Real Salt Lake faces the great unknown tonight when they play El Salvador's Santa Tecla in CONCACAF Champions League action, and it could either be a chance for RSL to secure passage into the knockout round of the tournament.
Don't expect Jeff Cassar to field a 100-percent-strength lineup against Santa Tecla, with yet another huge match on the horizon.
RSL will face San Jose on Sunday, and we knew that the playoffs would take a full-strength push — and we've seen that so far. But that's not to say that Cassar would sacrifice CCL for MLS. He'll be convinced now that the team can manage both, especially with two home matches remaining.
This is, after all, a must-win — it's basically the 2015 mantra, and we're surely approaching enlightenment with how often we've been repeating it — and playing a lineup that we're confident can achieve the result is of immense importance.
Who might we see against Santa Tecla, then? And who could make the biggest difference?
Starting up front, expect to see Sebastian Jaime, who was relegated to the bench against LA Galaxy in favor of the newly goalscoring Devon Sandoval. This gives him a chance to not only prove his worth again (which he doesn't really need to do, because he's been good this season), but to get minutes to round back into form. He hadn't been dropped so much as life got in the way a bit, but with Sandoval taking full advantage of his opportunity, we might now see Jaime in a less crucial role.
The other forward options are numerous, so we could see as diverse a group as Jordan Allen, Juan Manuel Martinez, and Jaime — or perhaps something more along the lines of Sebastian Saucedo, Abdoulie Mansally, and Jaime. Really, the sky's the limit here. So many of our players can play in one of those three forward spots that the formation is really starting to come to fruition.
In the midfield, one vital influence could be Kyle Beckerman, whose performances in recent weeks have been as brilliant as they've ever been. His ability to win the ball in good positions and his precision immediately after would help if Santa Tecla comes with a high-press game to Rio Tinto. Expect Beckerman to act as both an enforcer and as a pivot point in transition.
The rest of the midfield could either write itself — Luke Mulholland and Javier Morales — or it could be a more mix-and-match approach, with someone like Pecka getting a chance in a big match. His close control would prove helpful. Or perhaps it's another opportunity for Luis Gil, who has yet to really leave his mark in a Champions League match.
In the back, anyone's up for grabs, with the quality of field not ruling someone like Jamison Olave out of contention. Still, expect someone like Elias Vasquez to start this one, maybe alongside Aaron Maund. If Vasquez can avoid the excessive clearances that sometimes mark his still-young game, he could help power the side. If he can't, then it's all up for debate.
Finally, expect Jeff Attinella to get the start. He's been good this season, if let down a little by his defense early in the season, and this would be a natural opportunity to rest Nick Rimando.