No team took a worse beating in week 2 of the MLS season than did RSL, their 5-1 loss to expansion side LAFC was beyond embarrassing. I kept hearing it was an anomaly, and I sure hope it is true this time, because we heard the same thing at the end of the 2014 season when RSL lost 5-0 in the playoffs to the LA Galaxy and that has been followed by 3 seasons of mediocre at best soccer. Is it harsh to bring that up, yes it is, lots of things have changed but the reality is shocking losses can do more damage than just a single loss. They can lead to finger pointing and distrust in a locker room that can spread like a cancer destroying good teams. So when they take the pitch on Saturday, it may not seem like anything more than just another match, but I expect it will be much more than that.
The New York Red Bulls come into Rio Tinto coming off a midweek win in CCL action that saw them advance to the semifinals by eliminating Club Tijuana with wins in both the away leg last week and the home leg on Tuesday night. That came on top of their 4-0 thrashing of the Portland Timbers last weekend in the Red Bulls MLS season opener at home. Much like RSL the Red Bulls are in the middle of a transition period for their team, with young players and new international players. In their win over Portland four players made their MLS debut (Kyle Duncan, Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra, Ben Mines, and Hassan Ndam) while 3 others had under twenty MLS matches under their belts (Derrik Etienne Jr.,Fidel Escobar, and Vincent Bezecourt). Perhaps there was no better feel good moment in all of MLS than when 17 year old homegrown player Ben Mines scored his first MLS goal, which would prove the game winner.
This will be a match where RSL’s defense must show up and show up big, the Red Bulls have scored multiple goals in four of the five meaningful matches they have played this season and while Bradley Wright-Phillips remains their main scoring threat he is not alone in that category, here are the players have scored for NY Red Bulls so far this year, (Royer, Wright-Phillips x4, Davis, Rivas x2, Mines, Adams, Rzatkowski, Kaku). If there is a silver lining to that potential dark cloud it is that none of these players have ever scored against RSL before. The only current NYRB player to scored against RSL is a classic villain in RSL history, Aurelien Collin.
So what do we need to focus on Saturday?
Listen the reality is that RSL blew as bad as they have ever sucked on Saturday in their 5-1 home loss to expansion side LAFC. In a season where the team needs to find a way to be dominant at home, they were anything but and at some point it looked like guys didn’t give a crap anymore. The gaps are clear and while it may seem easy to point blame, enough people have pointed to Demar Phillips, but the reality is he was one of the guys getting the ball forward and nobody filled in when he went forward. You can point a finger a Luis Silva who did nothing, you can point fingers at every single player at some point of the match.
So here is what we can do, we can admit that there is more than enough blame for the players and the coaching staff to go around. What I care about is what happens on Saturday when we have to face an actually good team, a team that is doing well in Champions League, that in their home opener they beat Portland 4-0 in a match that wasn’t even close.
There was a single highlight of the match for RSL, it was the fact that Joao Plata was fortunate enough to be in the right place to put his blocked PK effort back into the back of the net. He celebrated by doing push ups:
While this was a cute goal celebration, it was the only thing worth being happy about.
For Real Salt Lake the 2018 season opened with a road draw at FC Dallas that was both rewarding and frustrating, but a point from the road is a point from the road. Now it is time to talk about the home opener on Saturday afternoon when RSL will play host to expansion side LAFC. LAFC are an interesting side who were able to shock the Sounders and beat the defending MLS Cup champs in Seattle on opening day last weekend. LAFC is an interesting expansion side, while their roster is a mix of MLS vets and new international players, the fact they are using just 22 of their roster spots is unusual to say the least. In their first match they only dressed 17 players leaving on spot completely open.
There are some faces RSL fans will recognize, top on that list is Benny Feilhaber, followed closely by MLS journeyman Steven Beitashour, Laurent Ciman, Jordan Harvey, Walker Zimmerman and a few others. The big names signings are Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, with plenty of room for more as the season progresses. They also have an open one year International spot which they got from Atlanta United, you have to believe that will be used sooner rather than later. In their first match against Seattle they looked like an expansion side, a lot of energy, a lot of mistakes but they play with pace and they love to get the ball into the area to create chaos but they were only able to get 5 shots off during the match. It was an 11th minute goal by Diego Rossie that will go down as the first goal in LAFC history and it was enough to ruin the home opener for the Sounders.
