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What we’re watching in Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes

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It’s a western conference clash between San Jose and RSL with major playoff implications 

Chris Wondolowski expresses a concern to Bofo Saucedo in 2018
Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Tonight’s midweek game is notable for two main reasons: 1) Real Salt Lake are without a large number of players due to injury and international duty, and 2) a western conference match between two teams trying to stay above the playoff line.

Who’s Available

The biggest issue for this game is how many players are away on international duty. Major League Soccer insists on wanting to be a world-class league, but also does not stop play for the FIFA international breaks, which leaves many teams in a tough spot. RSL is certainly one of those. Baird (USA), Rusnak (SVK),Savarino (VEN), and Ochoa, Glad, Herrera, Lennon, Saucedo (U.S. U-23) are all away. It’s unclear if Sam Johnson will return for this game. He played in Liberia’s 1-0 loss to Sierra Leone on Sunday, so the likelihood of him starting on Wednesday is in question. RSL do have a good number of younger players, guys like Arriaga or Vazquez, who could see minutes. Replacing Rusnak, Savarino, Saucedo, and Baird in the attack is difficult enough. We should see Kreilach, likely in the attacking midfield role, and Plata on the wing, but if the U-23s aren’t back and neither is Johnson, it will be very difficult to fill out that attack. Interim head coach Freddy Juarez may change up the formation, but trying to implement new tactics with so few players around might not work well.

On the backline, we’re likely to see something new. With Glad out, we should see Silva and Onuoha as the center back pairing. Donny Toia will play left back, but it’s unclear who will play right back. Nedum has played there in the past, so Holt could start at CB, freeing up Nedum to play out wide.

I have also heard that the U-23s are back in Salt Lake. It’s not clear if they’ll be able to all start, but if they can, that changes things quite a lot. If Bofo can be on the wing, Glad at CB, and Herrera at RB, many of these problems go away. If Johnson is out, Brooks could play up top; a role he used to play in regularly for the RSL and Liverpool academies. No matter who is around, we’re sure to see a different look for RSL tonight.

Points

The San Jose Earthquakes are level with Real Salt Lake on both wins and goal difference, but are one point and one place ahead of them in the standings. This game has massive implications for who makes the playoffs and who gets a home game. Right now, LA Galaxy are just outside the playoff places in 8th place on 42 points. Seattle Sounders are in 2nd on 46 points, which means there are only 4 points between being 2nd in the west and being below the playoff line. A loss tonight for RSL could mean they drop out of playoff places very quickly. If the Rapids can beat LAG tonight in Colorado, that takes off some of the pressure from RSL, but I don’t think many fans want to count on the Rapids.

The Middle

Kelyn Rowe saw his first RSL minutes against the Timbers in Portland. It was not an easy environment to get your first start with a new team, and his performance was a bit mixed. Rowe’s passing accuracy was 84%, which isn’t bad, but leaves room for improvement. With Besler out for a while with a foot injury, Rowe is the third choice in the midfield, behind the partnership of Everton and Beckerman. Those two are RSL’s best pairing, even with Beckerman slowing. The loss of Nick Belser is significant. He’s been very good and arguably better than RSL’s captain at points this season. His improvement feels like a major shift from his performance last year, but Belser was being played out of position. With Beckerman and Everton a near guaranteed starting partnership tonight, watch how they work together. They’ll be the main two players to dictate the midfield play in a game that RSL very much needs to win.

Injury Report

RSL Injury Report 9/9/19:

OUT:

Allen (knee 6/16/17; Season Ending)

Beltran (knee; 3/15/19)

Besler (foot; 8/10/19)

QUESTIONABLE:

Mulholland(hamstring; 822/19)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES:

Baird (USA)

Rusnak (SVK)

Savarino (VEN)

Ochoa, Glad, Herrera, Lennon, Saucedo (U.S. U-23)

San Jose:

OUT: None

QUESTIONABLE: None

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES:

Nick Lima, Jackson Yueill (USA); Guram Kashia, Vako Qazaishvili (GEO); Marcos Lopez (PER); Gilbert Fuentes (U.S. U-17); JT Marcinkowski (U.S. U-23)

Predicted Lineup

Please note that this could change wildly if Sam Johnson and the US U-23s are available.