
This match has exposed a huge issue of hypocrisy from the MLS Players Union, which should welcome a chance for any player to get to face a club like Man U. Instead they will be blocking Chandler Hoffman and Sebastian Velasquez from playing due to the fact they were previously on MLS contracts so are considered ineligible to sign these one day deals. It prevented the duo from playing for RSL in the US Open Cup, which I can somewhat understand due to it being a competitive match in a tournament, but a friendly is something I don’t get. It is unlikely that either will get a chance to face Manchester United again in their lifetimes, to take this from them is an injustice.
Whatever happens over the next 7 days for RSL it will impact how the remainder of the season goes, 6 huge points up for grabs against Western Conference foes should be the only focus for the team but it isn’t. Nobody knew RSL would be struggling to climb from the cellar at this point of the season when this friendly match was scheduled, nobody could know the injury issues the club would have endured this season when this friendly was scheduled. So much at risk, so little reward on Monday, but memories will be made and for many that once in a lifetime chance to see Man U play a match in their stadium is priceless.
That’s How I See It