Well no team can be on all the time and clearly RSL wasn't on against the Wizards, you can blame the small pitch, you can blame the humid weather, but in the end the team didn't take full advantage of the opportunity to close the gap with either Columbus or LA in the race for the Supporter's Shield. They get another chance on Wednesday as they will face off against 4-10-3 Philadelphia Union, a team that RSL handled with little trouble back on May 8th at Rio Tinto.
Since that match Real Salt Lake has lost just a single match, but for RSL the challenge of not having Alvaro Saborio (he is with the Costa Rican National Team), and getting a Robbie Findley who played Tuesday against Brazil for the USMNT, is something they haven't had to deal with all season. Between them the numbers are impressive with 13 goals and 7 assists, but RSL has a weapon that a lot of people might have forgotten about. Pablo Campos found himself in a similar situation last year and he stepped up and then some, back to back game winning goals, in fact in just 5 starts and 400 total minutes Pablo, ended up with 2 goals and 3 assists. It is also clear that head coach Jason Kreis knew days like this would come this summer and has rested Fabian Espindola the last couple matches, and if needed you have to believe that Robbie Findley would be able to come in late as the boost off the bench that he was so many time last year.
If you watched the first 20 minutes of Philly's last match you might just be thinking that this team has it together and is finally showing some potential. Of course you would have missed the mistake by Brad Knighton, the one that had the official pulling out a red card and pointing to the spot. That left them down a man for 70 minutes of action against a very good FC Dallas team, in blistering heat and in front of a almost non-existent crowd, in the end it was too much for the expansion side to endure and the eventually fell 3-1. The upside for the Union is found in some new faces, Justin Mapp (from Chicago), Eduardo Coudet, and Juan Diego Gonzalez have all joined the team and Coudet and Gonzalez should provide some much needed help on defense. The Union have allowed 32 goals to be scored against them, including 10 at home.
The Key Match-ups, Wildcards, and my prediction after the jump:
Morales vs. Coudet
It is Argentina vs. Argentina, it is creative midfielder vs defensive midfielder, and the end result should be very entertaining. Eduardo joined the team in July and has quickly become the starting defensive midfielder for the Union, but while they look a bit more solid in the midfield there are still a number of issues for the Union as they struggle to control possession and the pace of matches.
Javier Morales has established himself as one of the very best offensive midfielders in MLS, this year he has 4 goals and 6 assists but has been the creative force for a team that has had 12 different players find the back of the net, and 12 different players have been credited with assists. A good majority of that comes either directly in working with Javier, or as a result of teams having to often double team him to keep him out of the match. When Javi is on, RSL is almost unstoppable, so if we Javi can win the matchup with Eduardo, well it should mean good things for RSL.
Rimando vs. Seitz
Well this match-up almost didn't happen, last week Philly had made a change in goal and went with Brad Knighton against FC Dallas, but that change lasted just 22 minutes as Knighton came out of goal and ended up running into a FC Dallas player and sure enough he got the red card and back into goal came Chris Seitz. So once again we get a match-up of the veteran vs. the backup, the match-up of size vs. skill, and it should be entertaining.
I do think that far too often that keepers tend to get a lot of the blame when things go wrong, and in Philly that is a reality. When you start with a backline that is brand new there will naturally be problems, it takes time and communication for them to begin to function as a unit. Then when you add in the fact that in almost 1/3 of their matches the Union have been down a man due to red cards, 5 times they have found themselves playing 10 vs. 11 and that is a hard thing to do. Yes Chris has made his fair share of mistakes, which comes will being a young starting keeper in MLS. His 1.91 GAA isn't all about his issues, but rather a reflection of a team that has struggled to keep teams from scoring, not a single clean sheet so far this year.
Then you have Nick Rimando, who may be having his best year yet, a 0.79 GAA with 8 clean sheets, and having made some spectacular saves, and for those who saw the Chivas USA match a few weeks ago even he isn't beyond mistakes. Nick may be one of the smallest keepers in MLS, but his quickness and physical abilities have kept him at the top of the list of valuable and reliable keepers. He has played every minute for RSL so far this year and coming off his MLS Cup MVP honors last year, he may simply be the most reliable keeper in the league. Of course if you ask Nick he will give a good amount of credit to the rest of the team and the everyone plays defense mentality, and he would be correct in doing so. Nick has only had to face 69 shots so far this year, more than either of the two keepers with a better GAA. It is highly unlikely that Nick will lose the battle against his former #2 on Wednesday.
Last year Pablo had to wait until August to get much playing time with RSL, and with 222 minutes so far in 2010 it is looking a lot like deja vu. Last year Pablo made two starts in August and got the game winner in both, he started with a 3rd minute goal against Chivas, a match RSL would win 4-0 at Rio Tinto. Then the next week it was a 18th minute goal against KC that got RSL back on their road towards the playoffs. Now he is facing a team that has allowed 5 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches and averages allowing 1.88 goals per match. With a busy couple months coming up, there will be no better chance for Pablo to force himself into a bigger role than showing up with the team needs him most.
While Danny is listed as questionable for the match with a rib injury, you have to believe that if he can go he will. He was brought into be the anchor of this team, but with a -11 goal differential and a league high 32 goals allowed, the ship that is the Union might be looking to secure itself to someone else. The Union have 0 clean sheets, and 12 matches with multiple goals. Now they face the highest scoring team in MLS, 33 goals scored but a majority (24) have come at home. The task for Danny will be a little bit easier as RSL will be without their leading scorer as Alvaro Saborio will be gone on national team duty for Costa Rica, and 2nd leading scorer Robbie Findley is coming off a USMNT match on Tuesday night. But you have to believe that the speedy Espindola and strong Campos should be able to keep the Union defender busy all night long.
OK, there are few officials in MLS that really scare me, but with just one match under his belt, I fear David Gantar. In his one match he called just 13 fouls, issued no cards and no PK's, but with just one match you just simply never know. How will the home fans influence him, how will he react to players who question his calls? Oh my I hate when I am more nervous about the official than the opponent, but this week that is how I am feeling.
I made a prediction that I thought the Union would end up being a fairly solid team after their first encounter with Real Salt Lake, I thought they played with passion and aggressiveness and they simply didn't quit. They came into that match with a 1-4-0 record and since then they are 3-6-3, as many wins and draws as losses, not bad for an expansion side. At home the Union are 3-2-2 with a +2 goal differential, but in recent matches they have shown that the "newness" factor of PPL Park has worn off as they are just 1-2-1 in the last 4 at home.
Real Salt Lake already have more road wins than they had in all of 2009, but I don't expect anyone in the organization is happy with their current 3-4-2 record. They have scored 9 goals and allowed 9 goals away from Rio Tinto, and are coming off a come from behind draw against KC last weekend. This match could pose a real opportunity for players like Pablo Campos or Will Johnson to step up their offensive numbers, with Saborio on National team duty and Robbie just 24 hours removed form 30 minutes of action against Brazil.
For RSL I believe the key will be coming out early and getting a goal, 9 times RSL has scored in the first 30 minutes of matches and the Union have given up 8 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches. We saw last week that the Union can protect a lead, it took FC Dallas 50 minutes to break them down and get a winning goal against a 10 man team. RSL will have go the full 90 minutes, both on offense and defense as both sides have scored 8 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, and both teams have given up 4 goals after the 75th minute. As is the case in almost every MLS match, scoring first is really a priority, RSL is 10-1-1 when scoring first and 0-3-2 when allowing the first goal. The upside of playing an expansion team is that they are only 3-2-2 when scoring first.
RSL win this one in a tougher match than expected 2-1.
OFF MY SOAPBOX