In 2008 the San Jose Earthquakes were reborn after the previous franchise moved to Houston and became the Dynamo, since their return to MLS the Quakes have struggled against Real Salt Lake winning just once in 9 matches against RSL. For Real Salt Lake the last two years have started in San Jose, both opening day wins, but this year it was the LA Galaxy on opening day and with our new schedule our first of two trips to the bay area will take place this weekend. No fear RSL fans, the last time RSL lost to the Quakes was in May of 2009, the last time San Jose even scored a goal against RSL was July of 2009.
In the Jason Kreis era, RSL is 5-1-3 against San Jose, add to that the fact that only two players on the Quakes roster have ever scored a goal against RSL (both Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart have 1 goal each), and confidence is something RSL should have loads of heading into this match. However I think the current Quakes side is a very different monster, they brought in some new faces but sadly for them Shea Salinas is out with a horrible injury at the hands of Rafa Marquez and Marvin Chavez is suspended for the match. As of the Tuesday injury report both Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart, the only current Quakes to ever score against RSL were still questionable; have to believe at least one of them will try to make a go on Saturday.
So a win by RSL keeps them at the top of the Western Conference, but a win by San Jose would see them leapfrog RSL for the top spot in the conference. So for both teams this will be a big match with a direct impact on how the conference shapes up this year and who gets into the playoffs.
After the jump, My Key Match Up, Wildcards, RSL Starting XI, and more
Key Match Up:
Nick Rimando vs. Jon Busch - In a battle of the "little" keepers of MLS, you know the oft overlooked guys who at 5'9" and 5'10" may be short physically but have come up big for years in goal for their teams. Jon is the senior at 35 years old, while Nick is just 32, Busch has played in 204 regular season matches, while Nick has almost hit the 300 mark as Saturday will be his 296th match. If you want to know how good these guys are, then simply look at their GAA this year, for Nick Rimando it is 0.71 after 7 matches with 3 clean sheets to boot. Jon Busch has a 0.67 GAA after 6 matches and he also has 3 clean sheets.
So how do these two do in matches with their opposition on Saturday? Last year Jon Busch was in goal for both matches and gave up 5 goals, oh and one of the best pictures of a player "flipping the bird" during a match, He has faced RSL 9 times in his past and has a overall 0.78 GAA in those matches. Last year Nick shut out the Quakes in both matches and in 21 career matches against San Jose (both versions) he has an overall 0.99 GAA, a fairly impressive number over that number of matches. There is little doubt that in both cases there is a lot more to these keepers than meets the eyes, should be fun to see how they do on Saturday.
Steven Lenhart - If he is fit enough to play he will play to give you fits, he is one of those players that you hate when he is playing against you but if he is on your team you probably love that he gives opponents fits. He works hard and is a persistent nuisance trying to get opponents to make mistakes, it is no different since he came to San Jose and we saw a few weeks ago that it was a difference maker in the Quakes 1-0 win over the Sounders. He is the guy who will do all the dirty work to make you pay attention to him, which can cause teams to lose track of Chris Wondolowski, you don't want to do that. Lenhart is coming back after an injury and may only see limited minutes on Saturday but you have to keep track of him without letting him get under your skin, let him make the mistakes not force you to.
Luis Gil - I expect that with Javier Morales still recovering from injury that we will once again see Luis Gil at the point of the RSL midfield diamond and while the last couple matches have seen teams clog the midfield with players to disrupt RSL's passing lanes, this week we are at Buck Shaw field is a bit narrow and short at 115 yards by 74 yards (Rio Tinto is 120 by 75), so there should be room for Luis and the RSL midfield to stretch their legs a bit and play a style they are more used to. Putting the offensive play making on the shoulders of a 18 yr old is a risk but I think this year that in most matches Luis has been up to the task, I would like to see him and all the RSL midfielders be a bit more aggressive and take a few more shots. I think with the way the Quakes play on both sides of the ball that this could be a big match for Luis.
Elias Bazakos - I only believe that Elias has been in charge of one previous RSL match, last years 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls. If that is the case then it aligns fairly well the numbers from his other 20 MLS matches, where he has called an average of 26.6 fouls per match, issues an average of 2.7 yellow cards per match. He only twice has pointed to the PK spot, but he has issued 5 red cards. Those things indicate an official who tends to let the players play, which is a good thing. Again we have seen some inconsistent calls both before and after matches as MLS has taken a much more active role in post match rule enforcement than in the past. My hope as always is for a match that is called evenly an fairly for both teams, and where the flow of the match isn't too impacted by the officials.
RSL Starting XI:
Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Tony Beltran, Sebastian Velasquez, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Luis Gil, Fabian Espindola, and Paulo Jr.
I think it is time for the rotation again up top, and at center back as RSL will be in Sat-Wed-Sat matches again, I think you will likely see more rotation in the midfield and backline on Wednesday.
RSL has had very good results over the last couple years against San Jose, but this is a Quakes team that is improved, but they are missing some big pieces due to injuries and this week the suspension of Marvin Chavez will likely play a role as well. This version of the Quakes fights from whistle to whistle as we saw last week as they came from behind twice to get result at New York. Chris Wondolowski has scored in all but one of their matches and already has two multiple goal matches. San Jose's defense for the first time all year looked a bit suspect in the first half at New York, RSL will need to take advantage of any opportunities they get and be much more clinical in their finishing than they have been so far this year.
San Jose is a interesting opponent, some matches they are content to allow their opponent to control the possession and dictate the pace of the match, while others they try to do that, only once have they been held to fewer than 10 shot, that was opening day against New England, their season high is 24 shots which came against Houston. The biggest key to beating the Quakes is to find a way to stop Chris Wondolowski, he has never scored against RSL and this is no time to let him start.
To win RSL must get back to being RSL, they need to maintain at least 53-55% of the possession today, they need to complete their passes (focus on the short, quick passes that create spaces) at a 81-84% rate, and I believe they need to make Jon Busch work, a lot of shots to force him to be more than just good to get the result today, I would hope to see at least 16 shots with at least 6-7 of them being on goal. I do believe that if we take some more shots from distance it could create secondary chances in the area and maybe some goals.
I am going to pick a 2-1 RSL win but I wouldn't be surprised if we see a draw in this match up of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
OFF MY SOAPBOX