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Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas preview: Return of the Maestro

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Javier Morales makes his first visit to Rio Tinto Stadium since leaving the club, as FC Dallas travels to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake will return home this week to face off against FC Dallas in what will arguably be their toughest test of the season thus far, as the visitors are the only unbeaten team left in the league.

Where they stand

After last week’s 3-0 loss against Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake (2-5-2, 8 points) sit firmly in eighth place, tied on points with Minnesota United but ahead by six goals in the differential tiebreaker. They still lead the LA Galaxy and the Colorado Rapids by one and four points, respectively.

FC Dallas (4-0-3, 15 points) are enjoying a very different start to the season than RSL, while they alone claim the third spot in the Western Conference. Only three points behind first-place Kansas City, Dallas has two games in hand on the current table leaders.

Coming off a 2-2 draw against the second-place Portland Timbers last week, FC Dallas remains the only undefeated team left in the league, with four wins and three draws through seven games played.

Match history

Let’s face it. For the most part, Dallas has always had RSL’s number. Up until 2013, Real Salt Lake had never even won an away game in the series — and that one 3-0 victory on July 14, 2013 remains the only one to date in Frisco.

Overall, Dallas holds a commanding lead in the all-time series, going 19-11-7 against the claret and cobalt through 37 games in all competitions, while outscoring us 51-41. Through the last five outings dating back to August 29, 2015, Dallas is 3-1-1, outscoring RSL 5-1 through those games.

The last time these two sides met was on September 24 of last year when they ended in a 0-0 draw — a surprisingly bright spot in a rather dim end to the season for the Royals.

Key players

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the obvious headline to watch for in this game? The return of club legend Javier Morales, of course. Since leaving RSL at the end of last year, he signed with FC Dallas and has made four appearances — three of them starts and one as a substitute. He’s registered two shots on frame and notched his first goal in a Hoops kit on April 8th against Minnesota United, which brought his all-time goal tally to 50.

In what is sure to be a bittersweet return to Rio Tinto Stadium for Javi, RSL fans will hope that he doesn’t pull a Nat Borchers and score a stoppage time game-winning goal.

While many would consider this to possibly be the 37-year-old’s last year as a professional soccer player, he’s been a solid replacement thus far for Mauro Diaz who’s been out with an Achilles injury since October of last year. Once Diaz makes his return, it’s hard to say how much playing time Morales will get, as coach Oscar Pareja is pretty spoiled for choice in the midfield.

Aside from Morales, Dallas is loaded with talented players all the way from back to front. 2016’s MLS Defender of the Year Matt Hedges has led Dallas to five goals allowed this season, second in the league only to Kansas City’s three. 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta, who has made five caps with the US Men’s National Team since last year, is another incredibly bright spot in the young Dallas midfield, notching two goals and one assist so far this year.

Rounding out the attack for the Hoops is Maxi Urruti, the team’s leading scorer with four goals and one assist through six games played this season.

As far as RSL goes, this is a team still plagued by injuries and absences. With eight players listed as injured/questionable, the backline took another blow when the MLS Disciplinary Committee handed a one-game suspension to Chris Schuler for a reckless tackle on SKC’s Gerso Fernandes last week. Mike Petke will have to pull from RSL’s depth for a center back pairing, and even with the potential return of Aaron Maund (who played 61 minutes with the Monarchs last week), we may see Justin Schmidt back in the lineup for this game.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Making things go from bad to worse for the roster, RSL is set to lose three of its key players from recent weeks as Brooks Lennon, Bofo Saucedo, and Danny Acosta are all but guaranteed to be called up to the US U-20 National Team squad next week for the impending U-20 World Cup, which starts on May 22. Justen Glad is also expected to be called in with the other three, as long as his health allows for it.

It’s obviously a huge opportunity for the young guys to showcase their talents for their country, but if some of these injured players don’t start making their returns soon, it’ll be a rough few weeks ahead for Mike Petke in compiling a starting XI.


Absences

Real Salt Lake

OUT: Chad Barrett (knee), David Horst (knee), Chris Schuler (suspension)
QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Allen (quad strain), Justen Glad (knee), Tony Beltran (back), Aaron Maund (hamstring strain), Kyle Beckerman (calf strain), Nick Rimando (hamstring)

FC Dallas

OUT: Mauro Diaz (torn achilles)

Expected Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Van Oekel; Acosta, Schmidt, Wingert, Phillips; Mulholland, Rusnak, Sunny; Lennon, Movsisyan, Plata

FC Dallas: Gonzalez; Grana, Zimmerman, Hedges, Figueroa; Acosta, Gruezo; Lamah, Morales, Akindele; Urruti

Match info

When: Saturday, May 6, 2017, 7:30PM

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, Utah

Weather: 59 degrees, clear skies

Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live

Referee: Drew Fischer