With their eyes on maintaining a Supporters Shield challenge despite the odds having recently turned against them, Real Salt Lake take on San Jose Earthquakes, who are facing their own battle of sorts as they look to battle back for a playoff spot.
With the race for every position, excepting perhaps last place, securely held by DC United (who we'll see in a just under two weeks as we look to win the US Open Cup), the race becomes ever more scintillating. The glut of teams at the top of the table — Seattle, New York, Montreal, and perhaps even Sporting KC and LA Galaxy, not to mention us — renders the Supporters Shield slightly less a runaway trophy as it has been in the past. Whether that imbues the trophy with more meaning or not, it's something we would quite like to win.
But it's made more difficult by the absence of Alvaro Saborio, our leading scorer, who misses his 17th match of the season. Most other players should be back in contention, including one Chris Schuler, who hasn't seen time since early in the season, after recurring foot issues kept him out of the side.
The task will hardly be an easy one for Real Salt Lake, and facing a trio of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon will be as grueling a physical battle as we've had in some time.
Uncertainty about the outlay with which Jason Kreis will proceed becomes another significant question, and whether he decides to roll the dice a bit with a 4-3-3, or to stick with the tried-and-true 4-4-2 with a diamond stuck firmly in the middle, the task at hand will be less tactical than it might often be. San Jose Earthquakes are a side in transition, and I'm not exactly sure they've established something without Frank Yallop at the helm.
Anything less than a win surely puts Real Salt Lake out of Supporters Shield contention, but if we secure the Open Cup, some of the motivation for winning the Shield — CONCACAF Champions League entry — is set to the side. But a trophy is, as they say, a trophy, and if our goal is to win trophies — well, we best be on this one.
A win would secure for RSL a clean sweep over San Jose, which would be a fantastic improvement from last year's poor, poor showings against the eventual Supporters Shield-winning side. But with four players teetering on the edge of yellow card accumulation suspension — including Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, and Kyle Beckerman — there's surely some risk associated with tonight's match.