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.
Key to the Match
Defend the Fortress – Like most sports and leagues winning at home is the key to success and for Real Salt Lake it is time to rebuild and reclaim the Fortress that is Rio Tinto Stadium. With majestic mountain views, elevations, rabid fans and now the best training facilities in MLS there is no place like home. The last three seasons at Rio Tinto saw RSL lose nine home matches with four home losses last year, to get back to the form they had of just eleven losses in the first six and a half seasons at Rio Tinto, the key is simple. Score more goals, while RSL did end the 2017 season with twenty-six home goals scored, our most successful season in team history saw us break the thirty goal barrier. In 2009 RSL scored thirty-four goals at home and allowed just eleven by opponents, in 2013 RSL scored thirty one goals at home and allowed just sixteen. It is almost impossible in a league with so much parity to go undefeated at home anymore and RSL has done so just once in their history, 2010 when the season was only thirty matches long. We have seen what Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak and others can do, the question will be what will we see from a full season of Jefferson Savarino and Brooks Lennon, as well as newcomers like Alfredo Ortuno, Pablo Ruiz, Corey Baird and Ricky Lopez-Epsin? RSL had no players in double digit goals last season, and with the potential depth of this roster we may not need one but we will need to score more goals at home if we want to make it back to the playoffs. Facing a team that has never played at elevation, with a short bench, riding high after their first ever win, RSL will need to be sharp and effective if they want to turn Rio Tinto back into a fortress.
Players to Watch
Benny Feilhaber – In his ten starts over the years against RSL he has found the back of the net four times and added in two assists. He is one of the most experienced players on this LAFC side with over 200 MLS appearances, he has scored thirty-four goals and has fifty career MLS assists. While he isn’t their offensive playmaker, like RSL’s Kyle Beckerman almost everything starts at the feet of Benny. Oh, you know there will be sparks between Kyle and Benny both are guys who play with their hearts on their sleeves and are as passionate as they come. With his history from Sporting KC, Benny will be far from a fan favorite at Rio Tinto but taking him for granted will come back to haunt you, so RSL will need to keep a close eye on him.
Marcelo Silva – Since joining RSL in the middle of season last year he has been a shining star of consistency and quickly cemented his place as a starter on the backline for RSL. When a player makes a game changing mistake they can react in one of two ways, one is disappointment and hanging their head low, the other is to get mad and to fight back. If you saw the reaction from Silva after the own goal in Texas last weekend you know that he is mad and ready to fight back. Against a LAFC side that likes to get the ball into the mixer inside the area, his ability to stay calm, be in the right position and quickly clear the ball will be a huge key to RSL’s success on Saturday.
It was interesting to see Mike Petke insert several newcomers directly into the staring lineup last week and I would expect him to do so again.
Phillips – Silva – Glad – Henley
Beckerman – Kreilach
Plata – Rusnak – Savarino
Don’t be surprised if the cramps that impacted Kreilach and Savarino late last weekend give a start to Luke Mullholand and Brooks Lennon.
I thought RSL would pick up a road win last weekend and they came very close; this team is playing with better form and fitness than they were at the early part of last season and that should continue on Saturday with the home opener. LAFC has nothing to lose and with the confidence of going to Seattle for your first MLS match ever and walking out with 3 points, they will pose a serious threat. The days of expansion teams being cupcakes on the schedule are gone with the new roster rules and financing options, but a roster that isn’t full, resulted in them not even having a full bench last weekend. Coming into Rio Tinto where elevation can cause all kinds of issues for those not used to it, things could be tougher for LAFC as they try to get their second win. Last week is behind them, the future starts on Saturday so for RSL it is about showing themselves as well as the rest of the league that this year Rio Tinto is not a place you want come in expecting anything but a battle. I am going with a 2-0 RSL win to kick off the home portion of the 2018 season
That’s How I See It!!