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Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas - match preview

Real Salt Lake has been making team and league history this year, and they will look to do it again on Saturday as the head to Dallas to take on one of two teams in MLS who have lose fewer matches than they have.  That is right FC Dallas have only lost twice this year, and their 5-2-7 record has them in in 3rd place in the Western Conference.  

For RSL they have never gotten a result in Dallas, 0-7-0 is their record but this is a very different RSL team than in past years.  They have gotten results in 4 of their 7 road matches (3-3-1) and are unbeaten in their last 10 MLS matches and haven't given up a goal since May (498 minutes- 5 straight shutouts).  Last week RSL went to Chicago, a place they have never gotten a regular season win and made history with their 1-0 win there.

This match will provide RSL a chance to close the gap with the LA Galaxy, a win would put them within 3 points of the top team in the league and in contention for the Supporters Shield.  It is also a homecoming for Jason Kreis who spent most of his playing career in Dallas, but he would enjoy nothing more than beating Dallas.  

RSL continues to deal with some injury issues, here is the official list of RSL injuries for this match: QUESTIONABLE: MF Kyle Beckerman (L foot tendon tear); MF Nelson González (L hamstring strain); PROBABLE: DF Robbie Russell (L shoulder contusion); DF Jamison Olave (R knee internal derangement); FW Álvaro Saborío (R knee internal derangement).  I know Kyle didn't travel with the team but we can expect all our players listed as probable to either start or see minutes in the match.  FC Dallas is reporting no injuries.

After the jump, Key Matchups, Wildcards, and my prediction:

It is funny that we head to Dallas this year as the hottest team in MLS, it was the 3-0 loss at Pizza Hut Park last year that set us on the track to MLS Cup and to this years performance.  RSL had appeared to turn their season around, with wins over Chivas and KC and a draw with the Fire, they were back in contention for a playoff spot.  Then came the trip to Texas, a heartbreaking loss to Houston 3-2 in a match with multiple red cards and a lot of controversy. RSL headed to Dallas and in what was their worst performance of the year, they did more than just lose a match, they quit.  You know that didn't sit well with anyone, fans, players, staff, or coaches and with a 19 day break before their next match, it became gut check time.  

Hard practices, and a last minute "friendly" match with Chivas de Guadalajara was schedule to see if RSL cared enough to fight through their final few matches of the season.  In that "friendly" it was RSL that scored first, and that lead to a very physical response by Chivas and perhaps in my mind no moment of the season was more clear than a horrible hard foul on Andy Williams that brought Jamison Olave to his defense.  While Olave had been red carded a number of times for silly mistakes, he kept his cool on the pitch, even when he got slapped, but being a friendly he was shown a red card anyhow and sent on his way. The foul on his teammate and red card upset him so much that the conflict kept going into the tunnel and back into the locker rooms, requiring Sandy police to break up the conflict.

From that moment on Real Salt Lake truly appeared to understand and play with the attitude that head coach Jason Kreis knew would bring out their best "The Team is the Star", and from that day RSL lost just a single match on their way to claiming the MLS Cup, and I believe it was the match against FC Dallas that started the most unlikely run to the Cup in MLS history.

This brings us to this match and a very different team, but one has to wonder if this match might just sneak up on RSL with all their recent success?

Key Matchups:

Javier Morales vs. David Ferreira

Dallas was left with a couple big questions after the departure of Dave van den Bergh, who would be their on field leader, and who would fill the spot of providing quality balls to their forwards.  If you watch FC Dallas last year, you started to think it might just be David Ferreira, the 30 year old Colombian midfield came over on a loan and made a huge impact, ending the year with 8 goals and 7 assists.  This year he has stared right back where he finished last year and leads the team with 4 goals and 4 assists, including 2 game winning goals and two game winning assists.  His style and flair on the ball have been a spark for FC Dallas and their solid start in 2010 and in their last five matches, he has been the star, as he has scored 4 of their last 7 goals.  The RSL defense will need to keep a close eye on him.

Javier Morales is one of the best in MLS, and while you may not notice him all the time during matches he is working looking for passing lanes, loose balls, and chances to make you pay.  He has 4 goals so far in 2010, including two game winners, toss in his 6 assists and you end up with a 2010 First XI MLS All Star player.  Javi is one of those guys who you might look past if you were picking teams on the playground, and that would be your mistake, he is talented with his feet and his vision on the pitch is incredible as he sees things that few other see. He will fight you for every 50-50 ball and if you take your eyes off him, he will sneak in and steal the ball away from you before you can blink.  

