Will this be the match that Paulo Jr. finds the back of the net for the first time in 2012? I think it just might be.
Well this is the first meeting of RSL and expansion side Montreal and the only meeting between the two teams this year. With just 4 matches played in MLS we don't know a lot about the Montreal Impact yet, but we are learning a bit more each week. The Impact found some offensive mojo last weekend against the New York Red Bulls, but you know the old saying everyone scores on New York, but the Impact while scoring two ended up giving up 5 goals to bring their season total to 10 goals allowed. They are the first team to allow double digits to be scored against them in MLS, and I have to believe their focus will be on defense first on Wednesday.
For Real Salt Lake the late come from behind win at Portland last weekend should provide a great boost of confidence after the loss in their home opener, now they will most likely be faced with a team that will play the same "defend and counter" that Chivas USA tried, so can RSL this time figure out how to score goals against a team playing that way? Well two factors could play into that, first I don't think the Impact defense is nearly as good as what Chivas USA has shown this year, and second I think RSL's confidence on the attacking side of the ball is probably a good deal higher after last weekend.
One thing that could be interesting is to see how the Impact on short rest react to the elevation at Rio Tinto, that could be a factor as the match progresses. Both teams played last Saturday and both will play again on Saturday so both sides could be making a number of changes to their rosters.
After the jump, My Key Match Up, My Wildcards, and My RSL Starting XI:
Key Match Up:
Donovan Ricketts vs. Nick Rimando - For the last several years in MLS there have been some elite goal keepers and two of the very best have been Nick and Donovan, in 2010 Ricketts had a 0.94 GAA and recorded 20 wins, while Nick had a 0.72 GAA with 15 wins. Last year before getting hurt Donovan had a 0.77 GAA and had recorded 7 wins, while Nick had a 1.14 GAA and 15 wins. Along with Kevin Hartman, Kasey Keller and Jimmy Nielsen these guys established themselves as among the top keepers in MLS.
So this year it is a bit of a different story, Donovan Ricketts was seen as expendable by the LA Galaxy (they might be reconsidering that) and traded away to Montreal to clear cap room and get some allocation money. As a result he has been exposed by a back line that is clearly trying to learn how to play together, only once have the Impact varied from their opening day back four. Last week Jeb Brovsky was out due to a red card suspension and replaced by Zarek Valentin, but normally Brovsky is joined by Matteo Ferrari, Tyson Wahl and Josh Gardner as the standard back four that the Impact go with. The result has been a 2.50 GAA for Donovan Ricketts and a 0-3-1 record, now is this a testament to how good the back line of the LA Galaxy were, or that maybe Donovan has lost a bit of his touch at age 34? I think the truth is somewhere in between the two.
So then there is Nick Rimando, one of the cornerstones of the Real Salt Lake rebuild under Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey. Nick has been a team leader on and off the pitch since he arrived and his in net performances continue to amaze fans, teammates and opponents alike, at just 5'9" his lack of size hasn't held him back as his instincts and cat-like abilities have allowed him to notch 124 career wins and 88 career clean sheets. While this year we have seen him turn into a human highlighter with the new colors forced on him by Adidas and MLS, the reality is that he has been a human highlight reel for years. I think Nick would be among the first to let you know that his success is in large part tied to the great and very consistent back line that RSL is able to field. When you have two guys who battle for MLS defender of the year in front of you, like Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers it will always make your job easier, then add in the ever improving Chris Schuler, along with Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert securing the outsides of that back line and well it is an impressive combo of players working with Nick to protect the RSL goal.
Justin Braun - He might not start but local kid Justin Braun will probably see action in the match and he always seems to play very well when facing RSL, in 6 matches played against RSL he has logged 282 minutes which have resulted in 8 shots and a goal. He is just one of three Impact players who have scored against RSL while playing for other MLS team, former Crew player Josh Gardner has 2 goals against RSL and former Sounder Lamar Neagle has one goal against RSL. Still when a player heads back to their home town, in front of friends and family you always have to expect them to step up their performance.
Paulo Jr. - Six different players have scored goals for RSL this year, and that fact that Paulo Jr. isn't one of them but it hasn't been from a lack of effort, just ask RSL head coach Jason Kreis who continues to sing the praises of Paulo Jr. this year. The work rate, the effort on both sides of the ball, and the high energy style are all things that Paulo Jr. has used so far this year to impress the staff and fans. The change this off-season has been that he has worked hard to get minutes by being a more complete player and improving his overall fitness level as to remain healthy. The progression was noticed as he was signed to a permanent move in the off season and the results are starting to show, it is just a matter of time before he starts finding the back of the net, could tonight be the night.
Ricardo Salazar - Well another match and I am sure another officiating job that will raise some questions as Ricardo Salazar has been one of the more controversial officials the last few years in MLS. He has now officiated 147 matches in MLS, he calls an average of 27 fouls per match, he issues an average of 3.5 yellow cards per match and 42 times he has issued a red card (29 percent of matches) and 54 times he has pointed to the PK spot (better than once every three matches). With MLS watching closely, we have seen more action in 4 weeks from the MLS Disciplinary Committee than we saw in first 4 months last year, and this being the only match of the night, I can only hope that we get a consistent and evenly called match.
My RSL Starting XI:
For Real Salt Lake the key will be breaking down the likely defensive wall that Montreal will put up, I expect you will see the Impact try a game plan similar to what Chivas USA did a couple weeks ago, so for RSL it will be about having enough sharpness to finish their chances. I fully expect that RSL will have between 55-60% of the possession, I expect a lot of passing (over 500 with over 80% completion), and offense (14+ shots, 6+ on goal) and if we can do that we should be able to score a couple of goals.
I expect that the RSL defense should be able to rebound from the 2 goals given up to Portland, and I expect you will see more pressure applied to attacking players who get anywhere near the RSL 18 yard box. This is going to be physical match, the Impact have the highest number of fouls committed in MLS at this point, and I have to imagine on the road against a team like RSL it could get ugly, so playing with composure and not reacting to things will be a key factor for RSL.
The final score is going to be 3-0, there is too much going the right way for RSL and too little for Montreal.
OFF MY SOAPBOX