After their first win of the season, Real Salt Lake will hope to continue their wave of momentum as they travel to the state of the art Avaya stadium to take on the San Jose Earthquakes. The Claret-and-Cobalt will employ the league's leading assist leader Javier Morales in an attempt to out maneuver the league's leading scorer Chris Wondolowski. The Quakes will hope to get a leg up on RSL early this season having not won against the Utah side since 2012.
The last time these two sides met, RSL was able to beat the Quakes 2-0 in front of a sold out Rio Tinto crowd in order to secure their seventh consecutive playoff berth. The scoring opened early with ex-RSL mainstay Ned Grabavoy letting off a rocket from outside the box to find the bottom right hand corner. The Claret-and-Cobalt would then double their lead four minutes later when Sebastian Velasquez heading home Luke Mulholland's corner kick. San Jose had a couple of good looks early in the second half with both Adam Jahn and Yannick Djalo firing shots just wide of the uprights, but the Quakes were unable to find the back of the net. With a number of changes for both sides over the offseason, this match will have a different feel as new faces will have to become the difference makers for either side in front of a national audience.
San Jose Earthquakes
On the heels of a tough road loss, San Jose returns home to Avaya stadium. The bitter pill of last week's loss, however, was made easier with Wondolowski scoring his third goal of the season. The Quakes will look to bounce back with the support of their home fans when they face RSL.
Much needed reinforcements will make their way back to the Earthquakes with the return of sophomore Tommy Thompson and rookie Fatai Alashe - both returning from U.S. youth international camps. In addition, under the returning leadership of veteran coach Dominic Kinnear, the Quakes have become more dynamic adding scoring threats such as Designated Player Innocent Emeghara. Despite being unable to beat RSL since 2012, the Claret-and-Cobalt should expect a different San Jose than the teams in limbo over the last couple of years.
With new pieces in place, RSL will want to exploit the new defensive partnerships within San Jose. With a returning center back paring of Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez, the Claret-and-Cobalt will instead look to disrupt the center midfield pairing of rookie Alashe and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. RSL strikers might also find a way to play off the miscues of young goalkeeper David Bingham as he marshals the back line.
Predicted San Jose Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Bingham; Pintos, Bernardez, Goodson, Francis; Alashe, Pierazzi; Nyassi, Garcia, Emeghara; Wondolowski.
Real Salt Lake
After securing their first regular season victory of 2015, RSL will look to continue to build on past performances and relationships in order to more efficiently use the 4-3-3 formation. Like San Jose, RSL will too welcome home players from international duty to reinforce the squad. Striker Alvaro Saborio will join Luis Gil and Nick Rimando as returning internationals. Real will, however, have to deal with mounting injuries as they fill their match day roster. With Sebastian Jaime out due to a tibial fracture sustained last Sunday and Demar Phillips seeming still suffering from a nagging hamstring injury, RSL will have to rely on reserve players to set up and take starting roles for the club.
Expect San Jose to attempt to overload the RSL defense with wingers Sanna Nyassi and Emeghara. Therefore, Tony Beltran and presumed starter Abdoulie Mansally will have to be at their best. Mansally will especially be under the microscope for this match — if he does in fact get the start — after a disappointing defensive showing in both of his previous appearances. Beckerman will also have his hands full with the likes of Matias Perez Garcia but, after successfully shutting down Sebastian Giovinco last week, this should be walk in the park for the skipper.
2RSL is likely to return to fielding their most senior and veteran squad available with a few adjustments to account for the injuries. Continuing the 4-3-3 experiment, could conquering hero Jordan Allen to get the start on the right wing with Jaime out? While Gil is the most reasonable replacement for Jaime on the wing, Allen could get a good look from the coaching staff. Mansally, on the other hand, almost certainly will slot into the left back position. Expect bench players to also be particularly important during this match as they vie for minutes. RSL will continue their tactical substitution system altering the field of play at (somewhat) predictable moments, but players that have shown well from the international absences might get the go ahead to be difference makers for this match.
Players to Watch
The new face of Emeghara might be an important one for RSL players to memorize this year. Traditionally playing as a number nine, Emeghara has been moved to the wing by Kinnear, following the new style of having large, physical players near the end lines. Emeghara, however, is being played out of position so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a sturdier defense - since only finding success against the Brad Evans experiment in Seattle. As a DP on the San Jose squad, can the Swiss international find his form despite being played out of his traditional position?
By the same token, RSL will look to have success with Jordan Allen on the right wing. The raw talent and skill this youngster has is undeniable, but will he be able to marshal it throughout a complete 90 minute performance? Securing the winning goal against Toronto FC was a huge moment for the homegrown player so he will be riding a wave of emotion going into this match. In order to succeed on the pitch, Allen will have to remain in control of this emotion so he does not get either disheartened by missed chances or give away silly fouls in his defensive half. Nevertheless, the Claret-and-Cobalt could rely on Allen to fill in for the injured DP Jaime for this match.
Other names to keep an eye on are Mansally for RSL and Thompson for the Quakes. Both of these players have found themselves further down the pecking order than they would have liked. Mansally has been suffering from a bad run of defensive form since the start of the season and Thompson has been unable to secure an appearance for the Quakes. It will be interesting to see how these players will react to their situation and if they can keep their emotions from getting the best of them. With both sides hoping to get a win in this early regular season match, could one of them be the spark for their respective side?
Catch the match Sunday March 5 on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. MST.
We'd like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match means to Real Salt Lake? Will Abdoulie Mansally find his form? Can sophomore Tommy Thompson avoid a sophomore slump? Share your opinions in the comments section below.