After an embarrassing 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, Real Salt Lake is ready to put their Texas demons behind them as they face a quick turnaround and head to Dallas for another tough road match-up this weekend.
Where they stand
RSL (4-9-2, 14 points) hasn’t moved in the standings since their last game, still sitting in 10th place in the western conference, just four points ahead of the last-place Colorado Rapids. However, they now have the most losses in the league with nine, and the worst goal differential with -16.
Salt Lake’s up-and-down form is enough to confuse anyone, as they’ve split their last four results with a “W-L-W-L” record, showing moments of brilliance and chemistry only to have it all go out the window the very next game. While it’s still very much a rebuilding and developmental time with Mike Petke taking the reins early in the season, the time to strike in Dallas — if there ever was one — would be this weekend.
The Hoops are not only missing their star center back tandem in Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman that has secured them the title of one of the league’s best defenses, but they’re also without one of their best and most promising midfielders in Kellyn Acosta as well.
FC Dallas (5-2-5, 20 points) is currently in third place just behind Sporting Kansas City and Houston, but they also have two games in hand on both teams while maintaining a higher points-per-game average (1.67). They started off the season on a hot streak, staying unbeaten in nine and remaining the last team in MLS without a loss until just a few weeks ago. Now, they’re riding a four-game winless skid, losing two and drawing two in that stretch.
RSL has had its fair share of rocky matches with the Texas side, as FC Dallas have come out on top in five of the last seven meetings, while keeping clean sheets in six of those seven.
In the all-time series, Dallas again holds the edge with 17 wins, 11 losses and six draws through 34 games played, while outscoring RSL 46-39 in the process. RSL has only won once in Dallas, which came in the form of a commanding 3-0 win in July of 2013. Dallas has dominated the majority of all 15 games played at home against RSL, with 12 victories and only two draws.
The last time they met was supposed to be Javier Morales’ triumphant return to Rio Tinto Stadium, as fans waited with both excitement and fear at seeing Morales in a different uniform for the first time. However, Morales didn’t make the starting lineup, and despite being up 2-0 in the 67th minute, coach Oscar Pareja didn’t bring Javi on as a sub, and Dallas would end up winning 3-0 with a stoppage time goal to finish off the home side.
Key players and personnel
While we’re all waiting to see Javi make an appearance on the field against his old teammates, it won’t have nearly the impact now that it would have in that last game at Rio Tinto Stadium. It’s hard to judge whether Pareja will even play him this weekend, as he’s only made six appearances in the 12 games so far, and Javi’s role in the pecking order likely just fell even further with the return of playmaker Mauro Diaz.
Diaz has been sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury since last October. Although he was projected to be gone for up to a whole year, his recovery has been going much quicker than expected, and he just made his return last weekend against Houston. Granted, he only played nine minutes of that game, but the fact that he was on the field at all was a huge sigh of relief for FC Dallas fans who have been missing his presence on the field, regardless of how well Dallas has been playing.
Bringing Diaz back into the mix will only make the Hoops stronger, as they already have a dangerous midfield with speedy wingers Roland Lamah and Michael Barrios, along with one of the most promising rising stars in MLS, Kellyn Acosta. Luckily, Acosta is out on international duty with the US Men’s National Team, so he won’t be making an appearance this weekend.
Also out of commission is the 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, center back Matt Hedges. He’s also out on duty with the USMNT, and rightfully so after he’s helped his team rack up five clean sheets through just 12 games. The other side to the center back pairing in Dallas will also be out, as Walker Zimmerman picked up a knee injury last week that will keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
For the visitors, the injury report itself has been shrinking — the latest player to return being Tony Beltran after being out the majority of the season with a back injury. However, that doesn’t mean RSL is in the clear, as they’re still missing a slew of players for other reasons.
The youngsters are still out destroying with the USMNT U-20 team, as they recently rolled past New Zealand with ease in a 6-0 tromping which sends them to the U-20 World Cup Quarter Finals. As a refresher, the list of players out with that team includes Brooks Lennon, Sebastian Saucedo, Danny Acosta, and Justen Glad.
On top of that, Sunny received his fifth yellow card on Wednesday and will be suspended for the match in Dallas due to accumulation, while Luis Silva won’t be in Dallas either, as he’ll be off for the weekend getting married.
Not to mention Nick Rimando and Jefferson Savarino who are both out on international duty, though they’ll be spending some time in Salt Lake City while USA takes on Venezuela at Rio Tinto Stadium in an international friendly.
So, that leaves RSL with a makeshift lineup of sorts, which seems to have been the “norm” most of the season out of necessity. Matt Van Oekel will start as goalkeeper in Rimando’s absence again, and whether the correlation is accurate or not, RSL has been conceding an average of three goals per game when Van Oekel is in net — while the number falls to 1.4 when Rimando plays.
We’ll have to wait and see what lineup Mike Petke decides to go with. While he has a couple options off the bench to fill in on that right wing where Savarino would play (Velazco, Hernandez), it’s also possible that he’ll go back to a two-striker formation with Plata and Movsisyan heading up the attack. He’ll definitely have to get creative in the midfield as well, as he won’t have Sunny or Silva to fill in the gaps.
Real Salt Lake: Yura Movsisyan (4), Albert Rusnak (3), Luke Mulholland (2)
FC Dallas: Maxi Urruti (6), Kellyn Acosta (3)
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Chad Barrett (knee), David Horst (knee), Brooks Lennon (int’l duty), Bofo Saucedo (int’l duty), Justen Glad (int’l duty), Danny Acosta (int’l duty), Nick Rimando (int’l duty), Jefferson Savarino (int’l duty), Sunny (suspension), Luis Silva (wedding)
QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Allen (quad strain), Demar Phillips (hamstring)
OUT: Paxton Pomykal (knee), Walker Zimmerman (knee), Kellyn Acosta (int’l duty), Matt Hedges (int’l duty)
Real Salt Lake: Van Oekel; Beltran, Schuler, Maund, Wingert; Rusnak, Beckerman, Mulholland, Holness; Movsisyan, Plata
FC Dallas: Gonzalez; Grana, Hume, Figueroa, Harris; Barrios, Ulloa, Gruezo, Lamah; Urruti, Colman
When: Saturday, June 3, 6:00PM MT
Where: Toyota Stadium — Frisco, TX
Weather: 75 degrees, partly cloudy
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live
Referee: Nima Saghafi (10 games — 2 red cards, 30 yellow cards)