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RSL vs. Minnesota United FC: What to Watch

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Three things we’ll be watching in RSL’s final match in Portland, from starting center backs to team chemistry.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Two down, one to go. Real Salt Lake’s trip to the Rose City has been eventful and full of intrigue.

Questions have been answered (welcome to the starting XI, Mr. Allen), and even more have been raised as the Claret and Cobalt have battled through two games full of yellow cards and even score lines. Here are three things we’re looking at as RSL closes out their trip to the Northwest against Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team Minnesota United FC.

Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis

On the surface there aren’t too many positional battles in this camp, with only two starters from last season not returning and pretty clear replacements for those spots. That being said, there are a three positions that I think may be less settled than the casual observer might think:

1. Position: Back up GK

Situation: Matt Van Oekel is the reigning USL Golden Glove winner, while Lalo Fernandez has been being groomed from his academy days to be Real Salt Lake’s number 1. In other words:

Prediction: The least interesting of these positional battles. Fernandez will likely continue backstopping the Monarchs while Van Oekel will fill Jeff Attinella’s role of providing Nick Rimando some occasional relief. But hey, it’s something to pay attention to.

2. Position: Back up MF

Situation: Luke Mulholland has been the go-to backup in the midfield(and even a little on the wing) these past few years, but with the solid play of a healthy Omar Holness that may no longer be the case. Both scored stunners in the game against Portland, but Mulholland had a notable gaffe against the Whitecaps, gifting them a goal. How they play against Minnesota United may determine whose number Cassar calls in season when midfield legs get heavy.

Prediction: The job is Mulholland’s to lose and I think he keeps it until midseason at least, with the Generation Adidas midfielder prying the role away after that.

3. Position: Starting CB

Situation: Coming into the season it is assumed that a tandem of Aaron Maund and Justen Glad will return after showing well last season. However, with Chris Schuler back and healthy, he may make a push to steal that spot away from Maund.

Prediction: I think Maund will get the nod, but wouldn’t be surprised if Cassar shows some early season rotation, even when all center backs are available. Maund is a solid MLS centerback, but Schuler was close to Best XI material in his prime. Should be fun to watch.

The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot

RSL came out against Vancouver with guns blazing, unfortunately those guns had all the accuracy of stormtrooper blaster rifles. While the increase in offense was fun, it would’ve been nice if all those shots had given Vancouver ‘keeper Paolo Tornaghi a little more trouble. I don’t have official stats for the game, but I am confident in saying that 100% of our off target shots did not go in.

Along with that, I would love to see Albert Rusnak put in a goal. That first goal at a club can take a lot of weight off the shoulders of a new signing, and although Rusnak isn’t a player we expect to be competing for the golden boot, the sooner he can relieve some of that pressure the better. Yura Movsisyan is another I’d love to see on the scoresheet. Considering the funeral dirge the offense ended on last season, it’d be nice to see our striker begin 2017 on a high note.

The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows

I took the only chemistry class of my educational career during my junior year of high school. The class largely consisted of my teacher assigning us chapters from the textbook, before putting on a movie (not movies about chemistry. Just any movie). At the end of the semester I went to take the final having not read any of the chapters, and suddenly realizing that I had made a terrible mistake. Luckily when I arrived, we were informed that our teacher had been fired for buying marijuana from a student and we would all be receiving A’s for the class.

The point of this story is to illustrate that I am someone who knows a lot about chemistry (I got an A people).

Now that we have established that, I will say from a standpoint of expertise that last year’s team struggled with chemistry. It was very apparent that the requisite skill was in the squad, but the individual pieces functioned independently and in sometimes contradictory ways. Different players played at different paces, and as a result the team produced at something lower than their overall skill level.

So far this year we haven’t seen the entire first team together at the same time, but we have seen some chemistry developing between individual players. Plata and Phillips have been particularly good down the left, and even sometimes down the right. Although the touch hasn’t always been there, exchanges between Movsisyan and Rusnak have shown two players on the same wave length. Watching these partnerships develop will give a small sample of how the team as a whole is gelling. That more than anything will determine how the 2017 season will unfold.

What are you watching for? Let us know in the comments below