There are only six games left in the season for Real Salt Lake, and only four points separate second place and eighth place in the Western Conference. The race has never been tighter, and every point counts, which is why RSL’s midweek clash against the San Jose Earthquakes is such an important one.
A win could catapult RSL to second place, while a loss could potentially see them drop to sixth.
The last time these two sides met was in July of this year as RSL travelled to Avaya Stadium only to give up a goal in the third minute of stoppage time as San Jose secured the 1-0 victory in the dying seconds.
Prior to that, San Jose hadn’t bested RSL since June of 2017, as 2018 saw two draws, while RSL thumped the Earthquakes at home in August 2017 with a 4-0 victory.
The tricky part about this game? Both sides will have to do it without a slew of players who have been called in for international duty.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 13-11-4 (43 points)
Table: 5th place (west)
Points per game: 1.54
Most goals: Sam Johnson (9), Albert Rusnak (9)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (5), Damir Kreilach (5), Albert Rusnak (5)
Clean sheets: 9
Navigating the absences
Following their heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Portland almost two weeks ago, Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back and secure another three points against a San Jose side that has been tough all season long. RSL will also have to do it without a laundry list of players.
Corey Baird, Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, Aaron Herrera, Brooks Lennon, Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo, and David Ochoa will all miss this contest due to international call-ups. Of course, the international window ended on September 10th, so scheduling midweek games may have been the season’s biggest oversight on the part of MLS, but I digress. Sam Johnson was also called in for Liberia, but their last game was on Sunday the 8th so it’s looking like he’ll be available for this match. Johnson played the full 90 minutes in both of Liberia’s games last week, so whether he’s fit enough to start against San Jose is completely up in the air. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start this one out on the bench.
On top of those absences, Nick Besler is still out with his foot injury, and Luke Mulholland is listed as questionable due to a hamstring injury, so Freddy Juarez has some interesting choices to make.
Of course, RSL just signed forward Douglas Martinez from the Real Monarchs who has a very good chance of seeing his first MLS minutes in this match. Martinez played 19 games for the Monarchs and scored an impressive 11 goals, and obviously Juarez sees something in him that he wants to bring to the first team.
Still in good form
Sure, RSL has lost two of their last three matches, and on paper that doesn’t look amazing. But looking back, those two losses were the 2-0 loss at home to LAFC, which is tough to fault them for since Carlos Vela basically owns the league at the moment. RSL played well in that game and held them off for the first half before giving up a goal.
If we look back further than that, the stat gets better as they’ve only lost two of their last nine, while notching five wins and two draws in that time. Even with those two losses, RSL has still played really well through the last couple months, and if they can get past the Quakes while missing half their starting lineup, they’ll be in a good spot to fight for the rest of the season.
Potential playoff positioning
As previously mentioned, the Western Conference playoff race is insanely tight, only four points separating second and eighth place. Both the LA Galaxy and Minnesota United also play a midweek game, so depending on what happens with those matches, RSL could potentially see themselves as high as second place after tonight with a win. Alternatively, a loss could see them drop to sixth place, if the eighth-place Galaxy grab a win in Colorado tonight.
Every single point matters from now until the end of the season, because even one slip up could see any of these seven teams miss out on the playoffs in the end.
Jordan Allen (knee; out for season)
Tony Beltran (knee)
Nick Besler (foot)
Corey Baird (int’l duty-USA)
Albert Rusnak (int’l duty-SVK)
Jefferson Savarino (int’l duty-VEN)
Aaron Herrera (int’l duty-USA U23)
Brooks Lennon (int’l duty-USA U23)
Justen Glad (int’l duty-USA U23)
David Ochoa (int’l duty-USA U23)
Sebastian Saucedo (int’l duty-USA U23)
Luke Mulholland (hamstring)
Yellow Card Accumulation Warning
Sebastian Saucedo, Nick Besler, Everton Luiz
Rimando; Toia, Onuoha, Silva, Holt; Beckerman, Luiz; Rowe, Kreilach, Plata; Schmitt
San Jose Earthquakes
Record: 13-10-5 (44 points)
Table: 4th place (west)
Points per game: 1.57
Most goals: Chris Wondolowski (13)
Most assists: Cristian Espinoza (12)
Clean sheets: 7
Wondo leading the pack
To the surprise of nobody, Chris Wondolowski is yet again the team’s leading scorer, notching 13 goals this season while also passing up Landon Donovan to claim the all-time leading scorer in MLS history. Two of those goals came in San Jose’s last outing as they cruised past Orlando City in an easy 3-0 win at home.
One has to wonder if this is the 36-year-old’s last season in MLS, sticking around just long enough to break the scoring record and make a run in the playoffs.
Bad luck in SLC
The Earthquakes have a pretty poor history in Salt Lake City, only able to win three games in Utah while losing five and drawing seven. In fact, their last win at Rio Tinto Stadium came in September of 2013 when they escaped with a 2-1 victory. Since that game, RSL has come out on top three times at home while the three other games ended in draws.
The only silver lining to RSL missing a bunch of players is that San Jose has the same problem. They’ve got seven players out for international duty, although only five of them have seen consistent minutes throughout the season.
Nick Lima, Jackson Yueill, Guram Kashia, Vako, and Marcos Lopez will all be unavailable for this match, which bodes well since those players have amassed 22 goals and assists combined between them. This will leave Magnus Eriksson and Cristian Espinoza in the midfield, looking to push the ball up to Wondolowski.
Of course, the Quakes aren’t hit as hard as RSL by international call-ups, but it’ll still make it a little more difficult for them to come out on top at Rio Tinto.
Jackson Yueill (int’l duty-USA)
Guram Kashia (int’l duty-GEO)
Vako (int’l duty-GEO)
Marcos Lopez (int’l duty-PER)
Nick Lima (int’l duty-USA)
Gilbert Fuentes (int’l duty-USA U17)
JT Marcinkowski (int’l duty-USA U23)
Yellow Card Accumulation Warning
Harold Cummings, Nick Lima, Marcos Lopez
Vega; Thompson, Cummings, Jungwirth, Salinas; Judson, Godoy; Espinoza, Eriksson, Fierro; Wondolowski
When: Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 7:30PM
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 65 degrees, partly cloudy (sunset at 7:41PM)
Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)
Referee: Joe Dickerson
Assistant Referees: Jeff Hosking, Kevin Klinger
Fourth Official: Allen Chapman
Video Assistant Referee: Edvin Jurisevic