Saturday was a cold, wet mess but Real Salt Lake found a way to get a very important home win. The first half was more than a bit disjointed but in the second half we began to see more of what we expect from this RSL team, solid play, smart passing and teamwork. The game winning goal was a perfect example of that as a midfield turnover went from the feet of Damir Kreilach (international newcomer) to Corey Baird (new homegrown player) to Jefferson Savarino (Designated Player) who converted the goal. With a short rest and travel to the East coast, the next challenge will be Wednesday’s match in the big apple against NYCFC.
There are only two teams left in MLS that haven’t tasted defeat yet, FC Dallas (1-0-3) who have been far from impressive and NYCFC (4-0-1) who sit at the top of the Eastern Conference. I have to be honest I have watched about a total of 30-40 minutes of NY2 action this season, so I don’t have a lot to offer on what to expect from them but this, they are averaging two goals scored per match, while giving up less than one. At plus six in goal differential only Atlanta FC has a better number than they do in that category.
With a early 5pm MT start time I expect many folks will be rushing home or to find a TV to catch what should be an exciting midweek match. RSL has only played at Yankee Stadium(are they really still playing there?) once since NYCFC joined the league, it was a 3-2 RSL win. In fact RSL has never lost to NYCFC, never drawn with NYCFC, we are 3-0-0 since they joined the league, can we make it four?
We are just a month into the long MLS season and most fans and media thought RSL would be a top contender early on this season based on their decent run at the end of 2017. Instead what we have gotten are more questions than answers, at no point in their first four matches of the season has RSL looked like a dominant team. I can take matches in which we are outplayed if the effort is there but RSL have delivered maybe 45 minutes of combined quality soccer over their first four matches. There has been a lack of energy, cohesion, chemistry and at long stretches of match it has appeared the effort level has also been lacking. The reality for me is that beyond the work of Nick Rimando, an out of position Brooks Lennon and rookie Corey Baird, there has been little to get excited about. Can RSL change that against Vancouver on Saturday?
For the Whitecaps the start of the season has been solid with a 3-1-1 record, they did get shell shocked at Atlanta a few weeks ago as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline. Still they have already picked up two big road wins at Columbus last week and at Houston in week two of the season. Vancouver won more road matches than any other team in the Western Conference last year with six, only TFC the eventual MLS Cup Champs won more last year (seven). Perhaps no Whitecap player looks forward to the matches against RSL more than Cristian Techera, while in him MLS career he has just 15 goals, a third of those have come in his 6 matches against the Claret and Cobalt. Given the holes in the RSL defense so far this season, I expect he will be looking to add to that total on Saturday.
Rio Tinto has not been a kind place for the Whitecaps, in their nine trips here they have managed just a single win, three draws and found themselves leaving as losers five times. They have scored just five goals, while giving up 13 in matches here, they gave up three last year in a snowy match that saw RSL pick up their first win of the 2017 season in a match that RSL dominated in almost every stat imaginable. It was the first match of the Petke era at RSL and the first goal for RSL scored by Albert Rusnak, and the debut of Danilo Acosta, a match in which RSL captured a bit of what they would find near the end of the season. On Saturday it is unlikely we will see the orange ball again, but one has to expect that Mike Petke will be looking recapture some of those good feelings from a year ago.
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?
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?
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.
RSL’s inconsistency this season is so frustrating when we see a flop match like we had against Montreal followed by a dominating performance against San Jose it can be frustrating. Still with a very young team at many positions and very old at other inconsistency is part of the price we pay for it, so with just a handful of matches left there is little room for mistakes if RSL want to push their way into the playoffs.
No match could come at a better time than this match against the Rapids who have yet to win a match on the road and have more losses than RSL, that is a great thing for RSL. The Rapids have just 4 goals on the road all season and have given up 17, RSL at home has been less than stellar with just a 5-4-4 record and 16 goals scored with 13 allowed. Still on paper this should be an easy match for RSL that is more talented and in better form than their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals.
The Rapids looked lost before the fired Pablo and look even worse since them, but this is the type of match they could look to frustrate RSL and hope to take advantage of a long ball over the top, something Montreal showed as a weakness of RSL. Still there are few real offensive threats for Colorado, Badji has 6 goals and 5 assists, and Doyle has 5 goals and 4 assists and nobody else has more than 3 goals and in fact only 5 players on the Rapids have scored more than 2 goals this season. Compared to RSL that has 6 players with 3 or more goals this season, a year we have struggled for goals.
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.
So this is the match where some folks had marked as their panic mark for RSL, but clearly that came earlier for DLH who dropped Jeff Cassar a couple weeks ago and now with Mike Petke coming in on Monday, so can RSL head into their new era on a up note? There will be no opponent that RSL will be as heavily favored against this season than MN United (0-3-1 with 18 goals allowed) but for a team that has only scored a single goal in their first four matches, can the RSL offense be the “animals released from their cage” that Mike Petke believes they are?
While it is easy to joke about the Loons (best nickname in MLS) have given up a ton of goals, the reality is they have scored more than most teams as well with 6 goals scored in their first 4 matches, so can the RSL defense which has been their saving grace (if there has been one so far this season) in only allowing 4 goals in their first 4 matches slow down the Loons? This matchup is really an interesting one as an expansion team will be looking to provide their fans with something more exciting than snowballs at their first ever match taking on a team desperate to regain their glory days that seem further and further removed daily.
Keys to the Match:
Score – this hasn’t changed and won’t change until RSL can actually step up and score some goals and no better chance will come their way than this match against the team that leaks goals at record shattering pace. Rusnak will be back, Beckerman will be back and it is hard to say which of the injured RSL players may make their return to the bench or starting lineup. At home a couple weeks ago the offense looked dangerous, on the road last week a lot less so. If you can’t score against the Loons you may have some real issues to deal with.
For only the second time in club history and first time at Rio Tinto, RSL will open the season at home as they take on Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon. Facing teams from the East are often fairly easy affairs at home, I mean RSL is 7-1-0 vs TFC in Utah and 7-0-0 at Rio Tinto. RSL holds a +11 goal differential at home vs the defending Eastern Conference Champs, but we have to remember RSL hasn’t won a match in 7 months while TFC is coming off the shortest break in MLS history between MLS Cup and opening day.
This has the potential to be a thrilling match as both clubs showed last year that the traditional score first and win rule in MLS doesn’t apply to them, there is no safe lead against either of these sides. This TFC side will look very similar to the one that played for MLS Cup in December, but for RSL there will be some very glaring differences from last year. No Javier Morales, no Burrito Martinez, no Olave and while those players are gone it is likely RSL will also be without some regular starters from last year due to injuries and callups as I expect Kyle Beckerman, Aaron Maund will no start (or likely play) due to injury, Justen Glad will be with the U-20s (along with Sebastian Saucedo, Brooks Lennon and Danilo Acosta). So it will be interesting to see what the starting XI and bench looks like on Saturday afternoon.
Keys to the Match:
There are a few keys to beating TFC, first of which is make someone other than Sebasitian Giovinco beat you. You start the match with Luke Mulholland man marking him everywhere, when Luke gets a yellow card, you swap out Sunny on Gio, and if he gets a yellow you bring in Omar Holness to man mark him. You don’t let him get behind you but you also have to no commit fouls in stupid places and let him beat you on a set piece. Last year Giovinco accounted for 32 (15 goals, 17 assists) of TFC’s 51 goals, so over 60 percent of their offense comes from one guy. So to stop TFC, stop Gio.