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RSL vs. Portland is all about the midfield: Three things we’re watching

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake squares off against Portland Timbers tonight, and with the team just coming off the back of a grueling victory over Wilmington Hammerheads on Tuesday — a match that saw a slew of players go 120 minutes — we’re taking a look at perhaps the least-deep part of the team: the midfield.

Javier Morales, the maestro

Talented RSL Soapbox writer Weston Jenson had a treatise on Jordan Allen and Javier Morales that’s really worth reading — he goes in-depth on a statistical analysis between the two players, and draws some interesting conclusions.

The most interesting one? Despite having a lower goal and assist rate than in past seasons, Morales is still a highly influential player on this team.

So as you watch Morales tonight, keep that in mind: What does involvement look like and mean for Morales in 2016? If he’s not notching assists and goals, what does he do that’s valuable?

Keep an eye on how he maintains possession and proves a dangerous passer. Clearly, he’s an important player for this team, but maybe his direct influence on goals has waned somewhat. This is something we can certainly come back to near the end of the season to gain some more insight, too.

Of course, there’s a possibility we don’t see him, after he played 120 minutes on Tuesday. You’ll find this is a common theme.

The Beckerman replacement

Let’s be honest here for a second (as opposed to our usual strategy, right?) — John Stertzer and Luke Mulholland were not exactly world-beaters on Tuesday. There was a distinct lack of understanding and movement between the two, and while that miraculously played out to a result against Wilmington Hammerheads, a proclivity for that sort of thing against Portland Timbers will lead to our inevitable demise.

Here’s the tricky part: Sunny may or may not be fit to play — the latest is that he’s day-to-day, but there’s some radio silence on that part. Without Beckerman and Sunny, it would seem almost inevitable that Mulholland and Stertzer started in their stead.

But there’s another tricky thing about that: Luke Mulholland, on Tuesday, played 120 minutes of soccer. John Stertzer played 117 minutes. While we might complain that they were a bit too static at times, the effort was such that you can’t expect a short turnaround for those players. But will one of them play? That risks injury. We’re left wondering, then. How about Danilo Acosta?

Omar Holness, MLS debutant?

Optimistically, we might see Sunny. But who else could play with him? Enter Omar Holness. He made his first-team debut on Tuesday, but he only played three minutes. We couldn’t draw too many conclusions from those minutes (aside from the fact that he should have shot from distance once, but we won’t hold that against him when the whole team wouldn’t shoot from distance — excepting, of course, for the two goals scored.)

He’s an interesting figure, Holness. He’s a good passer, a good reader of play, but we don’t really know how he’d fare against tougher opponents. That renders a bit of uncertainty to this match.