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Real Salt Lake vs. Toronto FC - match preview

Normally I would be thinking that this match would be a cake walk for RSL, I mean TFC haven't won a match on the road all year (0-3-4), they have just two wins on the season, and only one win since March 26th.  You just never know what you are going to get with TFC, they have allowed multiple goals 6 times this year but they also have 5 clean sheets.  While RSL have had just two matches where they have given up multiple goals, and RSL have only been held without scoring 4 times.

So why do I think it won't be a cake walk?  Well TFC seem to really be doing well against teams from the West on the road this year, in fact since their opening day loss to Vancouver, they are 0-2-3 including a 2-2 draw a couple weeks ago at LA.  RSL hasn't been great lately, but they haven't been bad either 1-1-3 in their last 5 matches including 2 draws on the road and the stolen win against DC United last weekend.  I have to believe that you will see a RSL team that is going to play very hard and very aggressive against a TFC team that have given up league worst 26 goals and has the worst goal differential in MLS with -11.  While RSL has a +7 goal differential (2nd best in MLS) with 15 goals scored and just 8 goals allowed, and RSL is 4-1-2 at home this year.

after the jump my Key Match Up, Wildcards, and my prediction:

Key Match Up:

Real Salt Lake's anemic offense vs. Toronto FC's porous defense

I hate being this way but the reality is that the RSL offense has seen better days, this year they have 15 goals thru 14 matches (1.07 goals per match).  That is a far cry from the 1.5 goals per match they scored in 2010 when they ended with 45 goals in 30 matches.  We know that the biggest reason for the offensive struggles this year for RSL are injury related, Alvaro Saborio had off season surgery on his knee and with such a short offseason appears to have gone with the "play yourself back to full fitness" model which hasn't been great as you can see he is still clearly hurting.  That has caused him to struggle on the pitch a bit which of course has impacted his confidence and for a striker not being 100% and struggling with confidence can really be a tough thing to overcome.  Fabian Espindola, has been a breath of fresh air all year long, his energy and work rate are simply amazing, and he has gotten his scoring touch back just as RSL needed it the most.  Fabi has 4 goals on the season and 3 of them in the last 5 matches.  Expectations were sky high for Paulo Jr. this year and in the first 3 matches of the year he found the back of the net twice for RSL, but lately he has been battling a hamstring injury that has limited him to just 194 minutes of action so far this season.  Such have been the struggles of the RSL strikers this year but you can't talk about the offensive struggle without mentioning the injury to Javier Morales, the offensive catalyst for RSL, you don't replace one of the top playmakers in MLS easily and RSL has had to learn to play without him, something that they are still trying to perfect.

TFC have struggled this year, as their two wins and giving up the most goals of any team in the league attest to, but to be honest it is likely the arrival of Aron Winter their new coach, the departure of Dwayne De Rosario, and a rash of injuries that all have contributed to their issues.  As RSL has found out when you lose your top guys sometimes it is very hard to replace them, well TFC are without Adrian Cann, Nana Attakora, Dicoy Williams who are all out with injury issues, but also had to deal with injuries and the national team call up of their top defensive midfielder Julian DeGuzman.  It is clear they have recently focused their attention on defense, since their 6-2 loss at home to the Philadelphia Union, they have given up just 3 goals in their last 4 matches and posted two shutouts.  I have little doubt that we will see they attempt to play a very defensive match against RSL on Saturday, their offense has only scored two goals in their last 4 matches, both against LA and both scored by Alan Gordon including a very late stoppage time goal.  It should provide for an interesting clash to see which can step up for their team, the TFC defense or the RSL offense.


Joao Plata-

When you draft a player that has been loaned to MLS you are taking a huge risk, like that his loan will only last one year and after that you will be left with nothing, but TFC thought it was a risk worth taking to get the 19 year old player from Ecuador.  So far this year he has played in 13 matches and has scored 2 goals and added 2 assists so far this year.  He is a tiny guy, just 5'2" but very speedy and quick to attack but I have to believe that our backline will be able to keep him from adding to his numbers this weekend.

Jason Kreis -

Yeah I know this is the first time I have listed a head coach as a wildcard but with RSL battling so many injuries, and just getting Saborio and Alvarez back from Gold Cup duty and both with injury issues the lineup may be the biggest unkown going into the match on Saturday.  Will Jason find a way to get 17 yr old Luis Gil in the starting XI, will he go with Artur Aghasyan up top with Jean Alexandre or does he risk Fabian Espindola who is struggling with a hamstring strain?  How does he fill out the midfield? Do you start Andy Williams or use him for a 2nd have burst of offense and energy?  Yup I am going with Jason as a wildcard today, there are a lot of decisions as RSL will be looking for 3 points at home.

Niko Bratsis - 

Never heard of him, well he will be our referee on Saturday evening, it will be his 4th MLS match.  Well if you want to get rid of the guys who have been around messing up matches for years it will mean we need new guys and Niko is one of those.  He calls an average of 25 fouls per match, he issues an average of 3 yellow cards per match and he has never shown a player red or pointed to the PK spot.  After the chaos of last weekend, there was more than just the issues at Rio Tinto around the league.  Once again my hope is for a match that is called fair and even for both teams.

My Prediction:

Well as I started out my blog post, this should be a cake walk for RSL, but they are still going to have to do a couple things if they want to get a win on Saturday.  First is limit the shots taken by Toronto, the Red's are clearly looking for goals and wiling to take shots from anywhere and everywhere. In their last 3 matches they are averaging 17 shots per match, and while they don't always get a lot on goal they do get a good number form dangerous places in the area.  RSL will need to limit their service into the area and clear the ball effectively (something we have struggled a bit with) to reduce the number of saves that Nick Rimando will need to make.

The second thing is possession, at home we have seen that RSL can impose their will on opponent and I think we will likely need to see a 60% or better possession rate from RSL to ensure they are dictating the match.  They should also be able to take advantage of the fact that TFC's passing accuracy is about 70% over their last few matches, which means we should be able to break up their attacks quickly and look to develop our own counter attacks.

The final thing that I think RSL needs to do (it will sound like a broken record) is take shots and crash the area, it is clear that TFC have a good keeper in Stefan Frei, he has played every minute for them this year and has been left isolated by the lack of a solid defense in front of him.  This means if RSL takes shots and then follows up it is likely they can find a way past him, this is a perfect chance for a number of RSL guys to get chances on goal and I have a feeling if we take 15 or more shots with 5 or more on goal it will be the 7th time that Toronto has given up multiple goals.  Oh just a foot note, TFC have allowed 8 goals in the first 15 minutes (remember the LA Galalxy match?).

I am going out on a limb and predicting that RSL will unleash a furious offensive attack and put up a huge 3-0 win at home on Saturday night.