Well on the day that the group stages finish in the World Cup, the MLS season picks back up and your Real Salt Lake are going to be the team to kick it off. No team was hotter than RSL when the league stopped playing, they have a 7 match unbeaten streak in league play, a 20 match unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto, oh and in our last match we handed the LA Galaxy their first defeat of the season.
The eyes of the world aren't focused on RSL, heck even the attention of the league isn't really on the restart of the MLS season, go count the total number of MLS stories on their news page versus how many World Cup stories there are.
Well for me it is easy to focus on both, nothing beats watching the US as they have made believers out of so many, and now they are in a position that if they win their next 4 matches they will hoist a trophy that many thought they wouldn't come close to, hmm that story sounds very familiar. If you are coming out to the match tonight, show up early as the first 4,000 people will get free t-shirts (see image)
RSL is an impressive 7-3-2 in their first 12, but San Jose a team RSL beat 3-0 on the opening weekend had gone a good run until the final matches before the break. They are 5-4-1 which is probably close to what most people expected from them but after their loss to RSL they went on a 5-1-1 run, but are 0-2-1 in their last 3 matches.
Both sides have a number of injuries to deal with: San Jose OUT: MF Andre Luiz (L knee internal derangement); MF Joey Gjertsen (L quad strain); FW Eduardo (R hip flexor strain); DOUBTFUL: FW Scott Sealy (R quad strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Arturo Alvarez (L hamstring strain) Real Salt Lake QUESTIONABLE: MF Kyle Beckerman (L foot strain); MF Nelson Gonz·lez (L hamstring strain); PROBABLE: FW Fabian EspÌndola (L hamstring strain)
key matchups, wildcards and my prediction after the jump:
Alvaro Sabario vs Joe Cannon
Joe Cannon has had 5 clean sheets this year and in 4 of them the Quakes went on to get the full 3 points that come with a win. However 5 times this year Joe and the Quakes defense have allowed multiple goals, and in 4 of those 5 the team went on to lose the match. In their last 3 matches before the World Cup break, the Quakes had allowed 7 goals. Joe was in goal on opening day, but it was Javier and Fabian who did the scoring for RSL that day and Saborio came in very late as a sub.
Since that day Alvaro has taken his place in the starting lineup for 10 of the 12 matches RSL has played, his 5 goals and 4 assists lead the team in both categories, he simply has forced teams to play us differently as we now have a target forward that has worked out well with our speed and attack guys like Fabi and Robbie. His ability both in the air with his head and on the ground with his feet make hims a threat that most defenses have struggled to contain.
I have to hope the rest has given Alvaro some time to get ready for the long summer and the rest of the MLS season, at his top form he may be one of the top 4-5 forwards in MLS and RSL will need him at top form against the Quakes.
Will Johnson vs. Bobby Convey
Convey is the top assist guy for the Quakes with 7 assists and while he hasn't found the back of the net yet this year, it may only be a matter of time. Bobby is one of the guys who has been a creative engine for San Jose, and with the injuries to Arturo Alvarez this year the Quakes have needed that offensive spark in their midfield.
Will Johnson is simply a guy who doesn't quit, he goes and goes until the final whistle blows. He will need to use that energy level and his ability to break up plays as he faces off with Bobby Convey. The advantage that Will has is that he is as good on defense as he is on offense and that will probably allow him to create some good chances off 50-50 balls that he is able to win.
This should be a fun matchup to watch during the match, as both guys aren't afraid of getting physical and neither of them has a bit of "backdown" in their DNA.
Nick will be trying to do something that only four other keepers have done in the history of MLS, get his 100th win. For a guy who has been told for years that he wasn't keeper material, that is a mighty big milestone, I look back at the impact Nick has made on RSL since joining the team and he has been one of the major parts in the transition from "pretender" to "contender".
So while the fans will be cheering and many around the US will be focused on tomorrows bit USA match in the World Cup, the pressure will be on for Nick as he sets his sights on a milestone for himself, and the 8th straight result for RSL, and 21st straight result for RSL at home. If anyone can handle that kind of pressure it is Nick, just look back to how he did in the playoffs last year, rock solid in all the pressure situations.
RSL picked up Ryan in 2006 but on a bad team and he couldn't make a splash, Ryan rejoined MLS with the Quakes in 2008 and has played well since his return. So well that his 11 goals for the Quakes last year was the best on the team and he tossed in a couple assists to go along with them. So far the 2010 season hasn't been as nice, Ryan has only found the net once but has added 4 assists to continue helping his team. So you while the Quakes might ask their fans 'Did you feel that?", I wonder when Ryan will hit "the big one" that game changing and year changing goal? I only hope that it doesn't come against Real Salt Lake.
Who is that you might ask, well let's hope that he isn't like Koman Coulibaly, Silviu is the head official in tonight's match this will be his 18th MLS match, he issues an average of 4.2 yellows per match, has issued 4 red cards and only once has he pointed to the spot for a PK. Let's hope that he isn't part of the story line after the match.
One team is looking to continue their march back to MLS Cup, the other is looking to change their recent luck, and both should be fresh after the World Cup break, but will the time off do them more good or will they have lost a bit of match sharpness? Seeing RSL play with mixed lineups in last weekend's friendly match and do well, helps me believe they should be ready to go, but like the fans they too have been spending a lot of time watching the World Cup and could be a bit distracted by tomorrow's big match. Oh how nice that RSL had the foresight to schedule their match tonight so it wouldn't conflict with the USA match and parties tomorrow.
San Jose have shown that they have a solid team, but as of late the results were lacking, and most people believe it may have been due to a very busy schedule early in the season and the number of injuries they have suffered. It will be interesting to see how the Quakes do over the next couple weeks, do they establish themselves as a real playoff contender in the West or drop back to be a bottom of the Conference type of team?
Listen it would be easy for RSL to look past a team they beat on opening day 3-0, but that scoreline is a bit deceptive as San Jose actually created a number of good chances. RSL has been great when they score more than one goal, 7-0-1, and there last two matches have seen RSL get the clean sheet. San Jose has allowed multiple goals in their last 3 matches, should they do so tonight, it will very likely end up in another loss for the quakes.
This one will end up 3-0 for RSL again as they pick up where they left off and continue their unbeaten streaks in league play and at home.
OFF MY SOAPBOX