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Empire Blues set in as NYCFC travel to Rio Tinto to take on a struggling RSL side

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RSL welcome back a plethora of former RSL players back to Rio Tinto as they host Eastern Conference expansion side New York City FC. This will be the first ever meeting between these two sides in what could become an electric matchup.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Kreis returns to the club that he helped build for the first time since joining New York City FC.  For the first time in club history, Real Salt Lake will face off against a former head coach at the helm of an opposing side.  This match promises to be an emotion filled match that could translate to sparks on the pitch.  As both clubs continue to adjust under new circumstances, RSL get their first win against the expansion side.

About the Clubs

New York City FC

The first year in MLS has not been all too kind to NYCFC.  Boasting a 1-6-3 record, Kreis has had little to smile about since leaving Salt Lake for the reigns of Manchester City.  His side on paper looks impressive, full of veteran players and young talented attackers, but they have yet to gel on the pitch.  In a recent interview, Kreis admits he forgot how hard it was to build something in this league.  A contributing factor may be that NYCFC acquired two Designated Players but only one has materialized as their parent club uses them as a feeder club.

Since starting the season with a promising 1-0-1 record, New York has only managed to piece together an eight match winless stretch.  As a result, Kreis has been forced to tinker with his side.  At RSL he found success in a clearly defined tactical style and consistent lineups.  During in time in New York, however, he has already fielded five different formations to start the season - not to mention the in match chances he has made.  For all this talk NYCFC has struggled with a single underlying issue, the inability to put the ball into the back of the net has been the biggest visible one.

Predicted NYCFC Starting XI (4-4-2): Saunders; Brovsky, Wingert, Watson-Siriboe, Williams; Velasquez, Diskerud, Jacobson, Grabavoy; Villa, Nemec.

Real Salt Lake

The home side will look to put to rest fears about the 2013 loss of Jason Kreis, but a 4-1 loss to Montreal Impact in their last match certainly doesn't make that part any easier. Despite showing some incremental improvements over the last month, that setback won't be something Jeff Cassar is keen to repeat — particularly in front of his old boss. Injuries have started to ease at just the right time for RSL, though, and the early-injured Joao Plata might be making his return to consideration.

Whatever RSL's record to this point, there were always going to be questions asked of RSL's form and ability ahead of it — after all, plenty of people are still (maybe rightly) perturbed by the loss of Kreis to big money players, and that feeling doesn't fade easily.

Predicted RSL Starting XI (4-1-3-2): Rimando; Beltran, Olave, Vasquez, Mansally; Beckerman; Gil, Morales, Mulholland; Plata, Saborio

Players to Watch

New York City FC - David Villa

The prolific Spanish goal scorer David Villa was signed as NYCFC's first designated player.  At 32 years old, he has scored 253 goals for his clubs and 59 goals for his country.  In other words, Villa is an infinite finisher.  Villa has already cut MLS defenses like butter but without clean service he has been struggle to convert.  Still, he remains dangerous with a 72 percent shot accuracy and his ability to be the most dangerous man in attack for New York.  With his pedigree, expect Villa to be a handful for skipper Kyle Beckerman as well as the RSL back line.

Real Salt Lake - Joao Plata

Will the young goalscorer get his return at just the right time? Real Salt Lake has had their fair share of woes over the last few months, but one should rightly wonder how much of that is down to Plata's absence — and how much a return for him this week would correct. While eyes might be on someone like David Villa for spectacular goals, there should be no forgetting that Plata has had his fair share of wonderment-creating moments.

Key to the Match

New York City FC

If NYCFC wants to get anything out of this match, they'll have to avoid getting caught into a loop with Real Salt Lake. They can't let themselves get lulled into this false sense of passing rhythm security outside of RSL's defensive third. And, if they go down a goal, they can't just start swinging in cross after cross unless they want a repeat of an unspeakable volume of matches in which Kreis's RSL side made that the order of the day.

Real Salt Lake

It's business as usual for Real Salt Lake — or at least that should be the goal. With all eyes on them, can they avoid mentally treating this match like anything more than it is — another regular season match? If one side starts seeking some sort of misplaced revenge, they'll probably find the match significantly more difficult.

Catch the match Saturday May 23 at Rio Tinto or on KMYU at 8 p.m. MDT.

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 RSL's attack finally begin to click?  Can RSL keep their four year unbeaten streak against the Fire going?  Share your opinions in the comments section below.