It’s here. It’s finally here. After what seemed like a 10-year offseason (was it really only four months?!), we’re inching closer to opening day of the 2018 MLS season. This year, Real Salt Lake has a doozy to kick things off as they travel to Frisco, Texas to take on FC Dallas in their first meaningful game of the year.
What Texas curse?
We all know by now that RSL has had a rough time in Texas, only winning three games overall through 31 games played against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. Drilling even further, RSL has only beat Dallas once through 18 games on their home turf, and that lone win came in July of 2013 in the form of a 3-0 rout. Drawing two other matches, Dallas has won the remaining 15 home games played against the Utah side, outscoring RSL 37-13 along the way.
Guess what? None of that matters right now. Nobody should be thinking about the bad luck RSL has had in Texas, because the team they have going into the 2018 season looks to have more potential than almost any squad they’ve put together in the past. We’ve spent the last six weeks or so at RSL Soapbox giving you reason after reason to be excited about this season, between the new signings of Alfredo Ortuno, Damir Kreilach, Adam Henley, Shawn Barry, and several others, while inking new contracts with club staples like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Jefferson Savarino, and Brooks Lennon to name a few.
The way that Mike Petke’s team played during the last four months of the 2017 season was just a taste of what we can look forward to this year, as he’s had a full offseason and preseason with his team to fine tune the roster, train how he wants to train, and push forward with developing the young players on the roster.
I’m not writing FC Dallas off by any means here, but the way they took that massive nosedive last season to completely drop out of the playoffs was something nobody saw coming, winning only two of their last 15 games in the regular season. To overcome the bad form they ended with, coach Oscar Pareja has some decisions to make, as they’ll start the season without standout Kellyn Acosta, who will be out for about two months while recovering form a sports hernia surgery. Not to mention the Hoops lost their star defender Walker Zimmerman to newcomers LAFC in the expansion draft.
Petke has some tough shots to call ahead of the opening match also, as he’s pretty spoiled for choice at a few different positions. While target man Alfredo Ortuno was brought in to bolster the attack, it seems likely that Luis Silva will get the start at first, while Petke integrates Ortuno into the lineup at his own pace. Not to mention he’s basically got four players fighting for one spot — the box-to-box midfielder role next to Kyle. Newcomer Damir Kreilach looks to be the man brought in to lock down the starting role there, but he’ll have Luke Mulholland, Sunny, and Pablo Ruiz nipping at his heels. Let’s not forget that both Sunny and Nick Besler are in the depth chart for defensive midfielders, both capable of coming on and playing in Kyle’s spot when he’s not available.
With Tony Beltran out, we’ll probably see Adam Henley get the nod at right back for the first game, but both Aaron Herrera and Taylor Peay can slot in on the right side at any point too, and both will naturally be fighting for minutes in Beltran’s absence. On the left, we saw Demar Phillips command the majority of the preseason minutes with the preferred starters, but we’ve seen how solid Danny Acosta can be, and with Phillips’ history with injuries, we’ll probably be seeing Acosta on the field quite a bit this season.
Petke has said many times that he doesn’t particularly believe in formations, so it’ll be interesting to see how he lines up his squad for the first match. It’s probably safe to think that it’ll be close to the 4-2-3-1 we saw for the majority of last year, but Petke’s been known to throw curveballs here and there.
On the Dallas side, newcomer and young DP Santiago Mosquera has Hoops fans buzzing with excitement, hoping that he can combine with other midfielders such as Victor Ulloa and Michael Barrios to help fill the hole that Kellyn Acosta will be leaving. Pareja will also be excited about Mauro Diaz being available for a full season after missing a big chunk of last year with an injury.
Dallas will also hope to bounce back from their CONCACAF Champions League exit, where even though they beat Panamanian side Tauro FC 3-2 at home, the previous 1-0 loss on the road puts Tauro FC through on the away goals rule. RSL fans are all too familiar with Champions League hangovers, so we’ll be watching to see if that affects the play of the home side on Saturday or not.
Truth be told, nobody can predict what the outcome of this match will be, but we do know it’ll be hard fought from both sides who have a lot to prove this season.
RSL: Rimando; Henley, M Silva, Glad, Phillips; Beckerman, Kreilach; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L Silva
FCD: Gonzalez; Cannon, Hedges, Ziegler, Nedyalkov; Gruezo, Ulloa; Barrios, Diaz, Mosquera; Urruti
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee)
OUT: Kellyn Acosta (sports hernia surgery)
When: Saturday, March 3, 6:00PM MT
Where: Toyota Stadium — Frisco, TX
Weather: Cloudy, 52 degrees
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live
Referee: Robert Sibiga