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San Jose vs. RSL preview: Can RSL capitalize on struggling Earthquakes?

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RSL hopes to steal a full three points from ninth-place San Jose at Avaya Stadium.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake makes the trip to Avaya Stadium on Saturday to take on the San Jose Earthquakes in their third-to-last game of the 2016 regular season.

Current playoff scenarios

As with every game for the last six-to-eight weeks, points are vital for both teams for different reasons. RSL (12-10-9, 45 points) could really use a full three points to hold their ground in fourth place — or potentially jump to third place ahead of the LA Galaxy (11-5-15, 48 points) if LA loses to Dallas this weekend. With a loss to San Jose and a Sporting Kansas City win over New England, RSL would fall to fifth place with two games left to play in the season.

San Jose (7-10-13, 34 points) sits on the outside in ninth place, although only seven points out of the playoffs. It’s not very likely that they’ll find their way above that red line, but it’s not mathematically impossible. A win over RSL would put them in eighth place and only four points out of the playoffs — pending the expected Vancouver loss to Seattle — with three games still to play.

Recent form

RSL is now scoreless in three matches, which is enough to be their worst goal-scoring drought of the season. However, the defense managed to keep a clean sheet against arguably the best team in the league last weekend when they held Dallas to a 0-0 draw. San Jose is the lowest-scoring club in MLS which bodes well for the Salt Lake side.

Star striker Chris Wondolowski has scored 11 of San Jose’s 29 total goals on the season, with their second-place scorer Simon Dawkins coming in with only four.

In addition to all that, the Earthquakes have won only twice in their last 20 MLS outings, which includes a 3-1 midweek loss to Montreal this past Wednesday.

That’s not to say we can count San Jose out against RSL, of course.

RSL has a knack for doing well against higher-ranked teams and playing just the opposite against the lower clubs. The 1-0 loss to last-place Houston only two weeks ago serves as a testament to that.

Match history

This is the second and final meeting between the two sides in 2016, with the first game coming on July 22 at Rio Tinto Stadium. That match-up ended in a 1-1 draw, with RSL going down early in the first ten minutes of the game, but Luke Mulholland was able to notch the equalizer in the 64th minute off a chip pass from Javier Morales.

RSL leads San Jose in the all-time series with a record of 9-8-9 and outscoring the ‘Quakes 37 to 33.

Who’s in, who’s out

Last week saw RSL field a different attacking three while Yura Movsisyan was out of the 18 with an injury, and Joao Plata didn’t come off the bench until the 67th minute. Jordan Allen and Olmes Garcia started in their place.

Since Plata ended up seeing some minutes against Dallas, it’s likely we’ll see him get the starting nod in San Jose. Movsisyan is still considered questionable with his bruised heel and will most likely be a game day decision. If he’s held out of the lineup, we can expect either Allen or Garcia to get the start in his place again.

San Jose is missing a grip of players, most notably striker Quincy Amarikwa who came off the pitch after playing three minutes in last week’s game against Kansas City. He recently underwent ACL surgery and is out for the rest of the season.

In addition to Amarikwa, the ‘Quakes are also missing Mark Sherrod (left knee), Clarence Goodson (back tightness), Marc Pelosi (knee surgery), and Kip Colvey (ankle).

RSL expected lineup: Rimando; Phillips, Olave, Glad, Beltran; Mulholland, Morales, Beckerman; Plata, Garcia, Martinez

SJ expected lineup: Bingham; Wynne, Bernardez, Imperiale, Francis; Ceren, Godoy, Quintero, Alashi; Goitom, Wondolowski