RSL Soapbox) How is life without Mike Magee and how well has Harry Shipp done filling the void so far?
Hot Time in Old Town) There's not a single Fire supporter blase about Mike Magee's return - not one. The Harry Shipp/Shaun Maloney combination has shown they can create good chances against any MLS defense, and they have, sometimes in great volume. When the person on the end of those chances appears in the roster with an 'F' under position, though, some terrible alchemy occurs, and the chances vanish in a puff of greasy smoke. The Fire's biggest need at the moment is for a striker who can convert 'good chances' into 'shots on goal.' It's not hard to imagine Magee doing exactly that.
tl/dr: We miss Mike Magee terribly.
RSL Soapbox) Where does Sean Johnson rank in MLS as a keeper?
Hot Time in Old Town) This is just my opinion, and I am not a goalkeeper fanatic, so break out your salt lick when pondering this one. I think Sean is a top-10 MLS keeper, but not an elite one, and that his inflated reputation stems from projection bias. When Sean came into the league, it was a simple thing to look at his cat-like quickness, soft hands, and imposing size and project him as a potential starter for the USA - the things which needed fixing just hand-waved aside; a project, sure, but not an impossible one.
The intervening years have seen the 'things which need fixing' list stay almost static. Sean's no longer timid when coming out for high balls, and he will always been an elite shot-stopper. But his distribution can be questionable, he has a difficult time with the ball at his feet, and is prone to mind-blowing gaffes when his confidence is low. That said, just Johnson's shot-stopping puts him in the top half of the league; he can make the kind of save that leaves the opposition asking "What do we have to do here?"
RSL Soapbox) Chicago has been the brunt of a lot of jokes about tying a lot of games. They have zero ties so far while RSL leads the league in ties. Why were there so many ties and what has been the difference this season?
Hot Time in Old Town) Last year's team were just not good enough to win consistently, especially with Magee and Patrick Nyarko limping around all year. The good news is they were professional and prideful enough not to go gently into the good night of the worst season in Fire history - at least they scrapped! In the early season last year, some of the draws should've been wins; by the end, it was generally snatching a point against the run of play.
This team is simply better than last year - more dangerous, more creative, more stable - but the lack of draws through seven games is just down to luck, frankly. The Fire probably should've drawn with Vancouver and San Jose.
Predicted score: 3-1 Fire.
*Questions from Hot Time in Old Town to RSL Soapbox*
Hot Time in Old Town) How crucial to Salt Lake's aspirations this season are classic Javier Morales performances from Javier Morales? Morales is a tough guy, but time has its way with everyone, and Javi's 35. What's the team's ceiling in his absence?
RSL Soapbox) This is a tough question to answer. Javier Morales is absolutely still key to RSL's success. Over the first four or five games Morales pretty much carried RSL on his back. Morales is going the route of Ryan Giggs where he is not losing much with his age by doing yoga and ice baths and those sorts of things. I foresee him playing a few more years and doing well. On the other hand, when Luis Gil has replaced Morales as the driver of the RSL offense, he has done well. GIl's ceiling is very high and when he plays that position consistently should flourish. The RSL front office has been grooming him for years to take over for Morales whenever that happens.
Hot Time in Old Town) Speaking of Morales, what's the club's succession plan for he and Beckerman? I'm curious how RSL fans view the prospect of these final few key players from the peak years getting longer in the tooth - describe, as they say, the feels.
RSL Soapbox) As I mentioned Luis GIl being groomed, there are other players being groomed as well. RSL should have a smooth transition when the likes of Beckerman and Rimando end up having to retire. The RSL residential academy is one of the best in the country according to many people that know much more about residential academies than I do. We are now starting to see the fruits of that with the likes of Jordan Allen, Sebastian Saucedo, Justin Glad, and many others that are working their way up through Real Monarchs and hopefully Real Salt Lake. I personally am really excited for the coming years because anybody that watches these players can see the potential that they have. They are really young players - people in their late teens or very early twenties and they are doing some fantastic things on the field. I don't think anybody likes the idea of losing the core over the past seven years because they have become such a fabric of the club, but I am anxious to see what the future holds.
Hot Time in Old Town) How much squad rotation would you expect from the Royals in Saturday's game?
RSL Soapbox) I expect a few positions to see some rotation, particularly in the midfield and forward positions. There are not very many options at center back for rotation with the injury of Chris Schuler, but since the beginning of 2015 there have been minor changes every game. RSL's busiest month is arguably May so Cassar will do his best to manage minutes, especially with the veteran players.
bonus 4) Who's the next prospect in the pipeline from RSL Academy? Brooks Lennon seems to be getting the most attention but it looks like he is likely going to Liverpool.
Best-guess lineup: Rimando, Mansally, Vasquez, Olave, Beltran, Beckerman, Gil, Mulholland, Saborio, Garcia, Sandoval
Game prediction: 1-1