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Real Salt Lake vs. DC United - "Must Win" Match Preview

I am fully expecting that we will get a chance to see Fabi celebrate on Saturday night against DC United.
(photo by me)
I am fully expecting that we will get a chance to see Fabi celebrate on Saturday night against DC United. (photo by me)

For Real Salt Lake the gaps have closed and while they now find themselves in 5th place in the combined MLS table, they are also dropping in the Western Conference and now find themselves in 3rd place with the LA Galaxy just 3 points behind them and 5th place Vancouver is just now just 6 points behind RSL. So a win against D.C. United on Saturday is one of those matches where anything but 3 points would again prove to be very problematic in both races. RSL find themselves without a MLS win in their last 4 matches and just 3 wins in their last 9 league matches, the 4 home losses this season are more than the last two years combined.

So RSL have just 2 home league matches left after Saturday, and 4 tough road matches (Houston, Seattle, and the Home Depot duet of Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy), getting every point at home has to be a top priority for the team as so far this year we have just 15 from a possible 39 road points (a 1.15 point per match average). At home, even with the 4 losses we have earned 28 of a possible 42 points at home (2.0 points per match average). The advantage at home is due to a +10 goal differential with 24 goals scored and 14 allowed, on the road RSL is a -5 with just 13 goals scored and 18 allowed. If those trends continue, RSL should get 6 more points from their home matches, and 5 (I rounded up) from our road matches which would see us end the season with 54 points which will not be enough to win the Supporters' Shield but would keep pressure on LA and Vancouver who are chasing us for 3rd place in the West.

The picture isn't much better for D.C. United who also find themselves in a fight for their playoff lives, after missing the playoffs for the last few years United are tied for the final playoff spot with the Chicago Fire with 41 points, while both Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew are just 2 points behind them. Like RSL, DCU have just 3 wins in their last 9 league matches and found themselves on the wrong end of a very late goal which cost them a win over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night. The final score was 2-2 on the night that Dwayne De Rosario joined the MLS 100 goal club, I am sure he probably would have chosen the 3 points if he could have. DC has 8 matches remaining this season 3 at home where they are an impressive 9-1-4, and including Saturday they have 5 on the road where they are just 3-8-1 with a -11 goal differential on 12 scored and 23 allowed.

Both teams are facing a match that they have to consider a "Must Win".

After the jump the Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more:

Key Match Up:

Dwayne De Rosario vs Alvaro Saborio - While the top scorer for DC might Chris Pontius, and while RSL may lean on Javier Morales as their creative playmaker, the harsh reality is that DC is as good as De Ro and RSL this year has only been as good as Sabo. So while they may not match up physically against each other the question will be which of them will be able to step up and lead their team on Saturday.

De Roasrio was the 2011 MVP for a reason and if it weren't for the blistering form of Chris Wondolowski this year he would likely win the award again, with 7 goals and 12 assists it hasn't mattered who has played with or what position DC puts him in, he simply gets things done. His record against RSL is fairly impressive as well in 16 matches played he has 6 goals and 5 assists, this year when De Ro scores or gets an assist DC United are likely to win, only twice has he put his name on the stat sheet and the Black and Red found themselves losing the match.

Saborio has a similar impact on RSL, only twice this year has he scored a goal in a match and RSL gone on to lose, his 14 goals (and two assists) have him in the race for the Golden Boot this year and for RSL he simply has carried a lot of the weight for the team this year. In our last 4 matches we have 3 losses and a draw, and you have to believe that it relates directly to the fact that Saborio that has scored just a single goal in MLS play this August.

One of them is going to need to lift their team to a victory on Saturday, the only real question is which one.


Lionard Pajoy - Pajoy was brought into MLS by the Philadelphia Union as the replacement for Sebastian Le Toux, but it simply never worked as expected, despite him picking up 5 goals and 2 assists in his 20 matches for the Union, it just didn't appear that he clicked after their coaching change. A trade brought him to DC, and in his 4 matches with United he has 1 goal on 5 shots. He is a crafty forward who can pose threat in open play as well as off set pieces, he is a player who has been flagged for offsides 17 times so far this year, compared to RSL's Alvaro Saborio who has seen the flag go up 33 times so far this year.

Fabian Espindola - A long season, a scoring drought, and the birth of his first child are all things that caused Fabi to get a much needed break from action last weekend, but he was back at practice on Monday and I fully expect that you will see a very motivated and rested Fabi in action on Saturday. His pace and style of play could really cause some issues for the defense of DC United, and look for him to get a number of good chances on goal. Fabian is a guy RSL needs to get hot for the stretch run and he is just the guy who has shown he can do it.

Silviu Petrescu - Every week I list the official as a wild card and more often than not they live up to it. I will have to say that Silviu is usually one of the more consistent guys calling MLS matches, this will be his 54th league match. He calls an average of 27.5 fouls per match and issues an average of 3.6 yellows per match, the first is fairly normal and the second a bit high. He has only reached to the back pocket 8 times and pointed to the PK spot just 7 times so far. Each week I simply hope that we get a match called evenly and consistently, without the officials giving fans anything to complain about.

My RSL Starting XI:

Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio

My Prediction:

I suspect that RSL will likely return to their traditional 4-4-2 on Saturday as a rested Fabian Espindola is likely to return not only to the 18 but to the starting lineup for RSL. While I think the possibilities of a RSL lineup with both Luis Gil and Javier Morales playing more creative roles is interesting, I don't think it is the choice Jason will use against DC United. DC is going to be tired, this is their 5th match in 14 days, they played Wednesday night and then had to travel multiple time zones and now will have to play at elevation. This means that they will likely look to attack quickly at the start of the match and then probably fall into a typical tactic of defending and counter attacking, something they have done well at this year and something RSL has struggled with.

The DC United defense is a bit suspect and haven't looked very solid since they lost Robbie Russell to injury and while he is listed as probable for Saturday, I don't know if he is back to full match fitness yet. DC have just 1 clean sheet in their last 8 matches, they have given up 3 or more goals 5 times already this season compared to 3 times for RSL. Overall DC United have given up 37 goals this year, but they have scored 37, and while DC have allowed 9 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches (RSL just 4), again their offense has been impressive early with 12 goals in the first 30 minutes compared to RSL's 5. Both teams are very hard to beat when they score first, RSL is 11-1-0 when they score first and DC United is 11-2-0, neither side comes from behind well as DC is 1-7-3 when giving up the first goal and RSL is 2-9-1.

We know that RSL is likely going to own the possession advantage in the match, we know that they will do so with a ton of passes that are very accurate, the question mark is can RSL take advantage of DC's defense and can they make their chances count. With a full week plus to rest there is no excuse for RSL to be tired, at home they should be able to leverage the tired legs of DC United into a convincing advantage. I think it will take at least 2 goals to get a win over DC United, and they are a team that has given up at least two goals in 4 of their last 5 matches. The big question is can the RSL defense which has given up 2 goals in 2 of their last 3 matches find a way to stop the very lethal offense of DC United? I see this one as a 2-1 win for RSL, but it isn't going to be easy.

So what is your prediction for the match on Saturday?