So this weekend features one of the more interesting rivalries in MLS, one born out of a common thread more than anything else. After the contraction of teams in 2000, it was 2005 that saw the first new teams join Major League Soccer and that is the basis of the rivalry between RSL and Chivas USA.
These two sides have simply not liked each other much since they joined the league, and that rivalry got heated last year when Javier Morales was injured when Chivas USA visited Rio Tinto Stadium. Chivas still holds an edge in the rivalry with 9 wins to RSL's 7, with 4 matches ending as draws. However the last few years have been almost all RSL, in the last 3 years RSL has lost to Chivas just once, while securing 4 wins and one draw.
Both sides are going to be a bit short handed, here are the injury reports for both teams:
CHIVAS USA - OUT: MF Marvin Iraheta (L knee ACL); DF Michael Lahoud(R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Juan Pablo Angel (head contusion);MF Laurent Courtois (L calf strain); PROBABLE: MF Blair Gavin (Rhamstring strain); FW Alejandro Moreno (broken nose), Chivas also is missing Jorge Villanfana who is with the US U23 team.
REAL SALT LAKE - QUESTIONABLE: DF Nat Borchers (L quadricepsstrain); MF Will Johnson (R adductor strain); PROBABLE: FW Álvaro Saborío(R knee internal injury)
So while RSL is getting a number of guys back, I think a number of them are still working on full match fitness as well as getting back their sharpness, luckily for RSL they have a couple of reserve matches that should help out (@Chicago Fire on 3/27, and Colorado Rapids on 4/8), having guys healthy will be huge as RSL has 6 matches in April.
more after the jump:
Key Match Up:
Ryan Smith vs. Sebastian Velasquez - A match up that nobody would have predicted at the end of last season, Ryan Smith had headed home to England as he walked away from Sporting Kansas City in June of 2011, after a solid year with the team in 2010 (3 goals,7 assists). I don't think anyone expected the 25 year old to return to MLS, and some thought his soccer journey was over after stops after 7 years at various levels in England and then his time with SKC, but late last season it was announced that his rights had been traded to Chivas USA. This spring he joined the team and he has been working towards becoming a bigger piece of Robin Fraser's side, when he is at his best Ryan is a very dangerous player and one that can hurt the opposition quickly if they lose track of him.
The other side of the match up is RSL's rookie midfielder Sebastian Velasquez, the 36th pick in the 2012 MLS draft, and the first rookie in over 5 years to start for RSL. He is a crafty player with an incredible amount of creativity, he is a walking story of dedication and faith and in his first two weeks in MLS has found himself matched up with Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry, and he has held his own. I think Sebastian is a player who thinks offensive even when he is playing defense, and that might give him an advantage over Smith, who is much more focused on offense only. One thing is sure while the names may not say top level match up, the abilities of these two players should provide fans with some entertaining play, and could play a key factor in the outcome of the match.
Casey Townsend - The number 5 pick in the 2012 MLS draft has found himself tossed into the starting lineup as Alejandro Moreno and Juan Pablo Angel have been battling injuries. He hasn't found the back of the net yet but I believe that it is only time before Townsend starts making a mark in MLS, he isn't a big player just 5' 11" but he has a nose for goal. In 4 years with the University of Maryland, he had 43 goals and 12 assists in his 85 matches played, I love the fact that he started each of those 85 matches. I am not sure how he will fare against the RSL defense, but keep you eye on number 14 as he is a kid I think will be a impact player for Chivas USA.
Javier Morales - So it was almost a year ago that a devious tackle from behind, in Chivas USA's last visit to Rio Tinto Stadium that took Javier Morales out of action for 6 months. I don't expect Javier to start in the match, as he is still recovering for some injuries but I would bet that he will see 45-30 minutes of action, and be given a chance to extract some revenge for last year. No I don't expect a sloppy or malicious tackle from behind, instead I expect Javier to do what he does best, make an impact on the scoreboard. There are few players as creative on and off the ball as Javier, and he is just as lethal taking the shots himself as he is playing the role of creator for others. I think there would be some sweet justice in Javi finding the back of the net on Saturday.
Mark Kadlecik - Well RSL has been lucky so far, heck most of MLS has been lucky so far as the officials have been fairly consistent and doing their best to stay out of the spotlight this year, but still it only takes one match for the controversy to return. RSL saw a lot of Mr. Kadlecik in 2011, and not much of it was good, he was the official in charge of RSL's 2-1 loss at home to Seattle (Olave got a red card), a 2-1 loss at Columbus (a cheesy PK given to the Crew), the chaos of RSL's 2-1 win at Seattle (Beltran and Hurtado both got red cards), in fact only RSL's 1-0 loss at Toronto FC didn't see a call play a game changing role in a match where Kadlecik was the man in charge. It wasn't just RSL that saw controversy from him, in 15 matches he has issued 5 red cards, given 5 PK's and he calls an average of 23.8 fouls per match and issues 3.2 yellows. Oh how I really, really hope we don't get one of those matches on Saturday.
My Starting XI:
Real Salt Lake for the first time in 2 years started the same eleven players in back to back matches, and I think we will see a 3rd straight match with the same lineup that has gotten the team off to a 2-0 start.
Real Salt Lake hasn't gotten off to a quick start yet this year, in fact 4 of our 5 goals scored have come in the second half, and 2 in the final 15 minutes of matches. Chivas USA has given up just two goals so far this year both after the 60th minute, so we can expect them to bunker in a bit and look for long balls over the top as they try to get behind the RSL defense. I don't expect them to change formation to a 4-5-1 in order to disrupt RSL's possession game, but I do think you will see them pressure the ball as soon as it enters their half of the pitch to try and eliminate offensive chances for RSL. I also think you will see the combination of James Riley and Ryan Smith look to work together and try to attack the RSL back line, I don't think they will be too successful as they will have to find a way past the RSL midfield before they can cause any issues for our defenders.
I think the speed and aggressiveness of Fabian Espindola and Paulo Jr. will be too much for the Chivas USA defense, as I just don't think Pearce and McKenzie will be able to deal with them without a lot of help, which will open up chances for Grabavoy, Gil and Velasquez. Paulo Jr. has yet to be rewarded on the scoreboard for the outstanding work he has done the first couple weeks of the season, I think Saturday he will open his goal account for 2012.
RSL must do what they do best, posses the ball, I expect that they should be able to get 53-55% of the possession if not more against Chivas. That should lead to good chances for shots and while Dan Kennedy is a very solid keeper, I think creating loose ball chances in the area is something RSL has done well this year, so at least 12 shots with at least 6 of them being on goal. If RSL can do those things, then I see no reason we don't pick up the win on Saturday, I am going with a 3-1 scoreline.
OFF MY SOAPBOX