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RSL vs. DC United preview: Home team has big advantage over aging Capitol strikers

MLS: Real Salt Lake at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

RSL plays host to Eastern Conference side DC United on Friday in their first and only match-up in regular season play this year.

Real Salt Lake (8-5-3, 27 points) is coming off a 2-0 loss on the road at Dallas which was followed by a 120-minute US Open Cup game against Seattle that resulted in a penalty shootout loss.

DC United (5-6-5, 20 points) made an early exit from the US Open Cup, losing to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in penalties on June 15th. Since then, they drew the Houston Dynamo on the road 0-0, and beat the New England Revolution at home by a score of 2-0.

The return of Sabo

At the beginning of the season, this is a game that many RSL fans may have taken notice of, as it marks Alvaro Saborio’s first return to Rio Tinto Stadium since he was sent to DC United almost a year ago in a trade that saw RSL receive midfielder Luis Silva in return.

Both loved and loathed by many fans, Saborio is RSL’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 63 goals and 13 assists in 127 games from 2010-2015 in the claret-and-cobalt uniform. Javier Morales comes in at the number two spot in the all-time goalscorer list, with 46 goals in 223 games.

Match history

DC United’s last win in Salt Lake came in 2005 with a 3-1 win at Rice Eccles Stadium, and they haven’t won in Utah since during MLS regular season play. Of course, DC won the 2013 Open Cup Final at Rio Tinto Stadium with a 1-0 victory.

RSL is 7-1-1 all-time against DC at home, and the overall series in MLS play is deadlocked, each team having seven wins with four draws through 18 games.

The last time these teams met was a wild 10-goal game at RFK Stadium in 2015 that saw DC emerge with a 6-4 victory. RSL took a 2-0 lead in the first 21 minutes with goals from Joao Plata and Kyle Beckerman. That was followed by three unanswered goals from DC United, with a brace from Chris Rolfe and a third from Taylor Kemp.

After a goal from Aaron Maund, former RSL forward Fabian Espindola pulled one right back for DC one minute later. Five minutes after that, Abdoulie Mansally tied it up at 4-4 with a goal in the 68th minute. The game was finished off with two more DC goals—one from Perry Kitchen and the last from Nick DeLeon.

Key players

Saborio is DC United’s current leading goalscorer in 2016 with four goals in just 10 games, along with three assists—including an assist in last week’s win over New England. He only has 21 shots on the year which gives him about a 19% conversion rate from the pitch. RSL fans know all too well how dangerous he can be as a post-up striker when he’s in the right position and has quality service from the midfield and wings.

However, Saborio is 34 years old and his main attacking partner, Fabian Espindola, is 31 which could give RSL’s young center backs Justen Glad, 19, and Aaron Maund, 25, an advantage in a game that already bodes poorly for DC, given their knack for losing games in Salt Lake.

It looks to be a battle of two of the best goalkeepers in MLS, as DC’s Bill Hamid has made his way back from a knee injury to keep three clean sheets in his first four games back. Nick Rimando has only two clean sheets in 13 games, but has made 51 saves throughout the season, many of which have been spectacular and game-saving. DC United is second in the league for least goals allowed, with 16, while RSL has given up 26 goals on the season.

DC’s solid defense will find themselves under fire in what is sure to be one of their toughest tests all season, going up against RSL’s fierce attacking trio of Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata, and Burrito Martinez. The three players have combined for eight assists and 16 of RSL’s 27 goals this season.

Lineups and personnel woes

This game also sees the return of captain Kyle Beckerman, who will be playing his first MLS match since RSL’s 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City on May 21st.

After many of Salt Lake’s preferred starters went 120 minutes this past Tuesday against Seattle, we may see a couple changes in the lineup for Jeff Cassar’s side, but who he chooses to rest remains to be seen on game day. The only regular starter missing due to injury is Sunny, who was reported to miss a minimum of six weeks after suffering a facial fracture in their 2-1 win over the Red Bulls.

DC United seems riddled with injuries right now—missing Collin Martin (foot), Chris Korb (ACL), Miguel Aguilar (hamstring), Patrick Nyarko (concussion), Andrew Dykstra (back surgery), and Chris Rolfe (concussion). Both Rolfe and Nyarko have been out for several weeks, so whether they will play in Sandy on Friday or not may come down to a game day decision.

RSL expected lineup: Nick Rimando; Demar Phillips, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, Tony Beltran; Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luke Mulholland; Joao Plata, Yura Movsisyan, Juan Manuel Martinez

DCU expected lineup: Bill Hamid; Taylor Kemp, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Sean Franklin; Nick DeLeon, Marcelo Sarvas, Luciano Acosta; Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio, Lamar Neagle