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Real Salt Lake at KC Wizards - match preview

Victory Gold- If we don't win in these kits on Saturday can we put them back in the closet until forever?
Victory Gold- If we don't win in these kits on Saturday can we put them back in the closet until forever?

Well it looks like RSL will break out their 3rd kit on Saturday and look to get some minutes in them before the Champions League matches coming up later this month.  Maybe they are hoping they will help them get their 4th road win of the season, where their current record is 3-4-1 with 8 goals scored and 8 goals allowed, they are also looking to extend their winning streak against the Wizards.  The Wiz are the last team to beat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium, but the last two times they have faced off RSL was won both matches including the exciting 1-0 short handed win at CommunityAmerica Ballpark last year.

After a very rough start to the season, the Wizards have gotten 3 straight results in league matches including last weekends 1-0 win over Toronto FC.  That along with their 2-1 win over Manchester United a couple weeks ago, may have given KC a bit of swagger back in their step, but the cold reality is that they are the second lowest scoring team in MLS with just 14 goals scored.  Their offensive troubles are easy to see, they only have 7 players who have scored a goal this year compared to 12 for RSL, and only 3 of their players have found the back of the net more than once.  Kei Kamara leads them with 6 goals, then Davy Arnaud and Teal Bunbury both have two, when you look at RSL's goal scorers, they are lead by Alvaro Saborio with 8 goals and he is one of 7 who have more than two goals on the season.

The Wizards have 19 points in their 17 matches and currently sit 5 points out of playoff spot and in 5th place in the Eastern Conference.  Real Salt Lake have 34 points in 18 matches, in second place in the Western Conference behind the LA Galaxy by 6 points.  RSL are also now 3 points behind Columbus as well as they chase both the Crew and LA in the race for the Supporter's Shield.

After the jump you will find the Key Match-ups, the Wildcards, and my prediction.

Key Match-ups

Saborio vs. Conrad

One of the all time MLS greats on defense a 5 time MLS All Star, a USMNT defender in the run up to and in the 2006 World Cup, but he has been bothered by injuries this year and a 33 has lost a couple of steps.  The defense of the Wizards started out the season well, just giving up just 1 goal in their first 4 matches, but since then they have struggled giving up multiple goals in 6 matches.  Their recent form has been a bit better with just one goal allowed in their last 3 matches, but can they match up against the top scoring offense in MLS?

Alvaro Saborio has been the best newcomer to MLS this year, his 8 goals and 4 assists have more than filled in for the vacant boots of Yura Movsisyan.  In fact when Robbie Findley was off with the USMNT in South Africa, Alvaro was working with Fabian Espindola to lift RSL to undefeated months in both May and June.  There is a catch with Saborio, he will be looking to score his first goal away from the comforts of Rio Tinto Stadium, if he can be as dangerous on the road as he has been at home, then RSL should have no problems in KC.

Olave vs Bunbury

It was no fluke when Jamison Olave was named to the MLS First XI for the 2010 All Star match, at 6'3" and 210 pounds he is a physically dominating defender.  When you add in that he is probably one of the 10 fastest players in MLS, and one of the best defenders you begin to understand how important he is to Real Salt Lake.  This season Olave has lifted his performance to a new level, by adjusting his mental game to match his physical game and the results are that Real Salt Lake have the second best defensive unit in Major League Soccer, having allowed just 14 goals.  Oh did I mention that Olave isn't just a monster on defense, but also has found the back of the net 8 times for RSL, including 3 this year?

Teal Bunbury was the #4 pick in this years MLS Super Draft and 6'2" forward has gone from rookie, to rookie getting minutes (678 minutes so far), to rookie getting starts (6), to rookie making a difference (2 goals and 1 assist). It is clear that KC is still trying to figure things out as a team, they changed coaches midseason last year and have changed their formation and starting lineups almost as often as most players change shoes, but through it all has been the emergence of Teal.  He brings good pace and a bit of flair with the ball to the offense that had been relying on the inconsistent Kei Kamara and veteran Josh Wolff for their offense.  When KC faced RSL at Rio Tinto, it was Bunbury that looked the most dangerous, despite Wolff being the one finding the back of the net in their 4-1 loss. Young Mr. Bunbury will need to be careful as he tries to work against one of the best defenders in MLS in Jamison Olave.


KC Offense
You simply don't know if you will be facing the team that can score two or more goals (3 times this season, and against ManU) or the team that won't find the back of the net at all, something that has happened to KC 8 times this year already.  So in half their matches KC simply doesn't score, they have adjusted their lineups, their formations and in their last 4 matches (all competition) they have found a way to get on the scoreboard.  They did score one goal in their 4-1 loss at Rio Tinto, but since then they have just 5 goals in their last 8 MLS matches.  Neither team has won a match in which the opposing team has scored first, they are a combined 0-11-2 when the other team scores first.

Robbie Findley

It took Robbie Findley a couple weeks to decompress from his trip to the World Cup, and in recent weeks we have seen him coming back into the form that RSL fans expect with 3 goals in the last 5 matches.  Now comes word that Bob Bradley wants him back on USMNT duty to face Brazil next week, and while I expect Robbie to play at least 45 minutes against KC, you have to wonder if he will be looking to leave on a bang, or looking to save some energy for a spotlight match against one of the best teams in the world?  It is clear that the Brazil match will allow him to once again showcase his skills on a worldwide stage.

Paul Ward

Yup another match preview and the officials are still considered wildcards.  Even more when the head official has just 18 previous matches to his record.  Paul calls an average of 23 fouls per match, issues an average of 3.1 yellow cards per match, a bit alarming is the fact that he has issued 6 red cards (or 1 every 3 matches) and he has pointed to the spot 3 times (once every 6 matches).  RSL has one player on yellow card caution, Chris Wingert, KC also has one player on yellow card caution, Kei Kamara, should either get a yellow in the match they would be suspended for the next match.

My Prediction

By reading the local Salt Lake press this week, you might be a bit confused as I think all of them have been taken for a ride by RSL's head coach Jason Kreis.  I don't imagine with a chance to keep pace with Columbus, and close the gap with a struggling LA Galaxy that RSL will be looking to play for a draw against KC.  I don't expect major changes to the formation or the lineup (I do think that Robbie Findley will not play more than 45 minutes as he preps for the US vs Brazil), and I don't expect that even the "Victory Gold" kits will be able to slow down the desire and fight of RSL as they look to notch their 4th road win of the 2010 season.  A rested Fabian Espindola should be able to make a huge impact either as a starter or off the bench. 

RSL will need to be sharp at the start of the match, as the Wizards have scored 3 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches.  We know that RSL never quits fighting for goals and results, which could be good news as KC has allowed 7 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches so far this year, which is also when RSL has scored 8 goals in their previous matches.  I look for RSL to continue their score early and score often mindset, they are 10-1-1 when scoring first, and 0-3-1 when allowing the first goal.  I am going to pick this one as a 2-1 RSL win as we close the gap with the LA Galaxy to just 3 points in the Western Conference.

Just as a footnote, should RSL fail to get all 3 points, I suggest renaming the "Victory Gold" kits, as the "Ugly Yellow" kits.