RSL Soapbox) Real Salt Lake and San Jose are equal on games played and points so far. Is San Jose trending upwards since last time we met?
Center Line Soccer) San Jose are still smarting from their first defeat at Avaya Stadium at the hands of Real Salt Lake, so there'll be a real effort to make amends. The Earthquakes have certainly been performing better within their new, cloud-enabled digs, knocking off the in-form Vancouver Whitecaps in the last home game. Their well-earned win in Seattle early in the season fired up the fans, but its effect was quickly extinguished by away defeats in New England and New York.
The Earthquakes squad had an unexpected week off, when their scheduled match against Montreal Impact (playing in the CCL Champions League) was moved back to September. There are still several players missing - it's always easy to point to injuries as the root cause of inconsistency - so the extra week off may help.
RSL Soapbox) Do the Earthquakes need Wondolowski to win and will he be available against RSL?
Center Line Soccer) Well, that's a real bone of contention for many fans - Kinnear is playing Wondolowski in a much more withdrawn position. This strikes many as a curious formation - Wondo's a poacher, and poachers need to be able to pounce on their prey, and he's just being played too far back to be effective.
You will probably see Wondo lined up with fellow DP midfielder Matias Perez Garcia, but there's a dearth of forwards for them to service: Alan Gordon is now in LA, fellow Bash Brother Steven Lenhart is MIA after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, Mark Sherrod in the same state (other knee), and the third DP, forward Innocent Emeghara is carrying a shoulder injury. Which pretty much leaves Adam Jahn as the only currently fit forward.
Wondo himself is coming off a calf injury sustained in the RSL game, and that was aggravated in the Vancouver game, and limited his time to 64 minutes in the New York game. The week off will certainly help, and like the gritty guy he is, he says he's good to go: "I definitely feel that it's a lot better, and Friday I'll be 100 percent in my play and physical ability." per Geoff Lepper's column on MLSsoccer.com. I expect he'll start, but it remains to be seen if he can last the full ninety minutes.
RSL Soapbox) How has the new stadium in San Jose affected the fan base? Has there been a new re-energized support for the team?
Center Line Soccer) Avaya Stadium has quickly instilled a sense of home, which increases with each game. The energy level at Buck Shaw was already very high with frequent sellouts in the 10,500-seat arena. Fans have settled in quickly to their new, comfy seats, so the aches and pains of the bleachers are but a memory; cup holders in each seat means much less beer is being spilled too.
The Ultras dominate the closed end of the stadium with their chants, and the adjacent San Jose Airport provides at least one flyby every few minutes behind the Largest Outdoor Bar in North America (a.k.a. LOBINA; read its own match reviews over at Center Line Soccer). Naturally, LOBINA has proved extremely popular, and fans will congregate there before the game, and many linger to watch from there too.
In terms of fan base, there are many more opportunities for corporate entertainment in the club level seats, but for the most part it's the same crowd I saw at Buck Shaw - with more smiles.
Questions from Center Line Soccer to RSL Soapbox
Center Line Soccer) What are the major differences to look for in the RSL game plan now that we're settled into the post-Kreis era.
RSL Soapbox) Truth be told, the main differences to look for won't appear for another month or two when Joao Plata, Chris Schuler, and Sebastian Jaime are back from injury. Once they are back, the difference is that RSL theoretically should pack more of an dynamic offensive punch than in the past. This new system that Cassar has implemented is supposed to play to the strengths of the best XI. The problem is that it has been a bit of a rocky start so far and there will continue to be a learning curve for a few more weeks. The Kreis era diamond will not be used nearly as much from what I can tell. When RSL is hopefully clicking in the near future, you can look for something similar to what New England does with their offense. For now, Salt Lake will have to continue to grind out results.
Center Line Soccer) It looks like Plata is still a way off returning, but Morales will be back - his he the key to breaking the RSL 316 minute scoreless streak?
RSL Soapbox) He should not be, but right now I think he is. Nearly every goal this season has involved Javier Morales in some way. While Real Salt Lake goes through the adjustment period, whatever success they have offensively looks like it will be because Morales is carrying the team on his back. As mentioned above, having a healthy Joao Plata and Sebastian Jaime will allow RSL to use this new formation as it was intended.
Center Line Soccer) What are your marks out of ten for new coach Jeff Cassar?
RSL Soapbox) That is tough because last season I would consider a success overall until the 5-0 MLS Playoffs drubbing suffered against the Galaxy. He got his team to the playoffs as a first year coach and also got the team back to CONCACAF Champions League. This year so far, he has attempted to put more of a stamp on the club with the formation change but it has yet to be successful. RSL fans, like most sports fans generally, are impatient and have an emotional response from week to week that is probably a bit unfair to the new coach. For me, he has done well but has not been fantastic thus far, but I will be the first one to tell you that he needs more time and that the jury is out. For now, I give him a 6.5. If he gets us a trophy, that number will rise quickly and you better believe that fans would praise him and suffer memory loss of the beginning of the 2015 season.
Center Line Soccer) What is the over-under on a Kyle Beckerman haircut?
RSL Soapbox) Hopefully under. It is who he is, it is part of the trademark of the player and the club, and it is his Samson. He has figuratively slain many armies with the jawbone of an ass.