The third and final regular season meeting between these two rivals will take place Saturday evening at Dicks Sporting Goods Park, in the past matches in Colorado RSL is just 2-5-4 with 10 goals scored and 14 allowed, but things aren't always what they seem. This year RSL is a fairly solid 4-4-2 on the road, while the Rapids are 5-5-1 at home, or course you also have the pair of 2-0 wins that RSL has in the first two matches this year. You can add in that the Rapids have lost 6 straight matches, while RSL was 3-1-1 in July in their league matches.
Real Salt Lake is dealing with a couple of issues, first a busy schedule that saw them fly to Costa Rica and back from their opening Champions League match, which resulted in the second a hamstring injury to Jamison Olave that will likely keep him out of all action for at least 4 weeks. That combined with the slower than expected recovery of Chris Schuler, who is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot, mean that we will probably see Kwame Watson-Siriboe starting next to Nat Borchers on Saturday. The Rapids are dealing with a number of injuries as well, OUT: DF Anthony Wallace (L Achilles tear); MF Pablo Mastroeni (headaches); QUESTIONABLE: FW Edu (R foot contusion); FW Conor Casey (R hamstring tightness); PROBABLE: FW Omar Cummings (L hamstring tightness).
A win for Real Salt Lake would see them jump back to first place in both the Western Conference and overall in MLS, as the San Jose Earthquakes are idle this weekend, it would also mark their 14th victory of the season, which is just one shy of the 15 wins they had each of the last two seasons. For the Rapids, they find themselves 11 points out of the final playoff spot and just 3 points above last place in the Western Conference. A loss would be their 15th of the season, which would be more than any other team in the league. Clearly for both teams there is a lot on the line in this match, even with the Rocky Mountain Cup's fate for 2012 already settled.
After the jump, my Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more:
Key Match Up:
Fabian Espindola vs. Marvell Wynne -
If you watched the last match between these two teams very closely you will have noticed one of the best one on one battles I have seen in a very long time as Marvell and Fabi battled all over the pitch. There weren't many times that you could look at the pitch and not see them within a couple yards of each other, and whenever Fabi would make one of his runs, there was Marvell keeping pace with him. Of course that kept the best Rapids defender from being able to deal with Alvaro Saborio, who was able to score the game winner, but it was fairly effective in keeping Fabi from being as dangerous as he can be.
If Fabi can keep from getting frustrated at the constant harassment and tight marking, he should be able to use that to his advantage to play the role of provider, as others get open. It is a role that he has become rather good at with 4 assists to go along with his 6 goals. Should the Rapids change their tactic, well then this could be the match that Fabi gets back on the score sheet as he has been making some great runs, and with Sabo being on a great scoring run, opponents might just overlook him enough to give him a couple quality chances on goal.
Kamani Hill - With the injury issues that the Rapids have had up top all season their picking up Kamani at the start of this season seems like a very smart move. He had spent several years playing in Europe bouncing around Germany and Norway, before coming back to the US. While he has been used of the bench most often this year for the Rapids, just 1 start with 14 overall appearances, in just 380 minutes of playing time he has racked up 3 goals and added 1 assist. One has to wonder if the Rapids who are struggling might just give this 26 year old forward a chance at getting some more minutes.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe - In 3 season with the Chicago Fire, Kwame got 7 starts, in less than 3 months with RSL he will be picking up his fourth start. Now in part his starts have come because of suspensions and injuries with RSL but I think everyone has been happy with the performances he has turned in when on the pitch for RSL. A good combination of size and strength, you can see him adjusting to the role he is playing with RSL and that has lead to more confidence. For me we have seen him be solid on the defensive end of the pitch, now with his size can we get to see him become a threat on set pieces on the offensive side of the ball?
Jorge Gonzalez - Yeah I know it may seem a bit old to keep listing the officials as wildcards in matches, but as long as we get the levels of inconsistency that we have seen all year long across the league, I really don't have a lot of choices. Jorge is one of the more experienced officials in MLS with 83 previous matches, he calls an average of 24.8 fouls per match, he issues 3.3 yellow cards per match, 24 times he has reached to the back pocket for the red card and 23 times he has pointed to the PK spot. I have a feeling that with the Rapids being desperate to get a result, this could be a very chippy match, I hope that we see it called fairly and consistently for both side.
My RSL Starting XI:
Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Nat Borchers, Kenny Mansally, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Fabain Espindola, Alvaro Saborio
While RSL's heads may be a bit low after Tuesday, I don't think it will take more than a minute or two of action for them to snap back to the reality that this is a big conference match, and that a win in this could lift them back to the top of the Conference. The Rapids are a team that has been in rebuilding mode with a whole new style of playing, that early in the year looked good but with injuries and teams adjusting it has left them out cold in recent months. So what can we expect from them? Easy they will very likely look to slow things down and defend, the Rapids have only 5 clean sheets this year (RSL has 9), and 13 times the Rapids have given up multiple goals (RSL has 8 times).
One of the most telling things about these two teams is that the Rapids are -5 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches with just 1 scored and 6 allowed, while RSL is +3 with 3 scored and 0 allowed in that same first 15 minutes of matches. Then when you add in the fact that RSL is 11-1-0 when scoring first and the Rapids are 1-10-1 when giving up the first goal, even when scoring first the Rapids are just 6-4-0.
So if RSL can convert their chances, and they are very likely to create chances as they often do with their superior passing and possession, they should be able to pick up a win. I have to believe that even at home that the Rapids will play a very defensive style, look for a 1-0 RSL win.
OFF MY SOAPBOX