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Real Salt Lake vs. Kansas City Wizards - Match Preview

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rslvskc

It was 378 days ago, it was two goals from Josh Wolff, it was RSL coming off 3 May matches with just one point to show for it, it was a May when RSL would play 6 matches, 4 on the road and end the month with two points from a 18 possible points, it was a match that RSL entered with just 10 points.  That was then, and this is now.  Now 4 of the starting 11 from that 2-0 loss will not be on the pitch (Seitz, Mathis, Moysisyan, and Findley), RSL is coming of 4 May matches with 12 points from them, RSL enters the match with 16 points.

Since that day,  RSL hasn't lost a single match at Rio Tinto Stadium, since that day, RSL went on to make the playoffs by qualifying for a Eastern Conference playoff spot, since that day RSL went on to become the 2009 MLS Cup Champions.  Since that day, RSL hasn't looked back at all.  On the other hand KC would go on to win 3 more matches that year, fire their head coach, miss the playoffs, get rid of a goal keeping legend, but not everything has been bad for KC.  They are in the process of building a new stadium, finally and they opened the 2010 season with back to back wins over DC United and Colorado.  Since then, however things haven't been good for KC, they have actually not won another match since then are now 2-4-2, they have only scored 3 goals in their 6 matches since their week 2 win over Colorado.

If you want a full sized copy of the Quick Reference Card, just click here

After the jump, Key Matchups, Wildcards, and of course my prediction for the match:

Key Matchups:

RSL forwards vs. Wizard defense

In their last 4 matches RSL has scored 10 goals, KC after allowing just 1 goal in their first 4 matches have allowed 8 in their last 4.  While the Wizards can draw on the experience of Jimmy Conrad to lead their back line, they have a couple very young and inconsistent guys playing back there with him, Jonathan Leathers and Matt Besler.  With the exception of Conrad their back line also isn't the biggest in the league which should provide a real advantage for Saborio who plays much bigger than his 6'0" frame,  RSL should also have an advantage on set pieces where the size of Olave and Borchers can also provide more targets in the box.  I have a feeling RSL will bring back Espindola into the starting lineup, he looked good in practice on Friday, but no matter if it is Fabi or Pablo Campos playing with Saborio, they will offer a variety of problems for the KC defense.

Ned Grabavoy vs. Davy Arnaud

Ned became a regular starter for RSL in the midfield at the beginning of the 2010 season and looked great until getting sidelined with an injury, just as he comes back from his injury Kyle is hit last week with an injury that will keep him out of the lineup this weekend.  So Ned will become that holding midfielder in the middle and that means that he will see a lot of KC's Davy Arnaud, who is a dangerous player who can provide scoring chances for others as well as finishing them himself.  Davy hasn't ever scored against RSL, but he does have 4 assists in his 9 matches against us.  He did find the back of the net 5 times in 2009 and 7 times in 2008, and while he isn't as fast as he used to be, he should be a handful for Ned. Ned went the full 90 minutes last weekend in the win over Chivas and has shown that he has the ability to play both offensively and defensively in the midfield and while Davy will have a bit of size advantage, speed and grit are on the side of Grabavoy.

Wildcards

Josh Wolff

I am not sure why Josh Wolff has under 600 minutes so far this year, last year he was the most dangerous scoring weapon for the Wizards with 11 goals and for a team that has struggled scoring goals you would think you would go to a guy with a decent scoring history.  At 33 years of age it may be that Josh is looking for fewer minutes, but he is the only guy on the current Wizards roster to have scored a goal against RSL.  He has 3 goals and 5 assists in just 270 minutes against RSL, and had both of the goals in KC's 2-0 win over RSL at Rio Tinto last year.  While the projected lineup sheet may not have him as a starter, I have to believe that Pete Verme is lookng at their recent losing streak and thinking he needs a scoring boost.

Fabian Espindola

Fabi started the 2010 season like he ended the 2009, with an incredible work rate and causing havoc on opposing defense by running at them with speed and a willingness to shot or pass based on the situation he found himself in.  He used his passion for the game to attack every ball and very often he either got the ball back in RSL's 
possession or forced opponents to commit a foul, which granted RSL a free kick.  While he may not be back up to 90 minutes of match fitness after his recent ankle injury, look for him to make an impact either as a starter or coming off the bench, Fabi is one of 4 RSL players to have scored against the Wizards.

Ricardo Salazar, Eric Boria, Paul Scott, Alejandro Mariscal

It is sad that so many matches this year have had the final result impacted by bad calls by the officials, and while US Soccer does a great job of providing their Ref reviews, they have avoided many of the controversial calls by focusing instead on themes each week.  Well Salazar has been in charge of 110 games, he issues an average of 3.7 yellow cards per match, he has issued 37 reds (1 every 2.9 matches), he has pointed to the PK spot 44 times (1 every 2.5 matches).  All we can do as fans is hope that maybe we get a match where the officials call things correctly and fairly, and allow the players on the pitch to be the factor in who wins and who loses.

My Prediction

Before I offer up my thoughts on what will happen tonight, I thought I would offer up a bit from the KC perspective. Down the Byline:

While Salt Lake is hot right now, the Wizards are extremely cold. They are winless in 6 games, and have only scored 4 goals in the last 7 games (1-4-2 in those games). It's difficult to see that changing this week as Salt Lake is just that good at home.

I started this post by pointing out some things that make this one different than when these teams matched up last at Rio Tinto, but I remember going into that match and thinking we are at home, we always do well at home, and leaving scratching my head.  Now we are playing well, unlike last year, but there will be no Kyle to keep everyone organized and motivated on the pitch.  Now there is the distraction of 4 straight wins, going for a franchise best 5 game winning streak.  This is a match up of a team that leads the league in scoring against a team that has played good defense (they gave up just one goal against Columbus, they blanked LA).

The reality is that I don't think any of that will matter, RSL is playing well, I fully expect KC to come out and play defensively and look for chances to counter attack.  They are used to playing on a narrow pitch where they can clog up the midfield but Rio Tinto is wider than Community America Ballpark, and RSL know how to use that width very well.  Look for RSL to do something they have started a habit of doing in recent weeks, scoring early, in 3 of our last 4 matches we have gotten on the scoreboard before the 30th minute.  Those 3 matches have been at home, 2 first half goals in the win over TFC (14th and 42nd minute), 1 early goal against Philly (27th minute), and 2 early goals against Houston (3rd and 24th minutes).

Real Salt Lake will strike again in the first half, and end the match with a convincing 2-0 home win to start the holiday weekend.

With so much going on this weekend, I don't have time to do a full match preview of the US vs. Turkey match, but look for the US to get some momentum going and get a 2-1 win over a tough Turkey.

OFF MY SOAPBOX