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?
Real Salt Lake sits above the red line and while their positioning there is based on tie breakers against teams with matches in hand, the reality is those teams Dallas and Houston have been struggling. On Saturday another huge Western Conference showdown will take place at Rio Tinto and RSL will need to do something that no team has been able to do in the last three months, beat Seattle. While RSL has lost just two of their last eleven matches, it has been thirteen matches since the Sounders were last handed a loss.
You expect the Sounders, winners of last year’s MLS Cup, to be a top team in the West. They spend the money, most often wisely, which gets them the big names that should carry a team to the playoffs and beyond. Still this league is anything but a sure thing and the Sounders sat in eighth place at the end of June with a 5-7-6 record, they will enter Saturday’s match at 11-7-11 and in front of RSL by six points with a match in hand.
So while RSL can claim the same numbers of wins as Seattle at 11-14-5, it is the seven loss gap that is why Saturday becomes another “must win” for RSL at home, a swing of six points could be the difference in getting some security in staying above that red line. RSL’s recent form has been a reflection of their season with huge swings of consistency in matches and from match to match. So while you will get a dynamic first 45 minutes like they had against the Timbers in the first half last weekend, you then get a second 45 where they very often look like a team desperately looking to hold on to a result, which they did.
If RSL is going to force their way into the post season this year there simply is no room for a loss at home with just 3 home matches left RSL will host the Portland Timbers on Saturday and a win is a must. The only other team in the West that has played 29 matches like RSL are the Timbers who sit 9 points above RSL in the conference. The gap may not seem like much all 3 of RSL’s remaining home matches are against teams above the red line, so while we may be able to steal some points at LA or Colorado (our remaining road matches) winning at home is a must. Back to back home wins over San Jose and Colorado put RSL back in a somewhat realistic chance to make the playoffs but with just 6 wins at home this year beating 3 teams above the red line will be what it takes to get RSL above that line.
The Timbers are 3-1-1 in the last 5 matches and 5-2-3 in their last 10, they are 4-7-4 on the road this year making them one of the top road teams in the West. As in recent years the Timbers are all about Diego Valeri, who if they make the playoffs has to be a contender for MVP, his 17 goals and 9 assists have him in the top 10 in each category. A huge question mark for the match will be if Fanendo Adi plays or how much he plays, he has had a recent hamstring injury and is listed as questionable.
For RSL getting back either or both Demar Phillips or Marcelo Silva could really help our back line, but I doubt either will make the starting lineup. We will likely see the return of Danilo Acosta who was out due to a red card last week. Up top the question will be can Luis Silva go, or will it be Yura Movsisyan again this week? Two different players, both of whom RSL will need down the stretch, before getting hurt Luis had found a scoring touch which helped propel RSL to a run that had the team seeing just a single loss since July 4th. Without him last week the RSL offense looked subpar, but was that due to the combination of playing on turf and facing red hot Vancouver team? We will likely never know.
Since the Gold Cup break RSL has put together a nice little unbeaten streak of 3 matches but as nice as their road win in Portland was the back to back draws at home have to be considered points left on the table. Leaving points on the table is something RSL can’t continue to do, with just 11 matches left they are still a long way from a playoff spot. Bigger than the 5 points between them and Vancouver is the fact that RSL has played more matches than anyone in the West (other than Portland who has has played 23 times). RSL’s points per match are still well below their playoff components at just 1.09, the lowest ppg of any team above the red line is 1.35 of Portland. So when Houston comes to town with a bad 1-7-3 road record it is as golden of an opportunity to close those gaps as any.
Then add in that RSL may want a bit of revenge for the 5-1 thrashing they took in Houston at the end of May, and the stakes get even a bit higher. The Dynamo who haven’t made the playoffs since 2013 are a very different team than the one who finished at the bottom of the West last year. They have already notched two more wins with twelve to go than they did all of last year, and with 39 goals scored nobody in the West has scored more than they have.
RSL got to debut their latest signing Marcelo Silva during their friendly with Man U and since then he has played every minute of RSL’s last two MLS matches and he looks to be a better than average CB who has a great understanding of the game. We have also seen the offense look sharper with Plata picking up 3 goals in the last 3 matches and Jefferson Savarino seems to have found his groove as well. Lots of questions about the future of Yura Movsisyan with RSL as he has only seen 12 minutes of action over the last 3 matches.
You can blame the coaching change, you can blame the injuries, you can blame whatever you want to blame but none of it will change the simple reality that RSL is on the rocks more than any time since 2007. Thirteen matches in with just three wins, two draws and eight losses, at home RSL is two – three – one. We lost 4 home matches during the entire 2015 and 2012 seasons the most of any season since moving to Rio Tinto in 2008 and now in just six matches we sit on the edge of tying that mark. I would say if RSL fans wanted to help their team out a flurry of paper snowflakes might help out given it seems the most likely trend we have is winning in snow this season.
