Real Salt Lake open their 2015 campaign today against Portland Timbers, who have variously been described as significant rivals, with the most torrid moments coming in 2013.
With the 2015 campaign beginning today, and with former RSL great Nat Borchers plying his trade in greener (literally) pastures, the torridity of this one could be up there with the best of this one. Or, you know, it might not be. We'll see.
At any rate, without too much ado, here are three things we'll be watching as RSL and Portland face off once again. And no, we're not going to call it a rivalry. If you want to, go ahead. We won't stop you.
Can RSL find weaknesses in Nat Borchers' partnership with that English guy?
No, not Patrick Stewart. Or that famous chef that yells a lot. Liam Ridgewell — that's the guy! Anyway, he and Nat Borchers are destined to be the starting pair in defense — how will that work out? While that's an interesting question in the longer term, we're mostly concerned with how well they play now, and if there's anything we can easily capitalize on.
Luke Mulholland (somewhat interestingly — and I use somewhat as a strong advisory that it might not actually be that interesting) said something recently about being able to play to Borchers' weaknesses, but added a way-too-friendly "if he has any," which makes me think that he has gobs of them that our current team knows about.
That's the thing about leaving to another team as a defender — if you've got weaknesses, your former team will know about them. You know, as long as they paid attention in training and all that. Let's assume they did.
One additional potential weakness: Both players are not exactly hulking monstrosities of men. We could, you know, just send Olave up top to run them over. That sounds fun.
Will Jamison Olave play on turf? What about Chris Schuler?
The one thing nobody's been talking about in the run-up to this match (and I don't mean literally nobody, of course): Are Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler good to go on turf? After all, that's not real grass they've got up in Portland (insert crude joke here) and historically, those two have had a few injury problems here and there.
Maybe there's nothing to be concerned about, and they're both fine and looking forward to the match. Maybe we'll play one but not the other. Maybe we'll play them both. We'll see, right?
Who wins the midfield battle?
Real Salt Lake could start the match with fewer midfielders than Portland. What will that mean? Who will win the midfield battle and really put the opposition to task? Is the midfield battle even something worth trying to win, or are there more important things to consider, like scoring goals and not conceding goals? I don't have the answer to these things, but it's something to watch.
On that note: Remember when Caleb Porter played a weird 3-5-2 to try to counteract the successes of the diamond midfield at Real Salt Lake? On that day, Real Salt Lake had a kinda-outnumbered midfield and succeeded in demolishing Portland, even though the midfield was outnumbered. So there's that.