Real Salt Lake looked to be a similar villain and ruin the 2018 home opener for FC Dallas, but the 25th minute goal by Joao Plata wasn’t enough as the late pressure from FC Dallas resulted in a rare RSL own goal by Marcelo Silva. Forcing RSL to settle for just a single point in their first match of the season, but also allowing them to bring home a rare road point from the state of Texas. It was far from a perfect match, but RSL did show some good signs of life and Nick Rimando reminded us that he is really, really good.
Expansion teams haven’t done too well in Salt Lake over the years, only one has won on their first every trip to Utah. It just happens that was last year when Atlanta came to town and picked up a 3-1 over RSL, we were able to pick up a home win last year over ATLs expansion brothers MN United and that is what we will be looking for again on Saturday.
Both sides found themselves on the outside looking in on the 2017 playoffs at the end of last season but the two were heading in very different directions as the final whistle of 2017 blew. For FC Dallas they once again saw a blistering start of the season, they didn’t suffer their first loss until week 10 of the season. A 5-1-4 start had them looking good, but just two wins in their last 15 matches of the season ended up again being the headlines on their season. For RSL the start of 2017 was worse than slow with a 2-6-2 start, which saw the club make just their 4th coaching change in their history as Jeff was out and Mike Petke was in. The end of the season is what gives most RSL fans huge hope as the club ended 6-3-1 over their last ten matches and showed that they would be a team to be reckoned with in 2018.
So here we are, for RSL unless you travelled to Florida to see their final preseason trip to the sunshine state you likely have seen very little preseason action as most of their matches had no streams this year so while we know most of the roster, there are a lot of unknowns heading into this first match for the club. The other side of the coin is better known as FC Dallas both had a fairly well covered preseason but also two matches in Champions League for us to consider as we look at what they may bring to the party on day one of the 2018 MLS season. FC Dallas lost their CCL matchup against Tauro FC, 3-3 but Tauro’s two goals at Dallas on Wednesday night gave them the road goals needed to eliminate the MLS side from the tournament. What were able to see is a FC Dallas team that has some holes in the middle of the pitch, but one that has some dangerous offensive pieces as well.
Historically FC Dallas has a huge edge in the series with RSL, a 19-11-6 edge with 14 more goals scored than the team in Claret and Cobalt, the edge is even more dramatic when you consider that RSL has just a single win playing against them in Texas. 1-13-2 is about as bad as a team can be against a conference opponent away from home, the -21 goal differential on the road against FC Dallas is dramatic and telling, just 12 goals in 16 matches played. It was the two matches in Texas last year that were perhaps the lowest point of the season for RSL a 1-5 loss at Houston followed days later by a 2-6 loss at FC Dallas. So what can we look forward to on Saturday?
It is time to start a new season of MLS action and for Real Salt Lake it is about delivering on the pitch, Mike Petke has had almost a full season to adjust the roster and tactics of the team and now we need to see that the run at the end of last season wasn’t a fluke.
So, what is that expectation? For me it remains the same each regular season, 15 wins and 50 points. If you make that happen you will make the playoffs. If we had hit that last season we would have ended at the 4th seed in the playoffs, making the playoffs has to be the goal of the regular season, doesn’t it? How do we get there?
Better at home, only one team that made the playoffs in the West last season did it without double digits wins at home (Vancouver). So, can RSL get 11 wins at home? One thing they will need to do is score more goals, while a +10 goal differential may seem good at home with 26 goals scored and 16 allowed, PDX and SEA both had a home +20, Houston had a crazy +26 at home. So to pick up an additional two wins at home, RSL will need to find a way to score more, 7 teams in the West scored more home goals than RSL. The reality is that we failed to take advantage of the elevation at home, we didn’t push other teams to deal with the elevation and it came back to haunt us, I expect that the team’s fitness from day one will be much better in 2018 than what we saw last year.