Well going into last weekend there were two teams who hadn't tasted defeat at home in Major League Soccer action, but after a 4-1 thrashing by New York, only Real Salt Lake remain unbeaten at home, but can RSL add a second loss to the home record of Toronto FC?
Toronto has used their impressive 6-1-4 record at home to keep themselves on the edge of the playoff hunt, but 3rd place in the East isn't good enough if the playoffs started today the Red's would once again be on the outside looking in. Overall their 7-8-5 record has earned them just 26 points, which would put them in 7th place in the West and has them two points behind the Colorado Rapids who currently sit in the 8th playoff spot. Before last week's match TFC had allowed just 5 goals in their home matches and it will prove a tough task for RSL to score against them at BMO field.
Real Salt Lake are firmly in the hunt for both the top of the Western Conference and the Supporters' Shield this year, their 11-4-6 record is 3rd best in MLS, 1 point behind Columbus who tops the East, and 4 points behind the Galaxy who lead the league and the West. That means that every match is important and it is unlikely that we will see any matches with a mixed lineup like that put out against Philly a couple weeks ago. RSL have found themselves much improved on the road with a 3-4-3 road record with 10 goals scored and 10 goals allowed on the road. Only two team in MLS have won more than 3 matches on the road, LA with 7 road wins, and New York who got their 4th road win last week against Toronto. RSL leads MLS in goals scored with 36, is second in goals allowed with just 16 allowed, and has the best goal differential with a very impressive +20.
Saturday's match is a 5:00pm MT start on KUSG which is over the air 2.2, 111 on Comcast, and 12 on Dish Network, and of course you can also catch the match on Direct Kick. After the jump you will find my key match-ups, wildcards and my prediction for the match:
Javier Morales vs. Dwayne De Rosario
When it comes to play making and being the creative leader of teams then you are about to see a match-up of two of the very best that MLS has to offer. Dwayne De Rosario has simply been one of the very, very best in this league for a number of years, 71 career goals and 51 career assists in 233 matches say a lot about how good he is. This year one would have thought that TFC were getting him some help as Julian de Guzman should have been fully integrated with the team, but instead I think the most help for De Ro has come from Nick LaBrocca, who may only have one goal and one assist but has been vital in how TFC moves the ball. Dwayne has found the back of the goal 9 times this season, 3 of those game winners, and 3 of them coming form the PK spot, he has added in 3 assists which means that of the 22 goals that Toronto have scored this year, he has been involved in over half of them.
Javier Morales had an off year last season, but has come back to establish himself as one of the very best in MLS this year, his 6 goals and 6 assists are good numbers but fall far short of explaining how important Javi is for Real Salt Lake. One only has to go back and check the footage from the 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew a couple weeks ago to understand what it is that Morales is capable of. Nobody talked about GBS after that match it was all about Morales, and rightfully so. If you want to know how important a player is, you only have to consider how many times another team will be forced to foul him, for Javier he has been fouled 52 times in his 19 matches the second most in MLS.
It will be interesting to see how these two players will do against each other as both tend to move all over the pitch, both tend to want the ball at their feet as often as possible, and both are willing to fight to get possession of the ball. If you want to see early which team will have an advantage, watch how these players come out in the first 15 minutes of the match.
Alvaro Saborio vs Adrian Cann
Almost every preview of this match is looking at this match-up, you have Alvaro who has 8 goals and 4 assists and has proven to be one of the best forwards in MLS this year. While Adrian Cann is a bit of a journeyman defender who has found a spot on the backline of Toronto, which has given up just 25 goals this year. Cann is much better when he is next to Attakora (who is suspended for this match) and will likely find himself next to either Garcia who could move over or Usanov who could fill in form the bench. Either one represents a drop off for TFC, and I think give a real advantage to Saborio, who not only has great size and is good in the air but is one of the smarter forwards in the league as far as his positioning. If RSL can get the ball to him often today, I look for him to take advantage of the outmatched Cann.
When Toronto announced their latest DP to join the team was going to be Mista, I wondered if this was another case of a player over 30 coming to cash a check or if he was truly committed to playing in MLS. The answer will be determined in matches like this, so far in just under 230 minutes of playing time in 5 matches he has yet to make a real mark on a match, no goals and no assists. He is a former teammate of de Guzman who I consider to be a bust as a DP, and while he has played for the Spanish National team, and has spent time with the Real Madrid youth system, Valencia, Athletico Madrid, one has to remember that he has just 5 goals from 66 appearances with his last 3 teams over the last 4 season. He is a player to watch, and only some time will tell if he is a boom or a bust for Toronto FC and MLS.
Rauwshan McKenzie/Jamison Olave
Well many of us were a bit surprised to hear that it would be McKenzie next to Borchers when RSL faced off against Cruz Azul, and even more surprised and a bit concerned that Jamison Olave had picked up a bit of an injury in a Saturday morning practice session. Now RSL head coach Jason Kreis if put into a difficult position by having to chose the unproven McKenzie who went the full match in hard conditions at Mexico City or go with Olave, who is available for the match and back to match fitness.
I expect that if the choice is Olave then RSL will have a distinct advantage in the match, not only is Jamison one of the best central defenders in Major League Soccer, but he is a great target on set pieces as well. His unique combination of size, speed, and skill make him a true game changer on the pitch. This year has seen him play with as much mental focus as anyone on the team and that has propelled him to the top of his potential. You have to believe if Olave is able to go, that he will be in the starting lineup and give RSL the full advantage that a player of his caliber brings to the pitch.
Rauwshan is a nice player and I thought he actually did well for the first 75 minutes against Cruz Azul and as he gets more playing time, he will become more adjusted to what is expected of him. Some wanted to point fingers as RSL allowed 4 goals in the final 15 minutes and stoppage time of their midweek CCL match, but I am not going to do that as no single player can be held responsible for a letdown like that. I actually think McKenzie gives RSL an option to rest Olave, but in this big of a match I have to expect that the starting job should go to Olave.
RSL fans know Toledo well from a number of questionable call in a number of matches in the past. This will be his 100th match in charge and his numbers tell an interesting story as he calls an average of 25 fouls per match, and he issues just under 4 yellow cards per match. The game changing calls are clear with 41 red cards issued, almost one every other match, and 38 PK's issues for a rate of more than one every third match. We saw it in a number of the CCL matches this week that officials make a huge difference and whether it is in a tight 1-0 battle or a more wide open 5-4 match each call can be incredibly important in the end.
Well if history has anything to say about the match, it would be good news for TFC. Twice the Red's have gotten 1-0 wins at BMO field, and once RSL has battled to a 0-0 draw, but I am going to use last year's 1-0 loss late in the season as the benchmark for this match. RSL battled hard, and in fact were the better team but failed to get the result, something that happened more often than not when Real Salt Lake were on the road last year.
This is a different RSL team, the confidence of a solid playoff run and results on the road last year, added into the fact that in 6 of their 10 road matches so far this year they have gotten at least a point, and I think RSL have a very solid chance to get a win. If they can come out and play the way they did against Cruz Azul on Wednesday, they could do what they have done often this year and get an early goal. 5 times in the first 15 minutes of matches has RSL found the back of the net, while Toronto haven't scored in the first quarter hour of a match this year.
History would tell you that Real Salt Lake have never scored a goal at BMO field, but history is something RSL has been making this year, already their 10 goals scored on the road is more than in all 15 of their road matches last year. Their 36 goals is on pace for a record goal scoring year for RSL, but it may come down to one fact, can Alvaro Saborio get his first goal away from Rio Tinto Stadium?
I am going to say that yes he does and that RSL find a way to get a 2-1 win over a good TFC side.
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