Real Salt Lake (0-1-1, 1 point) will play host to an in-form New York Red Bulls (1-0-0, 3 points) as Mike Petke’s old club comes to town for their first and only meeting in the 2018 MLS regular season on Saturday.
The season so far
It’s only week three of the season, and yes, the Red Bulls have only played one league game — a game in which they smashed the Portland Timbers by a score of 4-0, thanks to two goals from newly-acquired Carlos Rivas, as well as a goal each from Bradley Wright-Phillips and youngster Ben Mines — but New York has been playing some fantastic soccer that also pushed them through easily past Club Tijuana and into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals after putting up an impressive 5-1 aggregate over the Liga MX side.
All in all, New York has outscored its opponents 9-1 in their last three meaningful games, making them an attacking force to be reckoned with in the early stages of the season.
On the flip side, RSL is looking to bounce back in a big way after a disastrous home opener in which they lost 5-1 to expansion side Los Angeles FC. With a whole week of training under their belt, you can bet Petke and the boys will be ready to take on the visitors, determined not to let down their home crowd for a second week in a row.
In the all-time series between the two sides, they’re pretty dead even. RSL holds the slight advantage in wins, with six overall to New York’s five, but they’ve tied nine times and both teams have scored 27 goals against each other. Five of RSL’s six wins have been at home, with the lone road win coming in 2011 when the Red Bulls fell to the visitors 3-1.
The last time the teams met, the club was in some turmoil having just fired previous coach Jeff Cassar after three disappointing games to open the 2017 season.
Interim coach Daryl Shore was at the reins for RSL’s trip to Red Bull Arena last season, which ended in a 0-0 draw — a welcome result after having lost their two previous matches in a row, giving up four goals in the process. The Red Bulls were lucky to have kept a clean sheet at all, given that Bofo Saucedo, Yura Movsisyan, and Brooks Lennon all had golden opportunities to score in the first half.
Real Salt Lake, after suffering that humiliating 5-1 loss against LAFC last week, will hope to fare better this weekend by plugging holes in the defense against an extremely potent attack. Bradley Wright-Phillips has been a machine so far this year, notching three goals and three assists throughout his last three games in all competitions. Two of those goals came on the road in Mexico against Tijuana, while he assisted on all three goals in the return leg to put the CCL series to bed.
Not only does RSL want redemption for last week’s home opener loss, but this is the first time Mike Petke will be facing his old club since they fired him as head coach after he led the Red Bulls to their first-ever Supporters Shield in 2013, followed by a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs.
While Petke has downplayed this narrative, it’s clear that this is one of the bigger headlines going into this weekend’s match-up. While RSL fans are grateful for New York’s dismissal of Petke — since without it he wouldn’t have landed in Salt Lake — who wouldn’t love to see him get a win over his former club, especially when the hype around them is so intense right now?
More importantly, the defense will have to show up this week if RSL wants any chance at getting a result out of this game. While Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi broke through Salt Lake’s backline like Swiss cheese last week, this match-up has to be different, and it has to start with a clean sheet as the bare minimum target.
Without any clear word on the status of the injury that kept Marcelo Silva out of the lineup last week, it remains to be seen whether he’ll be fit to start against New York, or if we’ll see David Horst get the nod again. Shawn Barry also left the game with an injury last week, but he’s not listed on any official injury report so all signs point to him being able to make the start on Saturday, especially if Adam Henley isn’t quite ready yet.
All in all, we can expect to see a different-looking Real Salt Lake team out on the field — one looking to fix all the problems they had last week while grabbing their first three points of the season.
Real Salt Lake will also be honoring veteran defender Chris Wingert, who announced his retirement a few weeks ago. Wingert will be in attendance for the match, who says he’s looking forward to an amazing send-off from the RSL fans.
RSL: Rimando; Barry, Glad, Horst, Phillips; Beckerman, Kreilach; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L Silva
RBNY: Robles; Murillo, Long, Parker, Lawrence; Adams, Rzatkowski; Davis, Kaku, Royer; Wright-Phillips
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Taylor Peay (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Adam Henley (hamstring), Aaron Herrera
GOALS: Joao Plata (2)
ASSISTS: Albert Rusnak (1)
GOALS: Carlos Rivas (2), Bradley Wright-Phillips (1), Ben Mines (1)
ASSISTS: Vincent Bezecourt (2), Bradley Wright-Phillips (1), Alejandro Romero Gamarra (1), Derrick Etienne Jr. (1), Connor Lade (1), Sean Davis (1)
When: Saturday, March 17, 2017, 7:00PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700 (radio only), MLS Live
Weather: Rain, 41 degrees
Referee: Ted Unkel