I am actually surprised how balanced the competition between these two teams has been over the years, both sides have won 4 matches and there have been two draws. RSL holds a big advantage in the matches played in Salt Lake with a 4-1-0 record and an 11 to 5 edge in goals scored. I suggest fans keep that history in mind more than looking at the current struggles of TFC.
It is clear that TFC have had issues in MLS this year their 0-6-0 record is closing in on historic levels of failure to start a season. They have scored just 4 goals so far this year and allowed 13 to be scored against them. Some people blame their head coach Aron Winter and his dogmatic approach of wanting his team to play a 4-3-3 and a "total football" style, of course they have had injury issues since the start of the season and continue to have them. That has resulted in mixed lineups and a lack of depth for roster selections and subs during matches. If you have watched their matches you can see that there is some talent on this team but perhaps there is no bigger example of their issues than the plight of Julian de Guzman, brought in as the team's first Designated Player and from day one gotten mixed reviews from fans and teammates alike, now he finds himself often relegated to the bench. I am not sure what will happen first, TFC starting to have some level of success on the pitch or another round of staff changes and roster rebuilding?
For Real Salt Lake if you simply asked fans at the start of the year if they would be happy with a 5-3-1 record after the first 9 matches, with 5 on the road and facing LA, Portland, Sporting KC, New York and FC Dallas, most probably would have been OK with it. However after 9 matches I don't know many fans who are happy, questionable calls have impacted several matches, and simply I think most RSL fans have set expectations extremely high after a very good start of 5-1-0. I consider myself content, I know we should have more points, but I am hoping that at some point of the season the calls begin to even out. Still when you consider that I don't think RSL has played a single match this year with their "top" lineup, I see 5-3-1 and smile. So can RSL get their "top" lineup in on Saturday, can they not take TFC for granted?
After the jump, my Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more
Key Match Up:
Joao Plata vs Tony Beltran - Two guys not known for size at their position, Tony is 5'8" while Joao comes in at 5'2", but both are more known for their speed , they should have a very interesting battle on Saturday. While Plata has yet to find the back of the net this year, it hasn't stopped him from taking shots; he has 10 of them in 440 minutes of action. Only Ryan Johnson and Danny Koevermans have more shots for TFC. Last year at Toronto it was Plata's 77th minute goal that was the difference maker in the match. No other current TFC player has ever scored a goal against RSL in MLS action, and in the history of TFC no player has ever scored more than a single goal against RSL.
I am still amazed how few people around MLS know about the quality of Tony Beltran, I mean week in and week out he is often matched up against some of the very best midfielders and forwards in the league and week in and week out, he tends to shut them down. Think back to Wednesday night, what did you think of Brek Shea's performance on the night? Brek, who? Yeah the guy who most think is one of the most dangerous players in MLS was limited to converting an undeserved PK, other than that he had 16 successful passes, 10 unsuccessful one and lost possession 13 times in large part due to the work of Tony Beltran. For me it is clear that Tony is a vital part to what RSL does on both sides of the ball, and it will be interesting to see how he matches up against a number of TFC players who are very desperate to get a win.
Ryan Johnson - I don't think I can put my thoughts on Johnson any better than what Brain Dunseth did, "leaving RSL was the best thing for him". He came into RSL at a time when the team was bad, and didn't have the time or ability to focus on developing young players, they needed to turn a team and a franchise around. Now I think we all are seeing the player that Ryan is capable of being, granted he hasn't hit the high number of goals like he did in 2010 yet, but his combination of size, speed and skill on the ball means that he is a very dangerous player and one that I think the best is yet to be seen from.
Jamison Olave - Olave got his first match off of the season, now granted it was a bogus red card suspension but it was still a match off and something that he probably needed. So if I asked you who the most productive current RSL player against TFC is, who would you guess? Well two players have found the back of the net twice against TFC, Alvaro Saborio who has 2 goals and 1 assist in 4 matches, and the other is Jamison Olave who has two goals in his 5 matches against TFC. I give a nod to Olave simply because his pair of goals comes off just 4 shots; it took Sabo 11 to get his two. A rested and I have to believe mad Jamison Olave could be a very dangerous player on Saturday.
Silviu Petrescu - Oh Canada, yeah we will be hearing that played before the match as Toronto FC comes to town, but also for Silviu who is a Canadian native, and before you get started no I don't think it will make a single bit of difference. Silviu was the man in charge of RSL's last home match last year against Portland, he called 28 fouls and issued 5 yellow cards in the 1-1 draw. His average is to call 27.5 fouls per match, he issues an average of 3.7 yellow cards per match, in his 43 MLS matches he has issued just 8 red cards and pointed to the PK spot just 6 times. So while he tends to call a tight match, he doesn't appear to make rash or rushed calls that can change the match. I can only hope that trend continues on Saturday.
My RSL Starting XI:
Real Salt Lake has to be ready for anything on Saturday, could they see a team panicked by the number of goals they have given up and wanting to play bunker ball? Could they see a team that finally shows what Aron Winter's "total football" 4-3-3 might be capable of? Could they see a team of guys who are going to fight for everything close to them as they look to secure their jobs and impress any potential new coaching candidates if Winter is booted out soon? We should know rather quickly what we will be getting, so the first 15 minutes will be critical for RSL. RSL haven't given up a goal in the first 30 minutes of a match yet this season, and impressive number, but we have only scored 2 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches as well. I think we need to come out quickly and create chances to put TFC on their heels from the first minute.
That will require quick passing, sharp passing and accurate shots on goal. If they do those things, well then we should be able to claim our 6th win of the season. I would say we will need 425-475 passes, with a completion rate of 82% or higher and I would love to see us get at least 8 shots on goal. The other thing that RSL will have to do, is play until the final whistle, we have allowed 6 goals to be scored in the final 30 minutes of matches, now some of that has to do with the San Jose match but still we need to find a way to not allow teams to score goals late in matches. The goal as always should be to score first, RSL is 4-0-0 when they get the first goal, and just 1-3-1 when they allow the first goal. The final thing is to not allow the past mistakes of the officials to change how we play, we know they have gotten calls wrong, but we can't over compensate for those mistakes and change our style or aggressive nature on and off the ball.
I think RSL gets a 3-1 win in this one.
OFF MY SOAPBOX