Well Real Salt Lake got their All Star break a bit early but when the match at Vancouver was cancelled do to the failure of the Whitecaps to properly install a grass pitch over the turf surface, sot it has provided them a chance to heal up a bit and they should be coming out fresh on Saturday night. For San Jose it has been a busy week leading up to their visit to Rio Tinto, last Saturday they battled to a 0-0 draw on the road with the Columbus Crew and then on Wednesday night they played a high paced match and ended with a 2-2 draw with expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps (yes the same team RSL should have faced last weekend).
For San Jose they will be missing a few key pieces of their team, Simon Dawkins the speedy creative midfielder who shows so much potential is now listed as out on the injury report, Romaio Corrales will be out on suspension for the match and the twitter mill is saying that Steven Lenhart won't be playing to night as well as he is on personal leave this weekend. That will clearly move at least Chris Wondolowski back up top, but with Ryan Johnson gone in a trade to Toronto, and Alan Gordon listed as questionable on the injury report, we might see Ellis McLoughlin who made his MLS debut against RSL on opening night back in March or Scott Sealy who has seen limited action so far this year.
While Rio Tinto Stadium is known as one of the toughest places for opponents in MLS to get a result but San Jose can come in with some confidence and swagger as they have never lost there. Their two visits have been draws, 1-1 in 2009 and then 0-0 last year, but RSL has done well against San Jose overall the last two years winning both of their season opening matches there 3-0 last year and 1-0 this year. So while it will be a very hot day in Utah today the action tonight should be just as hot and the fireworks may start well before dark.
After the jump my Key Match Up, Wildcard, and what RSL will need to do to win.
Key Match Up:
Battle of the Midfields-
Real Salt Lake prides themselves on their ability to control possession and thus control the pace of matches by the work of their midfielders on both sides of the ball. San Jose tend to play a little less worried about structure in their midfield but with this match likely marking the return of Bobby Convey you can expect them to play with purpose and vision. I think the injury to Simon Dawkins really will hurt the Quakes ability to use their midfielders to stretch the RSL midfield out of shape, as nobody they can bring in will be able to match the pace and skill of Dawkins. That doesn't mean they won't be dangerous, Khari Stephenson has some speed and so far this year he has 3 goals and 2 assists, and while the numbers for Bobby Convey aren't as impressive as last year, he has only 1 goal and 2 assists in the 15 matches he has played this year but if you don't think he is dangerous you would be mistaken. Then there is newcomer Jacob Peterson, who had an assist on Wednesday and was a crossing machine for the Quakes who played a lot of balls into the area.
For Real Salt Lake the challenge for the last couple months has been trying to adjust to the loss of Javier Morales and the top two guys filling in have been Andy Williams and Collen Warner but it has really been the work of all the midfielders that has allowed RSL to have just one loss in their last 8 matches. Perhaps nobody has worked harder without getting on the stat sheet than Ned Grabavoy, who has played all but 130 minutes for RSL this year and his work rate has simply been inspiring and perhaps it will be against his former team San Jose that he finds his first goal or assist of the year. Captain Kyle Beckerman has 1 goal and 4 assists and it shouldn't be a surprise that he has once again been named to the MLS All Star team. Will Johnson, well there isn't much more to say about him than what you see week in and week out, he is one of those guys who finds himself in the middle of all the action both going forward in attack and of course breaking up any opposing offensive efforts.
Without Dawkins I am going to have to give the edge to RSL but without knowing what formation the Quakes will come out with (I am going to believe it will be a 4-5-1) and I have to expect that with Lenhart out that all eyes will be on Chris Wondolowski who has at time played in the midfield in a withdrawn position but I think on the strength of his two goals on Wednesday he will play up top. Still the depth and skill level of RSL's midfield at home should be enough.
Scott Sealy -
Scott has just 242 minutes so far this year for the Quakes but with him getting to full match fitness and other players missing or adjusting position I think he may be getting a start or at least is likely to see some action on Saturday. He is the most dangerous player who could hit the pitch for San Jose, in his 7 matches against RSL he has 4 goals, but none of those while wearing a San Jose kit. Still for a guy who has been good against RSL in the past and one who is trying to get his spot back into the starting lineup as a regular. He has proven he can cause RSL problems, so expect him to have everyone's attention.
Ned Grabavoy -
One of my unsung hero's of the RSL season so far this year is the hardworking midfielder who simply has stepped up since the injury to Javier Morales and taken on a full time role in the midfield and been quality on both sides of the ball. Facing a former team almost always leads to a player having a chance to extract some revenge. Ned has 2 assists against San Jose, perhaps tonight he gets one or better yet a goal, just to remind his former team that putting him on waivers was a huge mistake.
David Gantar -
Another official who is still getting his MLS legs David Gantar's numbers from his previous 6 league matches actually aren't awful. He has called an average of 24.5 fouls, issued an average of 3.5 yellow cards and while he has issued 2 red cards he hasn't pointed to the PK spot. Each week I hope that we won't have a match that is decided by the officials, and each week somewhere in the league we see a match where the outcome is being decided not as much by the play of the players but from the opinions of the officials. I just hope for a match that is called even for both teams and where the officials don't make any mistakes on match changing calls.
Last year Chris Wondolowski won the golden boot and some, including me, thought it was a fluke, but now in 16 matches played he has 8 goals and 1 assist, yet in the 4 matches he has seen time against RSL he has never gotten a goal or assist but he has taken 11 shots in 186 minutes. Yes that is a shot ever 17 minutes or so, and you have to believe that one of the keys will be keeping him marked correctly both on set pieces and in the run of play.
San Jose loves to keep possession in both their 0-0 draw with Philly at home and their 0-0 draw with the Crew in Columbus they had the majority of possession, but on Wednesday they actually had the short end of possession against Vancouver. For RSL at home the standard is to hold about 60% of possession and with San Jose juggling their lineup for this match I expect that RSL should be able advantage of it by controlling as much of the match as possible.
Keep the Quakes out of the area, San Jose has scored 24 goals this year and 21 of them have come inside the area, they are good on set pieces and for RSL one of the big keys will be making Wondolowski any time he gets close to the area, he is a sneaky player who finds his way into dangerous areas. If we can limit him to 4 or fewer shots then it will force the rest of their team to score goals and with Lenhart, Dawkins, and Gordon out of the match it will take away most of their other dangerous weapons. This is where the size, speed, and skill of the RSL defense will need to be at their top form, and Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, and Tony Beltran have been great this year.
A quick start and finishing strong, for RSL they have 3 goals in the first 15 minutes and 6 in the last 15 minutes of matches, and those numbers could go up as San Jose have allowed 4 goals in the first 15 minutes and 8 in the last 15 minutes of matches. I expect with the extra rest after the cancelled match last week, I expect a quick start for RSL who will have their starting tandem of strikers available for the first time in over 2 months as we should see Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio up top for RSL.
I think this one will be a fun match to watch as I expect both sides to play open and look for scoring chances, but will the San Jose who got two goals on Wednesday show up or the one who had just 2 goals in the 6 matches before that? RSL's defense is the best in the league and they will be matching up against the best goal scorer over the last two years in MLS, I think the home side gets a 2-1 win over the Quakes.
OFF MY SOAPBOX