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.
For just the third time in the teams history RSL has let a coach go, and while many saw the writing on the wall this off season when former NYRB head coach Mike Petke was hired to coach the Monarchs, it became official last week. So on Saturday Petke’s RSL will take the pitch for the first time against Western Conference foes the Vancouver Whitecaps, and for RSL a win is much needed.
RSL is still fighting the injury bug as 7 potential starter are listed as either out or questionable, David Horst is out and Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund and Sunny are all listed as questionable. So while the backline will be a hodgepodge again, the likely return of Chris Schuler is a welcomed one after what was a debacle last week at Minnesota. The Whitecaps haven’t gotten off to a great start either but their 1-2-1 record at least has a win, they did drop a midweek CCL match that could have put them in the finals so there could be some fatigue and mental letdown but RSL hasn’t shown the mental toughness to punish opponents who may be down yet.
Keys to the Match:
Mental Toughness – For the first time all year RSL got off to a great start against MN last week with a early 1-0 lead but then gave up 4 goals all on plays created by mistakes from RSL players. That lack of focus, lack of mental toughness is something we noticed creeping in last year and has to be one of the top priorities of Mike Petke. Yes I know the injury to Maund created some chaos for RSL but losing a player should never lead to the kind of meltdown we saw last week. This is the match were if you wear the Claret and Cobalt you need to step up not only to impress your new boss, but to deliver the kind of play that your fans not only desire but deserve.
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.
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.
In a early Friday night match, RSL will play host to the Colorado Rapids in a key matchup in the Western Conference. The Rapids sit in 2nd place with 43 points in 24 matches, while RSL is just behind them with 40 points in 26 matches. This match will also decide the winner of the 2016 version of the Rocky Mountain Cup, RSL won the first leg 1-0 at home, while the Rapids won by the same margin in the second leg in Colorado. RSL must deal with the fact that the Rapids simply don’t lose often, just 3 losses in 24 matches the fewest in MLS with most teams having at least double the number of losses. Playing into RSL’s favor in this match is the fact that the Rapids have just 2 road wins this year and all 3 of their losses have come on the road. The Rapids have a -4 goal differential on the road, while RSL enjoys a +8 at home and are undefeated with a 7-0-5 record at Rio Tinto.
With just 8 matches remaining in the RSL season, there is little time left to close the gap between the teams above them in the standings and try to avoid a playoff play in match. Four of the next 5 matches, including this one will be played at home for RSL so there is a great chance to extend their unbeaten streak at home and move up the table at the same time as both. In order to take advantage of their home matches RSL will need to find their scoring touch again, after an early season run of multiple goal matches, RSL has scored 2 or more goals just twice since mid June.
The Rapids come in just one win in their last 5 and have ended up with draws in their last two matches at LA and last weekend vs Orlando at home. The Rapids have scored just 27 goals this season and their scoring is very balanced with 9 players having multiple goals and none of them having more than 4. The arrival of Jermaine Jones this off season has helped change the mentality of the Rapids on the pitch to that of a team that battles and fights for everything and the mid-summer arrival of Tim Howard gives them a true leader in goal. They also picked up MLS journeyman Sebastian LeToux in the summer window to give them an added physical presence up top to help with scoring. We may not see Jones due to an injury, but this is till a very good team that plays huge defense and takes advantage of their scoring chances.
It seems like just yesterday that the RSL season was kicking off and fans were unsure of what to expect after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and with just 10 matches left in the season I expect many fans are still finding themselves wondering what to expect.
RSL sits currently in 3rd place in the Western Conference with a 10-7-7 record and 37 points or 1.54 points per match (a good improvement over the 1.21 ppm from last year). A 1.54 ppm would have put RSL in 4th place in the West last year, shield winners New York Red Bulls ended the season with a 1.76 and won a tie breaker with FC Dallas to claim the shield. Currently MLS is lead by the Colorado Rapids with a 1.86 points per match, RSL’s 1.54 is tied for 5th in MLS at this point.
This weekend RSL will travel to Seattle to take on the Sounders who’s fans are probably feeling like RSL’s fans did last year, when things looked real bleak by August. The Sounders are 7-12-3 with a 1.24 ppm and 8 points out of the last playoff spot in the West, but things in MLS can change quickly. Both teams are coming off wins (RSL 3-1 over CHI & SEA 3-1 over ORL) and both have two wins in their last 5 matches. Both teams needing wins to close the gap with teams they are chasing, for RSL it is LA, Colorado and FC Dallas the 3 teams in front of them in the West and their next 3 opponents (all at home). For Seattle it is Vancouver, San Jose and Portland the 3 teams between them and a playoff sport, 4 of their next 5 matches are against those teams. Both teams are 8 points behind that key team (FCD in 1st & PDX in the final playoff spot), so it would be easy to label it a must win for both, but Seattle is clearly the more desperate team.
A break in the season is always a nice thing for both fans and players, but the schedule Real Salt lake faces in the next 6 weeks is brutal, with 9 MLS matches (6 at home), at least one US Open Cup match (vs Seattle) and a friendly with Inter Milan tossed in, that is 11 matches before the end of July.
With 13 matches played, RSL is sitting in a solid 3 place in the Western Conference with matches in hand against everyone except LA and Seattle. Their 23 points is actually gives them the second best points per match average in the league with 1.77 despite playing 9 of 13 on the road. The Timbers come in after the break needing to improve their form, after 15 matches they are on just 19 points with a 5-6-4 record and without a single win on the road. The defending MLS champs know it is about how you play at the end of the season, but with a very competitive Western conference you don’t want to dig too deep of a hole to climb out of.
These two teams faced off early in the MLS season at Portland in one of those matches where RSL started great and had a two goal lead but with being a man down after a 31st minute red card to Kyle Beckerman, the Timbers got back a goal in the 79th minute and then RSL went down to 9 men as Jamison Olave picked up a red card in the 83rd minute on a foul that gave Portland a PK as well and lead to them leveling the match. One could say RSL was lucky to get out of there with a draw but I considered it one of the matches were RSL left points on the pitch after a late meltdown. Now the two familiar foes will face off once again on Saturday night, in what should be an exciting match.