Real Salt Lake, in perhaps the best form the club has seen since the largely magnificent 2010 season, travels to FC Dallas shorn of four of their best players. A natural difficulty emerges: Those four have been surely vital to this early form, though time without each of them has galvanized the squad.
With the squad burgeoning with talented players, that galvanization restores a bit of hope. To this point in the season, backups have come in and shown a remarkable ability to slot in almost seamlessly. But it's one thing to slot in at home - on the road, particularly in Dallas, where things have never been particularly rosy for Real Salt Lake.
Adapting, then, to this difficult scenario will speak volumes about the future of this squad as a whole and the likelihood that real success can be found. Should they fail - and this is a short-term, one-off failure, not a larger one at this point, should it come to that - questions will be asked. Sustained form over the last two months should be the answer, and maybe it will be. But there's always a masochistic temptation to lose one's head over small, quibbling things that might not be issues at all.
But enough with that: How about the match?
Josh Saunders slots in for Nick Rimando, and it's quite remarkable that we're doing so well with him. This isn't to say that he was a bad goalkeeper before - anything but - but it's difficult for any goalkeeper, particularly one that's been used to playing week-in, week-out for the last few years, to simply step in. Saunders has not only stepped in, but he's stepped up.
Chris Wingert slots in for Tony Beltran, and Abdoulie Mansally slots in for Chris Wingert. This has a fascinating effect of switching our mode of attack; we have often built up the right side this season, with Beltran taking a more attacking slant and Wingert being a bit more of a stable defensive element. This has produced some fine moments, and it's difficult to complain much. But swapping Wingert's side and bringing in Mansally pushes the attack to the left side - Ned Grabavoy's side of the diamond at current. Perhaps this will see Grabavoy and Luis Gil swap sides, with Gil the ostensibly more attack-focused player of the two.
Yordany Alvarez drops in for Kyle Beckerman, and as we've seen before, he brings a different set of qualities to the position. He's less the deep-lying playmaker and more the prototypical defensive midfielder, but we should make that work without issue. He'll want to be careful about those yellow cards, though, as the last thing we need is to be once again playing with ten.
Alvaro Saborio's absence is a bit more interesting, as no prebuilt solution is available. Devon Sandoval affords the closest approximation of Saborio's skill set, but he is less domineering than the Costa Rican. He can certainly hold the ball well, and he'll drop with it to allow runners forward, but he lacks the killer instinct (for lack of a better term) necessary to really succeed at this point. There have been very encouraging signs of that developing over time, but he does need to become more clinical with his finishing.
Robbie Findley could be an option, but then the partner becomes another question: Is it Olmes Garcia? Joao Plata? Devon Sandoval? Findley's raw speed offers a chance to really stretch defenses, even if he's not in particularly good form; this opens opportunities for midfielders and the forward he pairs with. Perhaps just as importantly, it opens chances for forwards later in the match, when defenses have been torn to shreds trying to chase down Findley.
Joao Plata is a good option, as he's quick of feet and quick of mind, though his finishing could use a bit of work. He might partner with Robbie Findley to provoke further chasing from defenders, and this would open even more space through the middle for midfielders. It's hard to argue with that.
The bench is also interesting: With Lovel Palmer out through suspension, Enzo Martinez makes the bench both as a backup right back and as a defensive midfielder. He's still yet to see minutes for the first team, and he'll be hoping he breaks his duck (not literally, one would hope) with some time out there tonight.
Briefly, the bench: Jeff Attinella, Aaron Maund, Enzo Martinez, Khari Stephenson, Sebastian Velasquez, Olmes Garcia, Devon Sandoval