Well perhaps no two MLS teams need a win this weekend worse than RSL who is trying to shake 3 straight league losses and keep themselves in front of the teams chasing them for 2nd place in the Western Conference. While the Union are 16 points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 12 matches left in their season. Neither team has been in very good form, the Union have just 1 win in the last 5 matches with 4 goals scored and 9 allowed. While RSL has just 2 wins in their last 5 with 6 goals scored and 6 goals allowed, so it is really a question of which team can step it up and get the win.
RSL is a respectable 4-6-2 on the road this year with 13 goals scored and 18 goals allowed, while the Union are just 5-5-1 at home with 17 goals scored and 13 goals allowed. Like most MLS matches this one will likely be determined by who can score first, RSL is 11-1-0 when they score first and just 2-9-1 when giving up the first goal, the Union are 6-2-1 when they score first and just 1-10-1 when giving up the first goal. This could favor RSL a bit as RSL has scored 3 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches and given up none, while the Union have scored 2 and given up 2 in the first 15 minutes. Should the match be 0-0 at the half their is a huge advantage for RSL who have scored 26 of their 37 goals in the second half of matches, that is more goals than the Union have scored all year (24).
Both sides are missing some players due to injuries:For the Union - OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms); DOUBTFUL: FW Jorge Perlaza (low back strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Gabriel Farfan (L knee contusion); MF Michael Farfan (R foot contusion. Along with Sheanon Williams being suspended for a red card last weekend. For RSL it is: OUT: GK Lalo Fernandez (R wrist fracture); DF Jamison Olave (L hamstring strain) DF Kenny Mansally (ACL strain); DOUBTFUL: DF Chris Schuler (L foot bone bruise).
After the jump, my Key Match Up, Wildcards and more:
Key Match Up:
Zac MacMath vs. Nick Rimando - This is a classic battle of the experienced pro with the young upstart, the Union drafted MacMath 5th overall in 2011 and while he spend most of the season as the backup to Faryd Mondragon, a quick departure of Mondragon in the offseason left the Union looking to Zac to become the number one and he has played all but 180 minutes this year. One has to consider him to be a success so far as he has posted a 1.30 GAA and has 5 shutouts this year.
The other net will be minded by Nick Rimando who is 12 years the senior of MacMath, Nick has over 300 matches and 95 career MLS shutouts, he has won MLS Cup with both DC United and RSL, and while he is far from the prototype that most people look for in keepers, his superior agility and match awareness make him one of the best keepers in MLS history. Nick's numbers this year show him with a 1.25 GAA and 8 of RSL's 9 clean sheets. Nick has been great against Philly, he has a 0.67 GAA in the 3 matches he has played against them.
Both keepers have made highlight reels with their saves this year, so expect both of them to be hard to beat on Friday night.
Freddy Adu - I think most MLS fans have a love/hate relationship with Freddy, for years he was forced down the throats of soccer fans in the US and for many that combined with his personality have left a sour taste in the mouths of fans. For me, I think it is much more a case of too much too soon, when signed by MLS in 2004 he was the youngest pro athlete in 115 years in the US. Now after leaving MLS and floundering around Europe for a couple years he has returned to MLS with the Union and while the numbers haven't been amazing, great, or in some cases even good you can still see the flashes that have made so many excited to see what the now 23 yr. old can do.
Paulo Jr. - I am keeping Paulo as my wildcard for RSL, because in the last week have seen some glimpses of what made so many RSL fans excited since he joined the team. Long runs, darting passes, and blistering shots have been the highlights of the last 3 matches for Paulo Jr., but no goals yet. He has contributed with a couple assists in recent matches and came very close to finding the back of the net on Tuesday. It is only a matter of time for him to find the back of the net, and I fully expect that it could be tonight where he is able to find a bit of space and hopefully find the back of the net.
Jair Marrufo - OK, every match I list the referee as a wildcard and more often than not they live up to the label. Jair is one of the more experienced officials in MLS with 139 previous matches, he calls a fairly low 24.2 fouls per match, a fairly average 3.2 yellows per match. 32 times he has shown a player a red card and 44 times he has pointed to the PK spot. With Jair you know that you will get at least a few controversial moments in the match but my hope as always is that we get as much consistency as we can and that the calls are the same for both sides.
My RSL starting XI:
When I looked at RSL's schedule a couple of weeks ago this match caught my eye, the Union have struggled this year and RSL has had decent luck there in the past with a couple of draws. Of the matches we have on the road left this year perhaps none provides as much opportunity for RSL to pick up a win as this one. Then add in the distress the Union have to be feeling after a crazy match last weekend against DC United, and the fact that one of their most stable and valuable players Sheanon Williams is suspended for a red card picked up in that match and you have to think that RSL may be able to keep their swagger from Tuesday going against a Union side that has underperformed all year. It will take an aggressive effort from RSL, like Tuesday's match, to match the youth and speed that the Union focus on. Our defense should be up to the task, so I am modifying my original 2-1 pick to be a 2-0 win for RSL.
So what do you think is going to happen when RSL makes their national TV debut on Friday night?
OFF MY SOAPBOX