Can RSL fins any sign of life on Saturday when the red hot Philadelphia Union come to town? The Union were winless in their first eight matches but now have four straight wins under their belts and look like a contender for the first time this year. Scoring woes continue to haunt RSL with just 11 goals scored in 13 matches while giving up 24, even at home RSL has a minus two goal differential with nine goals allowed and just seven scored. It is likely that RSL will get back Tony Beltran at least to the 18 man roster but with the suspension of Kyle Beckerman and continuing injuries to several players along with the U20 World Cup callups the roster will be thin once again.
Key to the Match:
Score – If you need any more explanation than that, well you simply haven’t been paying attention. Yura is mad at not starting, but hasn’t produced the way it was expected but to be fair his play comes from good service and the reality is there hasn’t been much of that this year. Plata is confusing, we know he has talent but his head and feet seem elsewhere since the middle of last season. That puts a ton of pressure on newcomers Davarino and Rusnak, both have shown the spark the team needs but we have to have a consistent effort on both sides of the ball to give the offense room to attack, nobody fears our offense so they can press as high as they want.
If you think RSL fans have been upset over their slow start to the season, you should see how the fans of defending MLS Cup champs Seattle are reacting. I mean hell it is as if they invented early season disappointment, oh wait that was last year before they made their big summer move and went on to win it all. If you only looked at the numbers you would think Seattle probably was off to a better start than RSL. I mean Seattle have scored 15 goals in 11 matches to RSL’s 11 in 12. They give up fewer goals just 19 allowed in 11 matches to 23 in 12 matches by RSL. Yet with just 10 points in 11 matches it is Seattle just below RSL in the table but honestly their 0.91 points per match and RSL’s 0.92 are both pathetic for teams that historically have been some of the best in the West over the last 8 seasons.
So what will happen when “lovable losers” meet off against “under-performing megastars”? Yeah that is a bit harsh but 9 vs 10 is rarely a highlight match in most leagues but the reality is this one could be exciting for a number of reasons.
Keys to the Match:
Scoring – Yup, I will keep beating this drum as long as needed the reality is that when you score an average of less than 1 goals per match and your average of allowing almost 2 goals per match you simply must score more. Now if you watched the midweek match (any chance it will snow in Seattle today, we play better when it snows) you know RSL is giving up a lot of early goals off defensive mistakes. RSL has allowed 6 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches so far this year and historically in MLS is you give up the first goal you most often lose. RSL is 2-5-0 in matches where they allow the first goal, Seattle is 2-0-1 when scoring first. So the biggest key to the match, score. Score first, score often but just score.
This match will conclude the first third of the MLS season for RSL and to say that everyone has been left looking for something positive out of the first half would be a safe bet. Perhaps the only highlight at this point has been the play of some of the young guys, Brooks Lennon, Bofo Saucedo, and Justin Schmidt have all delivered more than anyone could have expected before the season started. If you include newcomer Albert Rusnak in with that trio then you actually have something to be fairly positive about. Of course if that is true then you have to be honestly disappointed by the rest of the roster, where perhaps the only bright spot has been Chris Schuler.
If that all seems a bit harsh, well folks welcome to 2-6-2 with a negative nine goal differential in your first ten matches. Welcome to a team that has probably played one half of actual MLS quality soccer so far this season, OK that might be too harsh but it is close to the truth. So now with injuries still and issue, Lennon, Saucedo, Glad and Danny Acosta gone for the U20 World Cup, RSL has to find something, someone, anything to get moving back into a positive direction. Could that be the arrival of Jefferson Savarino, the 20 year old forward was loaned to RSL earlier this week and could be tossed into action very quickly with a team that is desperate for bodies and positives?
The Revolution are a side that RSL has had success against in the past in fact we have a winning 4-3-2 record against them on the road and a 9-5-5 overall record against them in MLS action. The Revs are 2-4-4 thru their first 10 matches but it has been over a month since they beat Houston 2-0, so their form is far from what they would have hoped for as well.
Well we are 4 weeks into the MLS season and the RSL we will see on the pitch and on the bench on Saturday will be very different than what we started with. Injuries, callups and a fired head coach will all impact the lineup that RSL can put out against the New York Red Bulls, the question is can it/will it be enough? 5 potential starters are listed as questionable along with 2 others for RSL (Joao Plata, Jordan Allen, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, David Horst, Tony Beltran and Chad Barrett), then toss in 2 starters that will be on national team duty (Nick Rimando-US, Albert Rusnak-Slovakia) and 1 starter suspended (Kyle Beckerman), oh and our head coach is gone (Jeff Cassar).