This is going to be a matchup of two of the more entertaining attacking midfielders in MLS, and should be a fun part of the match to keep your eyes on.  I give Javi an edge in this match up as he has been the "go to" guy for RSL for a couple years now and that experience should be enough to give him the better performance.

RSL Offense vs. Burn I mean FC Dallas defense

If you want to know why FC Dallas have only two losses this year it is simple, defense.  It might be easy to look at their 13 goals allowed, which only two teams in the league have allowed fewer (LA-7, RSL-11), but it is the fact that only three times have they given up 2 or more goals in a match.  That means 11 times they have given up one or fewer goals, just one fewer than RSL's 12.  For Dallas that has meant that their lackluster offense (17 goals scored) has been able to get by, but you have to be careful as while FC Dallas hasn't scored more than two goals in a match yet this year, only once has a team kept them from finding the back of the net ( a 1-0 loss to the Galaxy).  

For RSL their defense has been great, but their offense is simply the best in MLS with 28 goals scored.  8 times this year they have scored at least two goals in a match, that is more than half of their matches.  RSL almost in most matches seems to score at will, but it is the middle of matches (minutes 16-60) that they have struck most often with 18 of their goals coming in the middle of matches.  Then of course there are those last minute goals that often give fans heart attacks, 6 times this year has RSL found the back of the net in the final 15 minutes or in stoppage time.  

Something is going to have to give, and given the conditions in Dallas (hot, hot, hot 100 plus at match time with humidity over 40%).  Expect RSL to come out blistering and go for a couple quick goals before Dallas has time to know what has hit them, and then control the match with possession.  How can you not give an edge to the best attacking team in MLS? You can't but you might want to check my first wildcard out, it could be a huge one for FC Dallas.

Wildcards:

Milton Rodriguez

The 34 yr old striker will see action and according to head coach Schellas Hyndman he is likely to start up top for FC Dallas against RSL.  He is a left footed goal scoring machine, granted he has spent most of his career in Columbia with a couple brief stints in Korea and Australia.  He has spent time on and off again with Deportivo Cali, so he should be no surprise to Jamison Olave.  He isn't a big player, he is just 5'10", and at age 34 he isn't the fastest, but smart and a nose for goal make him a potential game changer for the Dallas offense that has struggled.  One has to wonder what his arrival might mean for last years MLS Golden Boot and former RSL'er Jeff Cunningham who has been relegated to the bench in recent weeks.  

So two questions will need to be answered about Milton, first is what color headband will he wear?  He never seems to be without one.  Then will RSL make his MLS debut one in which his impact on the match is minimal?

Fabian Espindola

So how does one of RSL's top players become a wildcard?  Well despite his 4 goals and 1 assist, in recent weeks Fabi has allowed his passion for the game to turn into uncontrolled behavior.  From the headbutt to Cory Gibbs, to just silly fouls, his behavior has the potential to put RSL in danger of going a man down.  In almost every match that happens in no matter what teams are involved it makes it difficult for the short handed team to get a positive result.

I love that our players have passion, but Fabi needs to quickly spend some time with Olave to find out how to use that passion for good, and not to allow it to hurt how you play and in turn to hurt your team.  I expect Fabi, who was probably the number one RSL striker coming out of the preseason to need to work on this or he will be spending more time on the bench.

Hilario Grajeda

You might ask who that is, well he is the head official for the match.  This will be his 33rd match in MLS, he calls an average of 26 fouls per match, he issues just under 4 yellow cards per match and has given 6 red cards and pointed to the PK spot 7 times.  Once again I am left hoping that we do not end up with the official impacting the final result of the match.

My Prediction

Let me start with what will happen in the 24th minute, RSL will move into 3 place on the MLS Consecutive Minutes without allowing a goal list at 522, to move ahead of the LA Galaxy.  The question is will have RSL scored a goal by then or not?  FC Dallas haven't allowed early goals only twice have teams found the back of the net before the 30th minute on them, but they have allowed 8 of 13 (62%) in the final 15 of the first half or the first 15 of the second half. RSL have scored 13 of 28 in that same time period.

I think RSL gets an early goal, they know how brutal the heat will be so look for a long ball to Findley, forcing FCD to commit an early foul and from the Javi set piece it will either find the back of the net or the head of Olave or Saborio, to give RSL the early lead.  RSL should really attack George John who commits some dumb fouls in dangerous areas, they also need to watch out for Brek Shea who has a way of getting under players skin.  Let them make the stupid fouls and get the cards.

RSL win this one 2-0.

OFF MY SOAPBOX