Well after the ugly match that was Wednesday night fore Real Salt Lake, can they recover, regroup and get some revenge on the San Jose Earthquakes? This is one of those opponents that is quickly becoming a rival for RSL, after the questionable antics and calls of the first match between the two sides this year, I would say most of the players on the pitch will be considering this a match they highlight on their calendars. Then add in the pressure of it being a match between the top two teams in the Western Conference, separated by just 2 points in the standings a winner on Saturday would not only claim the top spot in the West but likely the top spot in all of MLS. So the stakes are high for both sides.
Since the rebirth of the San Jose Earthquakes the battles between them and RSL have actually been fairly even with RSL holding a slight edge at 5-4-5, and San Jose is one of the teams who has found success in Salt Lake where RSL holds just a 2-1-4 advantage, despite out scoring the Quakes 10-5. It is hard to think about the budding rivalry with San Jose without thinking back to mid April and the 3-1 loss suffered at Buck Shaw Stadium, where an early red card put RSL in a hole but it wasn't until a horrible call late in the match to give a second red card to RSL that the Quakes were then able to take advantage of 5 plus minutes of stoppage time to get their final two goals of the match. That left a very bitter taste in the mouth of both the RSL players and fans, one that we hope the team can help us get rid of on Saturday.
For Real Salt Lake there will be some real keys to watch in this match, but none will be more important than finishing strong, San Jose as we saw in our match with them as well as their Wednesday match are a team that never stops playing and has found huge success late in matches. In fact San Jose have scored over half their 29 goals this season in the final 30 minutes of matches where they have scored 18 times. RSL should be looking for an early goal as 1/3 of San Jose's 18 goals allowed have come in the first 15 minutes of matches where they have allowed 6 goals. RSL can also take advantage of the fact that while over 1/3 of our matches we are able to keep a clean sheet 6 of 16, San Jose has just 3 clean sheets in their 15 matches this year. That means that this is likely to be a very exciting match from first whistle to last, so get there early and plan on being their late.
After the jump, My Key Match Up, Wildcards and more:
Key Match Up:
Steven Lenhart vs. Real Salt Lake's Sanity - We need to be honest with ourselves, while the antics of the human cabbage patch kid, Sideshow Lenhart, or whatever nickname you have for him may drive us to the brink of sanity, that is exactly why he acts that way. It gives him both a mental and tactical advantage in matches, his never say die, willing to do anything to help the team (even act a fool), make him one of the most hated players in MLS for sure, but if you look past the fact that he is actually very talented player, well then he wins. If you let the distractions get to you as a player, then he wins. If you get mad and react, he wins. We know that he commits more fouls than he suffers (22 to 14), we know that MLS officials will make mistakes or not catch things that he does. What you can't forget is that in just 870 minutes of action he has taken 31 shots, over half of those, 17, have been on goal and that he has 5 goals already this year.
We know that our guys are emotional, we know they are passionate, but on Saturday they have to play within themselves, and simply find a way to tune out the Lenhart Factor that is more like fingernails on a chalkboard than anything else I can think of. We have to allow Jair Marrufo to be the man who makes the calls, we have to play the way we play, we have to focus on what we can control, and we need to play mistake free soccer. It isn't often that one player can dictate and change a match not by what he does with the ball but more often by what he does away from the ball. We simply can't allow Steven Lenhart to control this match.
Alan Gordon - Of all the weapons on the San Jose Earthquakes, perhaps none is more interesting than Alan Gordon, a journeyman forward in MLS who has always had the ability to make a difference in matches but often not enough to impress teams to keep him around for long. Well I think he may have finally found a home. Gordon's record against RSL is fairly impressive, in just 500 minutes he has a goal and two assists against us. It is what he has done with the Quakes this season that makes him a true wildcard to me. He has just 1 start, has only appeared in 8 matches all together, and has just 270 minutes of playing time, yet he has found a way to score 4 goals, including 2 game winners. It is the fact that each of his 4 goals has come in the final 20 minutes of matches, and two of his goals have come after the 90th minute. So it doesn't matter if he starts or plays a lot, he is one dangerous guy this year.
Chris Wingert - Normally the stable outside back does little to warrant the Wildcard label, but with Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler both out with injuries it means a move to center back for Wingert and that brings with it a little bit of the wildcard factor. We know that Chris gives up 5 inches from Olave, and some speed, but what we gain is a very smart player who understands his role, knows his teammates and a guy with a ton of heart and passion for what he does. Chris will need to pay extra attention to set piece marking as the Quakes have some big bodies that they can bring forward, it will also mean that there will be fewer opportunities to go forward in support of the attack, Still if Chris can adjust to the role quickly in the match and simply play a solid 90 minutes, well then he will do a lot to make himself less of a wildcard, and more of a sure hand. You can check out more about the move of Wingert to Centerback in this post by Matt "@TheCrossbarRSL" Montgomery.
Jair Marrufo - There are a lot of things you can say about Jair Marrufo but I am not sure how many would get past the censors. Yet in this season of very erratic behavior from MLS officials he has actually been one of the more stable ones. This will be his 136th match in charge, he calls an average of 24.2 fouls per match, issues and average of 3.2 yellow cards per match. He has reached to the back pocket for the red card 32 times and he has pointed to the PK spot 42 times. Saturday night I only have two things that I want, a bit of consistency for the players, and for Jair to put a stop to Steven Lenhart's antics. If he can see past the flops, the off play pulls and tugs, and not allow a single player distract form the match, well then I will consider it a success.
My RSL Starting XI:
Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Kenny Mansally, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio.
My MLS Picks:
A full MLS weekend of action with 7 Saturday and 2 Sunday matches, I don't have time for a full preview post, so here are my quick picks:
- Toronto FC 2-1 at home over New England Revolution
- Sporting KC 2-1 at Philadelphia Union
- Montreal Impact and Houston Dynamo 2-2 draw in Montreal
- Chicago Fire 2-0 winners over the Columbus Crew in Chicago
- FC Dallas and Chivas USA 1-1 draw in Dallas
- LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps 2-2 draw in LA
- Seattle Sounders 2-1 over Portland Timbers in Portland
- New York Red Bulls 3-2 winners over DC United in New York