Well if ignore the Galaxy beating up on Sporting KC (almost everyone they have played has beat them up), then clearly the top two teams in the West and maybe in all of MLS are FC Dallas (5-3-2) and Real Salt Lake (5-1-1). They are the only teams that are 2-0-0 against the top 4 teams in MLS, FCD is 3-1-0 against the top 8 and RSL are 2-1-0, while LA is a mere 0-1-1 against the top 4 and 3-2-2 against the top 8 according to the Sagarin Rankings.
Yet if you talk to almost any of the RSL players or staff, they are disappointed, heck even some of the fans are scratching their heads, and I am confused by it. RSL is 5-1-1 with 16 points and points per match average that is tops in the league by more than half a point per match. Their defense is so tight that the next best team in MLS has allowed 3 times as many goals as they have. Yeah our offense has struggled a bit in the last few matches, but I have no doubts that they will work it out, heck as it is they are only .3 goals per match behind the best offense in MLS. Yet, I know as well as all the players, coaches, and other fans that this match is a huge one that will likely have implications when it comes to the playoffs and the Supporters' Shield and it is against the team that knocked us out of the playoffs last year. Yeah I expect our guys will have their game faces on come Sunday evening.
For FC Dallas you have to believe that they are on a mission this year, having come so close last year. They rebuilt a big part of their roster in the offseason, they got a bit younger, a lot faster and so far it has paid off as they have bounced back from 3 losses in their first 5 matches to go undefeated in their last 5 matches and now find themselves in second place in the Western Conference. Like RSL they have lost their number one offensive play maker as David Ferreira due to a sloppy tackle that had likely ended his season. Now they look to move on and prove that last year's playoff run and season were no fluke and that they belong among the elite teams of MLS.
the Key Match Ups, Wildcards, and my Prediction after the jump:
Nick Rimando vs. Kevin Hartman
Over the last two years these two keeper have simply been the best in the league, last year they ended with a 0.62 GAA for Hartman and a 0.67 GAA for Rimando, I give Nick the edge on that one simply because he played in 7 more matches and had a league best 14 clean sheets (Kevin had 9). This year Hartman has a 1.00 GAA, while Nick has a 0.33 GAA, both have 4 clean sheets.
Kevin is a bit more of the typical keeper at 6'1" while we all know that Nick at 5'8" is considered small for that position, both of them excel at reading the match and knowing what is going on. Both are great vocal leaders of their defense. Both are known for their abilities to make the big saves and the fantastic saves in matches.
While I will stick with Rimando in net for RSL, you have to believe that most teams would love to have either one of these guys on their roster.
Brek Shea vs. Tony Beltran or Robbie Russell
RSL faces a bit of a dilemma when thinking how to cover Brek Shea, first is how? The kid is big, fairly fast and simply finds a way to be a menace to opponents. Then is the who? Do you go with Tony who I think would do better against him but may lack the size to deal with the 6'3" Shea, or the larger and more physical Robbie Russell? It will be interesting to see how a RSL team that likes to push forward with their outside backs will deal with the counter attacking speed that Dallas has inMarvin Chavez and Shea?
Shea since moving to the midfield from the experiment of having him as a defender has allowed him to score 2 goals in the last 4 FC Dallas matches, both of them game winners for the team. Given the incredible start that the RSL defense has had this season, 4 clean sheets in 7 matches and a incredible 0.29 GAA so far this year, it will be huge if they can keep Brek from scoring or even taking many shots. He has taken just 12 shots but half of them end up on goal and 1/4 have ended up in the back of the net.
When FC Dallas got rid ofAtiba Harris and Jeff Cunningham, many people wondered where they would turn for scoring. The answer was at first Milton Rodriguez, but that didn't work out the way they expected and they had their eyes on someone who might be a bit more dynamic in how they can impact a match. In March as the team was already in their preseason they signed 18 year old Fabian Castillo and now he is a regular fixture up top for them and he has answered with 2 goals and 2 assists in the 9 matches he has played in.
"Fabian is a talented, young player who has shown considerable potential in his time with Deportivo Cali and the Colombian U-20 National Team," FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman said. "He's very athletic, quick, explosive and capable of beating opponents with the ball, and we think he has a chance to be a key contributor for us in the future."
Last week saw Real Salt Lake try to fill the injured shoes of Javier Morales with 2nd year player Collen Warner and like almost any player thrown into those circumstances he had both some success and some disappointments, but he showed that he was going to keep himself in consideration to fill the position more in the future. I am not sure if that means this weekend that he will get the start, but I have to believe that he will either start or be an option off the bench. Collen has shown the potential to be an on field general and offensive leader as he was able to get assist on both goals, in fact Collen has 3 assist on the season and two of those have been game winning assists.
I actually think that Collen will be a huge impact player for RSL as the season progresses, RSL often doesn't like to rush their younger players and most often they wait until the 3rd year with the team before they place too much expectations on them. However this isn't going to be a normal season, the injury to Javi, the national team call ups for Gold Cup duty, and a busy year that has already seen RSL play 6 additional non-MLS matches this year, and I expect that Collen will be called on more and more as the year moves along, but I think he is more than up to the task. He isn't Javier Morales, but nobody else is, he is Collen Warner and you can bet he will make an impact when he is given the opportunity.
Well as usual I will again list the head official as a wildcard, and why not they have earned it with their performances so far this year. What is interesting with Gantar is that he has only been in charge of 4 matches, and in those he has called an average of 23.5 fouls, issued 3.5 yellow cards. Now there is a bit of an upside with him, he has never called a PK, and only once has he shown a red card. Hopefully he won't need to do either of those on Sunday.
Listen there is no easy way to put this, if history is any indication RSL is in real trouble this weekend, they have never gotten a result in Dallas, they are 0-8-0 with just 5 goals scored and 18 goals allowed. The good thing is that is history, and this team has already made a lot of history this year. For RSL to get a result they will need to figure out things on offense, a healthy Fabian Espindola could provide a real spark, and as Alvaro Saborio continues to play himself back to full fitness he becomes more and more dangerous each week. They will also need to play stellar defense as clearly FC Dallas have proven they are a solid team. I think RSL will play with a chip on their shoulder this weekend, and pull off a first for them by getting a 2-1 win in Dallas.
So after watching the matches Saturday night, and knowing what our boys are capable of, I am sticking with us getting a huge win on the road, and unlike some other teams making a real statement about who we are.
OFF MY SOAPBOX