Well was a matchup that many predicted would be the finals of the MLS Cup this year before the season started, it was expected that both teams would be dominant forces in their conferences, but that isn't exactly how things went. For Real Salt Lake, there was the slow recovery of the heartbreak of losing in the Champions League final this spring, which combined with the injury to Javier Morales slowed RSL for most of the spring and summer months. Just now is RSL's results reflecting the expectations that many had in the preseason, they sit in 3rd place in the West within a win of 2nd place and with a still real chance to catch the LA Galaxy as the top team in the league.
For New York it is hard to pin down what went wrong, but they find themselves on the very edge of the playoff picture and while they are just 5 points out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, their 15 draws and just 7 wins so far this season has left a lot of people scratching their heads at why the team with the highest payroll the league has ever seen has struggled so much. This is an easy one for me, few people on this team care about playing defense and so while they count themselves among the elite offenses in the league with 43 goals scored, they are also found among the worst defenses with 38 goals allowed (only 6 teams have allowed more).
So now these two teams will face off in what is yet another must win match for both sides, for RSL to keep their hopes of the Supporters' Shield alive, and for New York to keep their playoff hopes alive. It should make for an exciting midweek match.
My Key Match Up, Wildcards, my prediction after the jump:
Key Match Up:
Offense vs Defense
Again the battle will be between a team build on offense (despite two defensive DP's) and individual stars against a team that has become a top team using the team is the star concept and playing the best defense in the league.
I understand signing two huge international names in a city full of pro sports, with a fairly new branded team, in a fancy new stadium, I really do. I understand thinking that you can find a coach from Europe who should be able to put together a team to beat the lowly teams of MLS, it is typical thinking of those who don't know MLS and are used to opening their pocket book to get what they want. I can almost understand a coach who has a roster that is filled with more international players than US ones, I mean he clearly is smarter than anyone else, right. It may work out for them, we have seen stranger things in MLS, but if you had asked the people at MLS HQ back in March if they thought that NYRB would have a hard time even qualifying for the new, realigned, expanded MLS playoffs almost tailored to get them to MLS Cup, they would have laughed at you.
So when you look at the list of the guys fighting for the Golden Boot it should be no surprise that Thierry Henry is at the top of the list with 12 goals, or that despite missing a dozen matches that Luke Rodgers is still on the list with 7 goals. It may be a bit of a surprise that 3 Red Bulls players are in the top 10 for assists, Dane Richards with 7, while Jan Gunnar Solli and Joel Lindpere both have 6. While all that offense is good, what really matters will be what team actually takes the pitch, only Joel Lindpere has been in all 28 matches for the team this year, Roy Miller & Jan Gunnar Solli are the only other guys with more than 22 starts this year. Perhaps the roster chaos needs no explanation beyond this, the New York Red Bulls have used 5 keepers this year, and none of them have played in a majority of the teams matches.
For RSL it started when Jason took over, he built a team that would play defense first, a team that every player would contribute to the defensive effort and for the last 3 years no team can claim more success than RSL. So it starts with Nick Rimando, simply the best keeper in MLS over the last 3 years, oh I know what about Donovan Ricketts, what about Kevin Hartman, you can have them, I will take Nick over any keeper in MLS. Of course he is helped by two of the very best centerbacks in the league as Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave prove to be more than a handful for any forwards. How good are our back, well 2nd year center back Chris Schuler is so good that with our recent injuries to Chris Wingert, and now Tony Beltran, that he has moved to the outside and last week help keep one of the top offenses in the league in check. He is joined on the outside by Robbie Russell, oh yeah he has been growing back that "Kimbo Slice" beard that makes him look like a very mean person. Robbie isn't mean, well unless you are an attacking player trying to get by him, then he is all business.
Every player on the RSL roster plays a role in the defensive effort, perhaps the biggest hit that RSL will take on Wednesday is that Kyle Beckerman will be serving a one match suspension for yellow cards. That means that someone else will have to step up as that holding/defensive midfielder for RSL, most likely it will be Ned Grabavoy who is nearing full fitness after a midseason injury, or could it be Yordany Alvarez? The last minute signing by RSL of the 2011 USL Pro MVP, who lead his Orlando City team to both the regular season and playoff crowns this year?
Can RSL get their 14th shutout in 28 matches? New York has only been held scoreless 5 times this year and while they average 1.54 goals per match, the RSL defense is allowing just 0.81. Something is going to give.
Thierry Henry -
Yeah I know how good he is, yes I know he leads MLS with 12 goals, but I list him as a wild card because you simply don't know which guy is going to show up each week, or if he will show up. Last year we saw him blame fatigue and injuries for missing a number of matches and this year he has missed more than a handful of matches with injuries, he does always seem to show up in the big matches but will New York consider this a big match? Midweek, no national TV, he is listed as questionable on the injury report but you have to believe that with all that is at stake for New York that he will find his way into this match.
Alvaro Saborio -
Again I know how is he a wildcard, well in recent weeks he has been back to his scoring ways, and he seems to really relish playing in the big matches and this one is big. He also has had a number of good chances over the last few weeks that he has been unable to finish and I think that he will be looking to get back into the scoring column against a New York team that is suspect on defense. Last time these two teams faced off Sabo found the back of the net from a PK attempt, I think tonight he finds it in the run of play.
Jorge Gonzalez -
Well each week we continue to see officials either make bad calls, wrong calls, too many calls, or no calls, that lack of consistency really does make the task of players, coaches and fans all the more difficult. So how will this match be called? Well Jorge has been in charge of 67 MLS matches, he calls an average of 24.6 fouls per match, issues an average of 3.4 yellow cards, and 23 times he has shown a red card in a match, to go with the 20 times he has pointed to the PK spot. All I want is a match that is called fairly both ways, I don't care as much if he calls a tight match or lets them play, I just want a foul to be a foul for both teams and for offsides to be called correctly.
Both teams want 3 points in the worst way, and like most matches in MLS it will likely come down to the first goal scored. New York is 7-0-9 when scoring first, RSL is 14-2-1, but neither side has given up a first goal and come back to get a win, NYRB is 0-6-4 and RSL is 0-5-2 when giving up the first goal. New York has scored over half their goals from the run of play 25 of 43, while RSL have allowed just 9 goals from open play. It is interesting that New York hasn't scored a direct kick goal yet this year.
If the key is the first goal well then consider this, New York have allowed 13 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches (7 in the first 15), while RSL have given up just 8 in the first 30 and just 3 in the first 15. RSL has scored 11 in the first 30 minutes while New York has scored 12. I have a feeling this will be a very tight match, but I think RSL will get the first goal and end up getting a 2-1 win over a New York team that still has a lot of issues, but with a team living on the efforts of individual players anything can happen.
OFF MY SOAPBOX