Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes, both suffering from injuries to important players, face off in today's season opener in an odd repeat of seasons gone by.
RSL is set to miss defenders Chris Wingert and Nat Borchers, and talismanic midfielder Javier Morales, though briefly training before the team left Salt Lake City, remains unavailable as he returns to fitness.
San Jose, who won the Supporters Shield in 2012 but failed in the playoffs, face lengthy layoffs for strikers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. Marvin Chavez, Steven Beitashour, and former RSL man Mehdi Ballouchy are all absent through the early weeks of the season as well.
Much of Real Salt Lake's lineup builds itself, but with key absences to defenders coupled with off-season departures, a relatively untested lineup is set for gametime. Kenny Mansally will almost certainly start for Wingert, while Borchers and Jamison Olave will be replaced by Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Tony Beltran fills it out as the most experienced defender in the group, and Rimando is almost certain to start behind the four.
In the midfield, the only absence of note is Javier Morales, although the departure of Will Johnson will mean a revamped approach. Luis Gil, only recently returned from international duty, is available but not a certainty to start, while Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy are essentially locked in place. Sebastian Velasquez may start, while Khari Stephenson could be added to balance the side a bit. Stephenson and Grabavoy, both former Earthquakes players — though the former considerably more recently — may be a bit too similar in style for the start today, but that remains to be seen.
Up front is another question mark, as Robbie Findley remained involved in only limited minutes during preseason action. Alvaro Saborio undoubtedly starts, but whether Findley or Joao Plata start alongside is unknown. Plata showed particularly well in preseason, so Jason Kreis is unlikely to feel particularly pressured to start Findley unnecessarily.
Kreis's side will need to remain aware of potential threats, although with Wondolowski the sole established striker in the Earthquakes lineup, they may be tempted to play a bit more loosely out of the back. Schuler and Watson-Siriboe have already established a working partnership, but if either of the two is inattentive for even moments at a time, RSL could be placed in a difficult position.
The other major decision involves who to start at the top of the diamond. Sebastian Velasquez may seem the most natural player there, but Ned Grabavoy at the top allows for a greater breadth of attack through his distribution. Luis Gil could have a shout there after fine performances with the US U-20s, but he may not yet be ready for a start, having missed the bulk of preseason.