As the MLS regular season winds to a close each match becomes bigger and bigger no matter who the opponent is or where the match is played. For RSL just 8 matches in league play remain after Saturday, with just 3 of them at home, so each point is critical for both positioning in the playoffs, and for potential hosting rights for MLS Cup. FC Dallas have had their struggles this year with injuries and discipline problems and it has put them in the unfortunate spot of having to play catch up as they try to work their way into a playoff spot in what has become a very tight race in the Western Conference. They will have 7 matches left after Saturday and find themselves 8 points out of the final playoff spot (3 teams currently sit with 37 points), 13 points behind RSL and 18 points behind conference and league leading San Jose. So both sides will head into the match Saturday with big expectations but both will be facing some obstacles as well.
Real Salt Lake had 4 players called up to various national teams for midweek friendlies, 3 of them (Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, and Alvaro Saborio) played the full 90 minutes on Wednesday before having to travel back to Salt Lake to join back up with the team. RSL has also had to deal with some injuries as Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler will miss another match, and Javier Morales remains a question mark. All of that is complicated by Tuesday's Champions League match, which is a must win against Panamanian side Tauro FC, and then another MLS match on Friday at the Philadelphia Union. A very tough week full of big matches for RSL and their fans.
The fans of FC Dallas haven't had much to cheer about this year, the team has struggled all season with various issues that left them with just two combined wins over May, June, and July, but August has seen them get better in a hurry with two wins and a draw since the month started. They are still fighting some injury issues as you can tell by Friday's update to the injury report: OUT: DF Ugo Ihemelu (concussion symptoms); DF Alex Lee (lower abdominal strain); FW Blas Perez (R foot sprain); MF Ricardo Villar (R foot strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Jackson (concussion symptoms) but with David Ferreira back and looking as sharp as ever and now Brek Shea appearing that he might just be focused and ready to go again, well they are proving to be a dangerous opponent for everyone they face.
After the jump, the Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more:
Key Match Up:
David Ferreira vs. Yordany Alvarez / Kyle Beckerman - Real Salt Lake has given up 10 goals in their last 5 matches, something almost unheard of for the team that has built around the defense first model. FC Dallas has gotten 5 assists and a goal from David Ferreira in their last 5 matches. I fully expect that Ferreira will start on Saturday, he has started each of the last 8 matches for FC Dallas, during which they are 4-2-2. With Kyle Beckerman playing a full 90 minutes for the USMNT in their 1-0 victory over Mexcio in Mexico City on Wednesday, I think it is unlikely he will start, that means we will probably see Yordany Alvarez get the start at D-Mid. Yordany has just 3 starts this season, but RSL is 2-1-0 in the matches he starts, including the 3-2 victory over FC Dallas and he has appeared in 9 MLS matches for the team.
In a lineup that is very likely going to see more than a handful of changes for RSL, and perhaps for FC Dallas who had a hard fought 2-0 win at Vancouver on Wednesday night, but I believe the key will be the battle between the offensive play maker Ferreira for FC Dallas and the guy(s) with the primary job of stopping him. I have seen some teams use tactics close to Hack-a-Javi on Ferreira and while Yordany has greatly improved on his yellow card numbers from last year and has only picked up one so far this year, his ratio of fouls committed to fouls suffered is 7-1. It will be a real test for him to match the craftyness and skill of Ferreira, while remaining out of the mind of the officials on Saturday. I expect that we will see Yordany get help from his teammates in the midfield but the one on one battles could be one of the deciding factors on the night.
