Well it is only the second week of the season but this is a huge match for both teams, RSL want to prove that last weekends win against LA was no fluke, and the New York Red Bulls want to prove that their loss at FC Dallas was a mistake and get something from their second straight match on the road against Western Conference opponents.
These two teams know each other rather well over the last couple years, starting with the first ever match for Real Salt Lake, a 0-0 draw in hurricane conditions against the then NY Metrostars, then the first ever match at Rio Tinto Stadium, a 1-1 draw, then again just weeks later in the 2008 Western Conference final, a match that New York would win 1-0. If you checked out the infographic on this match up you know these teams are evenly matched since RSL joined the league RSL holds a 4-3-7 edge but New York has scored 20 goals to RSL's 19.
So the New York Red Bulls will be without Juan Agudelo (US U23), Rafa Marquez (red card suspension), and Wilman Conde due to injury. Real Salt Lake will be missing a number of players as well, as the injuries continue to take their toll on RSL; OUT: MF Will Johnson (R adductor strain); DOUBTFUL: DF Tony Beltran (R knee sprain); MF Javier Morales (R MCL sprain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Cody Arnoux (R knee sprain); DF Nat Borchers (L quadriceps strain); PROBABLE: FW Alvaro SaborÌo (R Condyle internal injury); MF Jonny Steele (L knee internal injury).
So after the jump find out what is my key match up, who are my wildcards, who is in my RSL starting XI, and what my prediction is for the match:
Key Match Up:
Two big guys with big talent, one has played all over the world, while one simply changes the world of those who play against him. It is clear that TH14 still has what it takes to play at the highest level and yet continues to do his work here in MLS, it is great for the league but clearly if you heard the interview with him after last weeks 2-1 loss at FCD it is frustrating for him. He respects how RSL has built their team and how RSL plays as a team, he has said so last year and has repeated it this week:
"[Real Salt Lake] are far ahead of us," Henry admitted this week. "I've said it for a very long time, they are, with LA, the best team in this league, by a distance. It's not a coincidence that we have not beaten them yet since I'm here. Not a lot of teams beat Salt Lake, especially at their place, so it's going to again be a difficult task."
The other side of this battle is Jamison Olave, who simply has established himself as one of the best defenders in MLS. His size is intimidating, his speed is amazing, his awareness of the game is stellar, and when you combine this things it is very hard to get past him with the ball (or your health - your choice).
It should provided for a very interesting match up to see how these two warriors of the pitch do battle on Saturday night.
Terukazu Tanaka - Real Salt Lake's Japanese defender may get his first MLS action as it is unlikely that Tony Beltran will be able to go on Saturday night. Many fans will recognize Tanaka by his hair which has been compared to a lion's mane by many who have watched him online. I think those folks will quickly forget about his haircut and be paying attention to his confidence on the ball, and his ability to get forward in support of the attack. It will be a formidable test to get your first MLS minutes going up against Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, and the rest of a very powerful New York Red Bull lineup. I think we will find that he has the heart of a lion and is up to the challenge.
Kenny Cooper - Last week the Red Bulls didn't look very dangerous until Kenny Cooper came on the pitch, but in his first 26 minutes in a MLS match for NYRB he showed how lethal he can be, as he scored the lone goal for New York. This week Kenny will be starting up top, alongside a likely withdrawn TH14, and that could mean a lot of work for the RSL defenders. Kenny has been very good against RSL, no matter which team he has been with, in 887 minutes over 11 matches he has 5 goals and 1 assist. I expect him to be very active on Saturday and he should keep Olave and Schuler very busy.
Hilario Grajeda - Well I thought last week that Kevin Stott didn't do a horrible job, I am a unsure why Edson Buddle with 7 fouls didn't get a infringement card, while Kyle Beckerman with 3 did. This week it is Hilario, who RSL saw in charge of a couple matches last year, and I think he did a decent job in both of the matches. So I expect a evenly called match but again this is MLS, so you simply never know.
My starting XI:
I imagine that the excitement of the RSL fans for the home opener is matched only by the excitement of the players and staff of RSL, since moving to Rio Tinto Stadium I have heard over and over again from them how impact the fans have on them, the energy they get from us. We have heard opposing players say how Rio Tinto is one of the toughest places to play, and now we get to take it up a level. Now we get to make this type of thing a reality:
It is time to help RSL return our home pitch to the fortress it was in 2010 when we didn't lose a single match.
So with both teams missing a couple of key pieces it will open the door for other players to step up, and I expect that we will see that again. New York knows they will need to get out to a quick start and test the RSL defense, but we saw that RSL can jump out to quick starts at home as well, and I expect that it is unlikely that the scoreboard will be 0-0 after the first 30 minutes of this match.
I do like the poise which RSL played with last week on the road against LA, and they will need to play that way again if they want to beat New York. We know that things that RSL does best, they possess the ball well and I expect that to get a win we will need better than 55% of the possession on Saturday night. We know that RSL passes the ball well, and I expect that we will need 80% or better completion on our passes against New York, and for me it is all about taking our opportunities and converting them, so I believe again 12 or more shots with at least 5 on goal will be needed. If RSL can do those things, then we should get a solid 2-0 win, but don't be surprised if it opens up and things get fast and frantic from both teams and we get a 3-2 RSL win.
So there you go, my thoughts about Saturday's match. Remember to get their early because at 7:30 p.m., RSL supporters invite fans to join them at Rio Tinto's Stadium Southeast gate for the start of their "March around The RioT" on the stadium's concourse, leading the charge to be in the stands by the time warm-ups end on the field.
See you at Rio Tinto.
OFF MY SOAPBOX