So what will a lineup look like? We will cover that later, the reality is an early afternoon match on the East coast is rarely a easy thing for RSL to deal with, we have had little luck when facing the Red Bulls/MetroStars on the East coast with just 1 win in 9 matches. Still NYRB will be missing some key pieces as well, Connor Lade is going to make the 18 man roster but I expect he won’t see action, Michael Murillo and Sacha Kljestan are out on national team duty. Can RSL play spoiler and break the current 15 match unbeaten steak of the Red Bulls at home?
Keys to the Match:
Score – RSL has just a single goal this season (last week’s goal from Yura Movsisyan) from 24 shots and 11 shots on goal. It isn’t good enough and yes you are missing some players and have been missing some the past couple weeks but the reality is simply if you can’t score you can’t win. RSL’s attack last week looked good for about 30 minutes with Lennon, Movsisyan and Saucedo up top, but this week there is no Rusnak pulling the strings so it will be a bit tougher as I expect we will see either Luke Mulholland or Luis Silva in the creative role (probably a bit of both). So can RSL take advantage of the Red Bulls who gave up 3 goals at Seattle last weekend? It won’t be easy but I love the creative play of our 3 forwards last week and expect more of the same.
So for the first time in Rio Tinto history, RSL opened the MLS season at home and while that first match rust was clearly evident there were also signs of potential. The highlight was the PK save by Nick Rimando against Giovinco, but other than that the 0-0 draw played out a lot like one would expect a 0-0 draw, not a whole lot of excitement.
The question is heading on the road for week two can RSL find a way to create more chances and score goals? It has been since August of last year that RSL won a MLS match, so getting things back into the positive column would be good. If this were a match against the Fire of the last few years one could feel really good even when playing on the road but the reality is that Chicago may be the most improved team in MLS. The additions of Dax McCarty and Juninho immediately make them better, add in DP forward Nemanja Nikolic and an ever improving David Accam and all of a sudden you have a team that is a lot more dangerous than in the past.
The last time RSL lost to Chicago was back in 2011, and overall these two have beaten the other 6 times with 7 draws, so this is a fairly balanced competition, 2017 should be seasons that both teams look to improve their overall performance.
Keys to the Match:
With RSL the issue will be consistency across 90 minutes, late last year and even on opening day they came out and looked very flat for the first 10-15 minutes if not longer and the reality is you can’t do that against Chicago, as TFC who’s starters gave up 3 early goals to Chicago in the final match of their respective preseasons. So my first key is to simply start solid, this will be the home opener for the Fire who have excited fans when they are a bad team and this year are very excited about their team. Getting past the first 15 minutes without giving up too many chances will be critical, the weather will be iffy so playing in control will be important.
Well the regular MLS season is winding down and while RSL sits near the top of the Western Conference and overall MLS table, questions still remain for me. When will the real RSL show up and stay? For the 15th time in 28 matches RSL gave up the first goal to their opponent on Wednesday night, and for the 9th time they managed to grab at least a point after giving up that first goal. That number speaks to the fact this club never stops fighting, but it also speaks to the fact that we give up the first goal way too often. Is it tactics? Motivation? Mental lapses? Questionable defense? Or a combination of some or all of those? I am not sure but it sure drives me nuts (and I expect others as well), as does the 40 goals allowed, only two teams in the West have given up more goals this season, and thankfully we play one of them next.
The Portland Timbers, the defending MLS Cup champions, have seemed to be a team on a season long celebration hangover. They are clinging onto the final playoff spot in the West with a 9-11-8 record and 35 points from 28 matches. The Timbers have just 3 wins since the 4th of July and a 3-5-3 record during that time period. Those 3 wins all came at home and all in what would appear to be convincing manner, 3-1 over Seattle, 3-0 over SKC and 4-2 over Seattle again.
RSL visited Portland in third week of the season and it ended up being a contentious 2-2 draw that saw RSL get a 1-0 lead early, go down to 10 men in the 31st minute, go up 2-0, give up a goal, go down another man and then give up another goal to end up with a 2-2 draw. The sides faced off a second time in June at Rio Tinto and again RSL got off to an early 1-0 lead, then gave up 2 first half goals but managed to come from behind to secure another 2-2 draw vs the Timbers.
So the rubber match will take place in Portland on Saturday, it is huge for both teams as RSL look to keep pace at the top of the Western Conference playoff race while the Timbers look to keep the 3 team close behind them for the final playoff spot beneath them.