Real Salt Lake sit in 2nd place in the western conference. The only teams that can over take them this weekend are Seattle Sounders or Minnesota United FC. But RSL controls their own fate, at least for now. If they match Seattle’s result, they stay ahead of them. If they tie or beat MNUFC, they stay ahead of Minnesota. A win keeps them in 2nd. The western conference is extremely tight, at least for 2nd-8th place. LA Galaxy are in 8th and are outside a playoff spot entirely, but they’re only 4 points behind RSL, so RSL needs every possible point in the final stretch of regular season games.
RSL Designated Player Sam Johnson has seen fewer starts than most would have expected at the start of the season. For much of the year we’ve seen Damir Kreilach in a 9/false 9 role, and while he’s done very well there, that has often come when Johnson isn’t starting.
Johnson’s absence in the game against San Jose Earthquakes made sense – he’d just returned from playing with Liberia in Sierra Leone a few days prior. That’s a lot of travel. While Jefferson Savarino had also returned from playing with Venezuela, he was in Florida, so travel we much shorter.
Sam Johnson brings something to the team that no one else has: hold up play and incredible speed at the center forward position. Kreilach and even Baird do well there, but it’s not their natural position. When Johnson is on the field, he can break lines so well. The long ball, often from Aaron Herrera, becomes an extremely effective tool that RSL doesn’t really have with anyone else.
It appears that Bofo Saucedo did not travel. He played in Real Monarch’s 4-1 win over Timbers 2 on Saturday. To me, this is an indication that we may see Rusnak on the wing, Kreilach at the ten, and Johnson at the nine with Jefferson in his traditional right wing spot. This is the best way to get all of RSL’s attacking players on the field at once, but it pushed Rusnak out wider than what’s ideal for him.
The retirement of beloved RSL right back Tony Beltran has me thinking about our outside backs. Aaron Herrera has taken up Tony’s old position, is certainly a different player than Beltran but the young academy product has impressed. Aaron has a high upside and room for growth, while also cutting it at the MLS level. He’s certainly worth watching as many of us think about what Beltran brought to the game.
Donny Toia is different – he came to RSL without there being many expectations around him. By that standard, he’s impressed as well. Left back is a position that could be strengthen, but Toia is more than serviceable.
I’ll be watching how these two are able to contribute to the attack. Are they able to get up and provide an attacking option or outlet, but also able to get back to help in defense? Minnesota is much better than they’ve been in years past, and the play from Toia and Herrera might be key in breaking them down.
Allen (knee 6/16/17; Season Ending)
Beltran (knee; 3/15/19)
Mulholland (hamstring; 822/19)