Well Real Salt Lake set the bar high to start this season, with 5 wins in their first 6 matches but since then they have just a single win in their last 6 matches, going 1-3-2 and causing a lot of people to ask questions about if RSL's bench is really as deep as everyone said. 6 of the 8 next matches for RSL are at home, and if they can repeat their success of the last 2 years at home, then RSL could quickly be back at the top of MLS.
DC United came in with some people thinking they might just be a overnight turnaround, Ben Olsen was in as coach and Charlie Davies was added to a roster that has some talented young players a lot of people thought it would put them in the playoff picture right away, but after 13 matches they are 4-5-4 and have three times given up 4 goals in a match. Only one team has allowed more goals than the 24 given up by DC United, but unlike last year this year the team has proven the can score as well, in fact they have scored 3 goals three times and have a total of 18 goals scored on the season. They go a huge win at Portland a couple weeks ago, then fought to a 0-0 draw against LA at the Home Depot Center, but then last weekend they gave up 4 goals to San Jose at home in a 4-2 loss. It is that inconsistency that makes DC very dangerous.
The Key Match Up, the Wild Cards, and my prediction
Key Match Up:
RSL's defense vs. DC United's offense-
DC United have shown they can score goals and often score them in bunches, 3 matches with 3 goals scored, which is more than RSL have allowed thru 12 matches this year. In fact RSL is the only team that is still under a combined 10 goals allowed this year, their 7 goals allowed is simply an incredible number but twice in the last 4 matches they have allowed multiple goals.
I do have to admit that I don't believe DC United has had a really stable long term solution in goal since the departure of Nick Rimando, who has become a major part in the rebuilding that has happened at Real Salt Lake. He has simply been a difference maker every week for RSL in goal, something that DC hasn't had the last few years, Nick of course will tell you that it is a collective effort on defense for RSL and he is right. Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, Robbie Russell, Chris Schuler, and Rauwshan McKenzie all have added their efforts to support Rimando in goal. I could actually name the entire roster, as with RSL you will very often see some amazing defense plays from forwards and midfielders alike. It has been that collective defensive effort that had RSL set a MLS record for fewest goals allowed last year with 20, and on pace to allow even fewer this year.
Last year DC United scored just 21goals, the least of any team in the league, so far in just 13 matches this year they have found the back of the net 18 times. Lead by Charlie Davies with 6 goals, Chris Pontius has added 4 more, and Josh Wolff has 3 goals to go with his 3 assists, they also have 5 other players with a single goal each. In fact DC United has scored multiple goals in 5 of their 13 matches, and only been shut out 3 times. Often their formation has 3 or 4 forwards playing at one time, often on the outside of the midfield which has really made their attack a dangerous one unless you can shut them down quickly when they have the ball. I have really been impressed with their rookie forward Blake Brettschneider who has been a really good surprise. The DC offense may be taking a hit as it appears that Fred will be leaving the team in July to return to the A-league. I think the biggest disappointment for DC has been the play of Dax McCarty who simply hasn't adjusted to his new surroundings as well as I thought he would.
Charlie Davies -
When he plays he makes things happen and most often they result in goals, Charlie has 6 goals and 1 assist in 625 minutes of playing time. One has to remember that 3 of his 6 goals have come from the PK spot, several of those are PK's that he drew. I have to admit that I was a bit confused in seeing that he only has 6 starts this year, and then it hit me, Robbie Findley. You remember Robbie, the speedy, creative forward who had as many goals for RSL coming off the bench as he did staring in matches. Well that seems to be the option that DC United is using with Charlie who has been battling a couple of minor injuries as well. All I know is a guy who can score like him has to be a real danger anytime he is on the pitch and I have little doubt that he will be on the pitch on Saturday in some capacity.
Nelson Gonzalez -
I thought the decision to not play Nelson in the Philly match was interesting, but perhaps it was to rest him for this weekend? He started and played 59 minutes in the match at Crew Stadium, and when he left the match the team had a 1-0 lead on a Jamison Olave goal that Nelson had the assist on. I have to say that of all the guys who have been given chances over the last few weeks it has been Nelson and Jean Alexandre who have impressed me the most as guys who can impact matches. It was Nelson with the goal against Seattle just minutes after coming on with the team down 2-0 and horrible conditions. He also played well in his minutes in the Vancouver match in which RSL pulled out a 2-0 win. I have to expect that I think Nelson will get into the match on Saturday and we have seen in his 145 minutes of action so far that he can make a big impact (1 goal and 1 assist).
Terry Vaughn -
You know the name really doesn't matter we saw in both of RSL's matches last week and in almost every MLS match last weekend that the officials are simply inconsistent from match to match, and from play to play, and when combined with each official calling matches so differently it has led to a lot of frustration of players, coaches and fans. Mr. Vaughn has 146 MLS matches under his belt, he calls an average of 28.5 fouls per match and issues an average of 3.8 yellow cards per match. He has issued 47 red cards and pointed to the PK spot 47 times, that is an average of once every three matches. So this week again the official is a wildcard, and my only hope is that the match will be called the same way for both teams.
Well history would say that RSL should have little problem with DC United, after all RSL is 5-1-0 when the teams face off in Utah and last year RSL won 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium. So can Real find a way to use their home matches to get back on a pace of points per match to find themselves in the running for the top spot in MLS? They have 5 matches in hand over league leading LA who has 31 points from 17 matches, if RSL can average 2 points from each of their matches in hand they would be tied with LA. in 2010 RSL got 82% of the available points at home, and so far this year they are at 72%, a win on Saturday would boost that to 76% of the available points.
To get a win RSL will need to do a couple key things again, first is possession we know that when RSL has a high percentage of possession they can usually dictate how the match will go, against DC this could be interesting. In their 0-0 draw with LA, DC United had just 43% of the possession, and last weekend in their 4-2 loss at home against San Jose they had over 60% of the possession and took a blistering 21 shots but still ended up on the losing side. I think RSL will need between 57-62% of the possession in this match if they are going to want to be the team in control of the match.
RSL will need to play a clean game, against Seattle a few weeks ago we saw the impact of a red card to Olave which opened the door for the Sounders to become more effective on offense and in the end it was a 2-1 loss. DC United has benefited from PK's this year, in fact 5 of their 18 goals (28%) have come from the PK spot. So RSL will need to pay close attention to how the officials are calling the match and the easiest way to avoid PK's is not allow the opposing team to have the ball in your area.
Finally RSL will need to be offensive, I mean they will need to take shots and lots of them. It is clear that Bill Hamid in goal is not Nick Rimando and that if you take shots you have a good chance of getting some by him or getting balls that remain loose in the area. It means taking some risks, which against a team with pace and the ability to counter attack well, is dangerous, but I think San Jose showed the perfect example of how to beat DC United. They took 13 shots with 6 on goal, and it worked. I would like to see RSL take at least 15 shots with at least 5 on goal.
RSL should win this match, and they should be able to do so in a similar fashion to what they were able to do last year, I am going to pick a 3-1 win for RSL. If you are going to the match, don't leave early as RSL have scored 9 goals in the last 15 minutes of matches against DC United.
Update: Well Will Johnson is back in town and was at practice on Friday, while his status is unknown for the match he said he was ready for whatever Jason needed from him. He is a true gamer and loves to play, bet we see him in the match at some point.
OFF MY SOAPBOX