Well this should be a match where RSL can pick up some points on the road. The Whitecaps have lost 4 straight matches, while Real Salt Lake are 2-0-3 in their last 5 with two of those draws being gifted to their opponents by some of the worst calls MLS has seen in years. RSL beat Vancouver 2-0 last month when the two sides faced off at Rio Tinto, but Vancouver have only lost twice at home (2-2-5).
The Whitecaps made an interesting couple of moves this week, first they brought in another Designated Player in forward Mustapha Jarju, who played for Royal Albert-Elisabeth Club de Mons in Belgium last year. Clearly they hope that he can do what RSL's Alvaro Saborio did last year by coming to MLS, adjusting quickly and making a huge impact. They also made a strange move in my mind by trading away midfielder Terry Dunfield (1 goal and 3 assists in 928 minutes) to Toronto FC for allocation money, I thought Dunfield had actually played very well at the start of the season for them. In getting just allocation money you have to wonder if they are pondering more moves in the near future?
Real Salt Lake did all the things they needed to do in order to get a 2-0 win over FC Dallas last weekend at Rio Tinto, they shut down Brek Shea, they took some great shots on goal, and they dictated the pace of the match by their passing and possession. FC Dallas did the same thing to them on Tuesday in US Open Cup action down in Dallas and eliminated RSL from the tournament. Real Salt Lake find themselves in 4th place in the Western Conference with 30 points from the 17 matches they have played, they are 9 points behind LA who have 39 points from 21 matches played. LA has the weekend off from MLS action, so this is a chance for RSL to close the gap by picking up points on the road.
My Key Match Up, Wildcards, and prediction after the jump:
Key Match Up:
RSL vs. RSL
Not to discredit the Whitecaps but for Real Salt Lake this week the matchup is simple, which RSL team do we see? If it is the team that dominates possession, completes over 75% of their passes, and takes more than 12 shots then I expect a great result. If it is the flat team that showed up in Dallas on Tuesday, or team that showed up in the first half of the 1-1 draw last month at Philadelphia, well then it could be a long day for both players and fans.
At the start of the year nobody was questioning the talent or commitment of RSL, they took MLS to the finals of the Champions League, they started with 4 straight victories and looked like they would dominate the league this year. Things always have a way of changing, for RSL it was the mental anguish of the loss in the Champions league combined with the physical loss of Javier Morales, the absence of key players for Gold Cup, an yet through all of that the team battled on. There are only 3 teams with more points than RSL in the league and all have played more matches, you have to believe that 8-3-6 would be a record that most teams would love to have after 17 matches. Yet for RSL the bar has been raised so high, by the fans, the players, the staff, and everyone else that somehow that just doesn't seem good enough.
Perhaps it is all a case of expectations being set too high, but I don't believe so. I think it may be something else, it may be a case of things seeming too easy, a case of being the favorite, a case of having to battle against yourself and your own expectations as much as it is about battling against your opponents each week. Whatever it is, I think Real Salt Lake will have a lot more to do with how they perform on Saturday than will the Whitecaps.
Injuries, national team duty, scoring droughts, RSL fans thought they had seen it all and worked thru it all with Saborio this year. He scored his first MLS goal of 2011 against Toronto FC a couple weeks ago and had scored in back to back matches, but now his antics at being taken off the pitch late in the teams 2-0 win over FC Dallas last weekend has more questions than answers. We have been told time and time again about the fragile egos of forwards, and one is left to wonder how both the player and his teammates will react this week. I have given Saborio a lot of rope this year because I know he had been playing through the pain of his off season knee surgery, and because I had faith that when he was back to full fitness we would see him return to the form that made him the 2010 MLS Newcomer of the year. Now he needs to prove that my faith in him wasn't misplaced, he is an important piece of this team but he is just one of many pieces. At his best he can be one of the best forwards in the league, and we deserve to see his best.
No player has been as dramatic this year in MLS as Eric Hassli, he has 6 goals in 948 minutes of playing time this year, of course you can't mention that without mentioning the 3 red cards and 5 yellow cards that he has gotten the same amount of time. Half of his 6 goals have come from the PK spot, and he also has what will likely be the goal of the year for an amazing goal that was nominated for a ESPY. He has been battling an ankle injury in recent weeks but I have to believe he will see some action against RSL and he is always a potential game changer.
Geoff Gamble -
Well RSL has been on the wrong side of a couple of game changing calls in their last 5 matches and now the team will get another one of the "new" MLS officials. Geoff Gamble has officiated just 5 previous MLS matches and while his number of fouls called per match is a bit lower than most at 21.6 per match, his rate of yellow cards is 3.6 per match a bit higher than the league average. He has never issued a red card in a match but he has pointed to the PK spot twice in the 5 matches he has officiated. He is a 32 yr old Canadian official who has known controversy for the two PK's he called in 10 minutes in the DC United 3-2 win over Portland at the end of May and the 3 tries that Portland had at one of those PK's. He was a long time USL/NASL official who has officiated Whitecaps matches in the past. Again my only desire is that the match be called the same for both teams, and that Mr. Gamble takes a moment to think before making any match changing calls.
When these two teams faced off at Rio Tinto Stadium last month it was a fairly one sided affair, if RSL can come close to repeating their efforts it should be that way again. Last time RSL maintained 61.6% of the possession, I would be happy for 56% today on the road. Last time RSL had 485 passes to Vancouver's 295, I expect RSL to make about 375-400 passes today, if they can control the match with quick, short, accurate passes we should see them complete about 80% of their passes. It was the 24 shots and 8 shots on goal last time that really caught my attention because they came from all over the pitch, Kyle Beckerman had 3 shots, Chris Schuler had 2, Ned Grabavoy had a couple, in fact the only starters to not take a shot were Nat Borchers and Nick Rimando. It is that overwhelming aggression and attack that I believe is a key to RSL getting a win on Saturday. The defense of the Whitecaps has allowed 28 goals this year, only 3 teams have allowed more, this is a team that after 4 straight losses put out a lineup of some of their youngest players last week and may do so again.
This match isn't going to be about how RSL and Vancouver match up, it is going to be about will RSL go for the throat early and put the Whitecaps on their heels from the start. The Whitecaps like a fast start, 7 of their 19 goals have come in the first 30 minutes of matches, and at home they have a great crowd that has kept them alive late in matches. RSL need to come out and get an early goal and then dominate the match to the point where the fans at Empire Field feel as over matched as their players. Day matches aren't something RSL has to deal with often, so if RSL don't dominate early this could be a long match that ends up coming down to the final minutes, but I believe RSL will score early and get a big road win 2-0.
OFF MY SOAPBOX