Real Salt Lake opens season at FC Dallas – Match Preview

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?

Key to the Match

Take advantage of tired legs and start fast – The first match of the season is always a fitness test and while FC Dallas has those two CCL matches under their belt, they did play a draining match on Wednesday night, so the fresher legs should belong to RSL.  A fast start in Dallas could be exactly what RSL needs, the reality in MLS is that the team that scores first wins the match most often. For RSL they were 11-2-1 last year when scoring first and just 2-13-2 when giving up the first goal, FCD was 7-1-3 while scoring first and a fairly impressive 4-9-5 when giving up the first goal.  We did see FCD play a 3-5-2 formation in their match with Tauro on Wednesday but what they will do on Saturday is anyone’s guess.  RSL had a -14 in goal differential in the first 30 minutes of matches last year, a -9 in the first 15 minutes, so a solid first 15 minutes will be critical.  Dallas allowed just 20 goals in the first half of matches last year, 10 fewer than RSL. On the other side of the stat sheet Dallas scored 20 first half goals, while RSL found the back of the net just 15 times in the opening half.  I expect given how much Dallas put into the match on Wednesday we will either see some very tired legs or a lineup that may be missing some of their top players, in either case RSL has to take advantage if they want their second ever road win over Dallas.

Players to Watch

Ryan Hollingshead – Probably not the choice most folks would make given the offensive duo of Maxi Urruti and Mauro Diaz both of whom are lethal, but in watching FC Dallas play in CCL action a whole lot of their attack came with Hollingshead bringing the ball up and getting it into the middle for those other guys to finish up with in the second leg, he was also one of the guys who looked the most solid on the ball in a match where FC Dallas had a lot of unforced turnovers.  So with RSL likely to have a backline pairing that hasn’t seen MLS action together before, that threat is one that RSL will need to deal with.

Joao Plata – This is going to be a big year for Joao, while it is easy to love his energy and passion, the results just weren’t there last year with just 7 goals and 5 assists, down from 9 and 12 in 2016 and well off the 13 goals and 6 assists of 2014.  I was happy to see in the limited coverage of the preseason that Joao seemed to be taking more shots and using his left foot more. Defenders have long been able to take advantage of his dependence on his right foot to reduce his effectiveness in the box.  If we can see Joao get back to that 2014 form, it will most likely mean very good things for RSL.

Projected Lineup

I think there are a lot of positions we know what to expect, but with Chris Wingert retired and Tony Beltran out with an injury the backline could be interesting.

Rimando
Phillips-Silva-Glad-Henley(or Herrera)
Beckerman-Rusnak-Mulholland
Plata-Silva-Savarino

Prediction

There is no better time to play in Texas than in March where the summer heat isn’t a factor, for RSL the added advantage of being a very solid team on opening day, 5-0-3 on our last eight MLS opening days.  It has to have RSL playing with more confidence than they normally would in Dallas where rarely do things go their way.  Then factor in the crushing home win (but aggregate loss) for Dallas on Wednesday in CCL action and they may just be ripe for the picking.  I am going to go with a 2-1 RSL win with goals from Joao Plata and Luke Mulholland.

That’s How I See It!

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