With what essentially amounts to 2 games a week over the next 5 weeks Jeff Cassar and Co ™ have a lot of unenviable decisions to make. The importance of league games vs USOC matches as well as rotation, recovery, and squad cohesion will all play heavily into those decisions and we are likely in for some unfamiliar starting 11’s over the next few games.
With that in mind, as I normally do, I’m going to opine a little bit on something that I think will be valuable to keep in mind over this stretch and really for the remainder of the season.
This year, as has become tradition for Real Salt Lake, goals for the team and most fans center on returning to the CONCACAF Champions League. If you disagree with that quite simply I think you are wrong, but in a nice way. Every real measure of success in a season has the end goal of a birth into the group stages of the next CCL tournament.
Think about it:
Win lots of games = Supporters Shield = CCL
Make the playoffs = Win MLS Cup = CCL
Advance in USOC = Win USOC = CCL
(Let’s not focus on all the little intricacies in the qualification process, that could take a long time. These are the three most common routes.)
All roads lead to Champions League play, it’s just that some routes are more expedient than others, in a way. USOC requires the fewest wins to get a ticket into the regional tournament and as such, in so many ways, has been one of the biggest focuses for RSL over the past few years. This year we, as of today, are still in a position to qualify for CCL play through all three available methods but the clearest route is still through winning the US Open Cup.
I imagine that by now you get the sense of where I am going with this. At Dallas this weekend on a short turn around, not only will we be up against a team that doesn’t lose at home right now but we will be playing what essentially amounts to the armpit of hell (that’s a reference to heat and humidity and nothing more….); with yet another short turn around before the USOC match vs the Sounders on Tuesday.
Originally on the RSL Show I had predicted that we would go into Dallas looking for a draw and that we would all need to be okay with a lineup that matched that intention. The reality is that at this point even that might be a stretch almost entirely due to the necessity of a win on Tuesday. Taking everything into account we should see a very different lineup on Saturday than we are used to which should position us well for a strong match against Seattle.
I would imagine that something similar to what we saw against Wilmington would be likely, with a mix of young talent and veteran support with a veteran heavy bench. Unlike the match against WIL I would not expect desperation subs if things start to go south, and that should be okay.
It has to be that way, even if tonight night at Dallas things are less than ideal. Look at it as an opportunity, find the good in it, and focus on the larger picture of development opportunities for young players in difficult environments up against tough opponents. In the end, if it turns out this way, it will be good in the long term even if hard to swallow in the short term.