Brek Shea: There were few players poised at the start of 2012 to impress as much as Brek Shea, at just 22 years of age he was coming off a 2011 season that saw him score 11 goals, add 4 assists and play in 31 of his teams 34 matches. Then toss in that he had become a bit of a fixture with the USMNT at various levels and you have a mix ready to produce a superstar, but it wasn't to be. First the disappointment of the U23's failing to qualify for the Olympics, then just a single goal in the first 7 matches for FC Dallas, then a suspension for kicking a ball at an official during a match, and most recently a blow with his coach that forced him into a "time out". However, the story doesn't end there and just this week it changed direction in a major way that might just provide Shea with some hope to save his year. It was Brek Shea who came on late for the USMNT in Mexico City, who was able to take a Kyle Beckerman pass and run at a couple defenders to get the ball into the area and eventually in the back of the net for the historic goal that gave the USA their first ever win in Mexico. If that assist can't spark more good things, I am not sure what can.
Paulo Jr.: While not as drastic as the year Brek Shea has had, RSL's Paulo Jr.'s year has been similar, high expectations, a good start, then a bad middle and eventually a loan to the NASL's Ft. Laurderdale Strikers. Again the story doesn't end there, no after just two matches (1 goal, 1 assist) and Paulo Jr. was back with RSL and earning compliments from his head coach. It was enough for him to get some minutes against Vancouver last weekend and he picked up an assist on the only RSL goal in the 2-1 loss to the Whitecaps, but Paulo Jr. looked focused, looked lively on and off the ball and for the first time in months he looked quick again. Now with the pressure of Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola in front of him on the depth chart and having to fight with Justin Braun and Emiliano Bonfigli for that 3rd spot, maybe we will see the player that had RSL fans so excited about what he might be able to do this year. He will likely get a chance to prove it on Saturday.
Juan Guzman: It appears that it doesn't matter what league or where on the globe you play the officials are almost always a major factor in the end results of matches, and too often it is for mistakes or missed calls but almost always it is because of simple inconsistency that impacts how teams play. Here we get Juan Guzman in just his 18th match as a MLS official and while he calls a fairly moderate 26.2 fouls per match, his 3.8 yellows is a bit high and the fact that he has issued a red card in 1 out of every 3 matches (6 total) is scary, as is the fact that he has pointed to the PK spot in about 25% of his matches. Both of the sides in today's match have seen their fair share of bad and controversial calls, I really hope that none of that happens tonight.
My RSL Starting XI:
Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Nat Borchers, Kenny Mansally, Ned Grabavoy, Yordany Alvarez, Will Johnson, Luis Gil, Fabian Espindola, and Paulo Jr.
Now I know mine varies from the teams projected lineup in the game guide, but we will have to see how many changes Jason makes knowing that Tuesday is just 72 hours away.
Let's be honest despite what will likely be a lineup featuring a lot of change from last weekend's loss in Vancouver this is a match that RSL need to get a win in. It is one of the final 4 home matches of the season, and while FC Dallas is on a streak of good form, it is a team that has flaws. They key will be a solid effort on the defensive side of the ball, FC Dallas has been held to 1 or fewer goals in 19 of their 26 matches, and they are a team that has trouble holding on to a lead. They are 4-3-6 when scoring first and 3-8-0 when giving up the first goal, while RSL is 11-1-0 when scoring first and 2-8-1 when giving up the first goal. FC Dallas has scored multiple goals in just 7 of their 26 matches, while RSL has done it in 12 of their 25 matches.
We know what RSL has to do in order to win, they have do what they do best and add in finishing their chances, with FC Dallas having guys who like to push forward from their defensive spots, there will be a chance to punish them but we will need to make Kevin Hartman work hard if we are going to get many past him. I would love to see the team take at least 15 shots and get at least 8 of them quality efforts on goal, that should allow us to score a couple of goals. With a lot of guys getting a shot at the starting lineup for RSL I almost expect that we will see less possession and lower percentage of completed passes but I am hoping that perhaps the rested legs and opportunistic energy will allow the team to be more aggressive than we have seen in recent weeks. That 11-1-0 when scoring first is a huge number and if we are going to win we will likely need to be the team that strikes first.
I think this one is an exciting match that will see RSL pull out a 2-1 win, I think the match will be fairly open as both sides will look to create offensive chances as often as they can.
OK, so what are your picks for the match?
OFF MY SOAPBOX