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.
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.
Real Salt Lake is unlikely to make the playoffs this year, there simply have been too many losses overall and too few wins at home, with 10 matches remaining they would likely need to double their points per match from 1.08 to better than 2 per match to even have a realistic chance and to me that is simply unlikely.
If there is anything close to a silver lining to the remainder of the RSL season it is that their schedule is soft as 6 of our remaining opponents are below the redline and unlikely to make the playoffs as well. That starts with a trip to face off with the worst team in MLS, at least statistically, DC United. DC is one of just two teams with more losses than RSL, one of the two teams with a worse goal differential than RSL, and one of just two teams with fewer home wins than RSL. If there was a road match made to pick up 3 points in it would be this one, DC has just 3 wins in their 11 home matches, have scored just 8 goals at home while allowing 15.
I have watched about a combined 60 minutes of DC United matches this season and none of it has looked good, for DC fans the only thing that comes close to a positive is that they finally see a light at the end of the RFK tunnel. They are not a very good team but they did sign a few folks in the transfer window but it is unsure if the additions of Paul Arriola, Bruno Miranda, Russell Canouse or Zoltan Stieber will be ready for action on Saturday but they clearly were the most active team looking to salvage some self respect this season and start building the squad that will open that new stadium next year.
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.
So while MLS seems to have little issue playing some matches during regular FIFA windows, they do respect the Gold Cup and that means a nice mid-season break for most MLS players. For RSL the break came just as the team was getting healthy and ready to try to make a push for a playoff spot (odds aren’t good). Heading into the break with a big 6-2 road win over the LA Galaxy meant starting it on a positive note but RSL still has dug a big hole to climb out of over the final 14 matches of the season.
RSL will get back to action on Monday the 17th with a friendly against Manchester United, a huge match for the club to land for Rio Tinto Stadium. I am not a huge fan of friendlies for MLS teams, they tend to distract from what is most often an already busy summer schedule but with RSL bouncing out of the US Open Cup early, their schedule wasn’t too busy up to now. The reality is this match is completely pointless, despite what many will say. Sure you get a chance to see players in a Man U kit vs players in a RSL kit, but if you honestly believe you will see any of the top players for more than 30 minutes you are fooling yourself. This is the 2nd preseason match for Man U, so you will get 15-30 minutes of their top players who are actually arriving Monday just hours before the match. For RSL with an actual match on Wednesday and another on Saturday, I expect you will see starters for about 30 minutes or similar to a training session.
This season has been a hot mess of expectations, anticipation and disappointment, leaving entering the 2nd half of the season with some embarrassing numbers. 17 points from 18 matches, worst in MLS and -20 goal differential, also worst in MLS are the two that are most telling. Now fans will have very different places they put the blame, but the harsh reality is that beyond the coaching change, beyond injuries, beyond players coming and going and national team callups, something changed in the middle of last season. RSL went from a team that appeared to have it all going their way just before labor day, to a group who simply looked like they stopped caring and for the most part that has been the theme of this season.
Now before you jump all over me, I know that the players and staff care, I know they are passionate about the game, I know they hate losing more than the fans do, I know all of that. I also know what it looks like both live and on TV, we get glimpses that give us hope like a good performance vs Minnesota (a not so good team) and then we get duds like the match against San Jose (also a not so good team). I am not sure what changes are needed, I will leave that up to the folks running the team, but I know what I see on the pitch and in the standings and neither of them are close to what the level of expectations has been for Real Salt Lake.
Enter our only national TV appearance of the year, a pre-holiday weekend kick off match against a team with several familiar faces. It will be hard to see Jason coaching Orlando, he was such a huge part of RSL becoming a success (yes that is his name and number on the building, and yes it belongs there). It is always hard to see a guy with so much passion and who plays with the intensity that Will Johnson does in anything but Claret and Cobalt. Then there are the ones with so much potential still Luis Gil and Donny Toia, guys for whom leaving RSL may have been the best thing for them.
Neither side is happy with where they are right now, Orlando got off to a 6-1-0 start to their season, but in their last 10 they have just a single win. RSL is close to setting a record for most losses in a season at Rio Tinto or since moving to Rio Tinto with 11 losses so far and 3 home losses. So which team can find a spark to get their season on track?
When you have 10 losses before the halfway point of the season things aren’t going right, so no matter what lineup you put out, whatever the mix of first team, second team or USL guys you play, a win in a must.
I am always appalled this time of year at how the US Open Cup gets treated, it should be one of the most popular soccer tournaments in the US, it should be on TV and heavily marketed for it’s unique nature and David vs Goliath appeal. With MLS not caring, they would rather revive Super Liga in an attempt to win over Liga MX fans, it is no surprise that most MLS teams stack their rosters with reserves.
Now fast forward to RSL’s season were after 16 matches RSL is 4-10-2 and are statistically the worst team in the league, most loses (10), highest goal differential (-20) and worst points per game (0.88). A break of 10 days between an embarrassing 6-2 loss to FC Dallas and their US Open Cup match against Sacramento United FC on Wednesday should have provided plenty of time for self reflection, tactical adjustments, injury recovery for some, integration back of U20 players back into team. We should see a team hungry to get some type of result against a side that should be easy pickings, a chance for our forwards who have struggled for goals to get some confidence. A chance for defenders to figure out what has gone wrong so often this year for them, but I expect that will be the last thing that we see.
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.
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.