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Why July could be the difference maker in Real Salt Lake's season

SANDY, UT - JUNE 25: Players of Real Salt Lake pose for a team picture before a game against Toronto FC during a MLS soccer game June 25, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SANDY, UT - JUNE 25: Players of Real Salt Lake pose for a team picture before a game against Toronto FC during a MLS soccer game June 25, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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One month will never put you in the playoffs or keep you out of them in Major League Soccer, but for Real Salt Lake the month of July could be a huge difference maker for the team.  The team will play 5 league matches in July, with 4 of them in their comfort zone of Rio Tinto Stadium.  RSL is currently 5-1-2 at home (2.125 points per match) and if they can get 10 points out of those 4 home matches it would close the "matches in hand" gap with the other Western Conference teams.  They will also have a chance for points on the road as their away match is one in which they could be able to add to their road wins total for the year.

Then there is July 12th, a quarterfinal match in Lamar Hunt US Open Cup action that will see RSL head to Pizza Hut Park for a showdown with FC Dallas.  The winner of that will advance to face the winner of the LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders quarterfinal.

A look at each of the July matches after the jump:

New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake - July 4th 6:30pm MT - ESPN2

The month will kick off with the only ESPN2 match to be broadcast from Rio Tinto Stadium this year, July 4th when the New England Revolution will come to town.  This should be a good match for RSL to continue to regain their swagger and confidence, New England has more losses than any other team in MLS (8) and the last two times they came to Rio Tinto they have given up a combined 11 goals, while scoring none (5-0 & 6-0).  The Rev's are 0-6-2 on the road but last week they put up a fairly tough battle at Seattle.  I worry about the physical style that New England has resorted to in recent matches, they seem to be looking like the we may not be able to beat you, but we can beat you up kind of team.  Still I have to believe that RSL get 3 points from this match.

FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake - July 9th 7pm MT - Direct Kick

Then comes perhaps the most important match of the summer, as on July 9th FC Dallas will come to town.  It is clear that over the last two seasons these teams have built up a bit of a rivalry and with both teams looking to chase down the LA Galaxy for the top spot in the league and the Western Conference a lot will be at stake in this one.  Both of the these teams have been left to play without their creative midfielders because of injuries, yet both have found a way to keep on playing and for FC Dallas the change of style has actually lead to better results than what they had before the injury to David Ferreira.  Revenge for knocking RSL out of the playoffs won't be far from the minds of the RSL players when FCD comes to town and neither will be July 12th.

Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas (US Open Cup Quarterfinal)  - July 12th ??? - ????

Well thanks to the strange bid system that US Soccer uses to award the rights to host US Open Cup matches, RSL who drew close to 8,000 people to their match with Wilmington will head to Dallas where FCD didn't break 3,000 fans.  It is clear that the people at PHP believe that their best chance to advance is to play at home even if it costs them more money than they can make by selling tickets.

Both of these teams put out a mix of their normal starters and some younger guys in their 3rd round matches, and I expect with both teams having this match between two league matches that they will do the same thing again. I think both teams have some exciting young players but perhaps the RSL group are a bit more battle tested this year.  Whoever wins this match will face the winner of the LA Galaxy/ Seattle Sounders match, and that winner will play for the title, for RSL it is simple 3 wins and they will be in the Champions League in 2012.

Real Salt Lake at Vancouver Whitecaps - July 16th  2pm MT - Direct Kick

There aren't many road matches that you can circle as matches you should win, but when you head on the road to face an expansion side that has just 2 wins on the season.  At home however the Whitecaps play much better and feed off their crowd, they are just 2-1-5 but it is the reality that only one team has beat them at home, it was a 2-1 win by FC Dallas that is the lone loss for the Whitecaps at Empire Field.  RSL has proven they are a much better team on the road this year than in the past, but for their month of July to be a difference maker for the season, a win has to be the plan on the 16th.

San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake - July 23rd  8pm MT - Direct Kick

Real Salt Lake opened their season with a win at San Jose, and since then the Quakes are a very average team with a 5-5-5 record after 15 matches.  They have battled some injuries and national team call ups, the upside for them is they have proven they are more than 10 guys plus Chris Wondolowski.  I expect a very solid battle from San Jose when they come to Rio Tinto, where they have proven to play very well.

Columbus Crew at Real Salt Lake - July 30th 7pm MT - Direct Kick

The month ends with RSL playing host to a team that has really become a bit of a rival over the last few years, the Crew found a way to grind out wins over the last month of the season and I see little that would make me believe that will change in July.   After this match RSL will have only 5 home matches left this season, so getting the most out of every home match will be a huge goal and the last two years RSL has done well against the Crew when they come to Rio Tinto.

So with so much on the line for RSL in July, I expect everyone to step their game up to new levels.  When you look at the standings FC Dallas is 5 points ahead of RSL, but have played 2 more matches. The Sounders are also 5 points ahead, but they have actually played 4 matches more than RSL.  At the top of the heap are the LA Galaxy who have 35 points, 9 more than Real Salt Lake, the Galaxy have played 4 more matches and now RSL has 4 home matches this month to take advantage of the opportunity to maximize their chances for points at home.