It’s finally here! After what seems like an eternity — which was only 129 days in reality — the team is back and ready to kick off the 2020 season with a road trip to the Sunshine State to take on Orlando City SC.
Believe it or not, RSL has only bested the boys in purple once throughout five meetings since Orlando’s inception in 2015, and that came in the form of a 2-1 win at home last year thanks to goals from Sam Johnson and Damir Kreilach. Prior to that match, Orlando had won the previous two in a row, while the first two games between the sides ended in a draw.
Record: 16-13-5 (53 points)
Table: 3rd place (west)
Points per game: 1.56
Most goals: Albert Rusnak (10)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (5), Damir Kreilach (5), Albert Rusnak (5), Kyle Beckerman (5)
RSL will be taking on the Lions without their stalwart defensive midfielder Everton Luiz, as he’s serving a one-game suspension for a red card he received in their playoff match against Seattle for a reckless studs-up tackle. The referee showed him straight red and he was immediately sent off. It’s a big blow for the midfield as it also seems that Kyle Beckerman could be out with injury this weekend as well, but luckily Freddy Juarez has options in both Damir Kreilach and Nick Besler who can easily slot in.
Offseason ins and outs
What an offseason it’s been for Real Salt Lake, with some big players leaving while some other big players made their way to the Beehive State. In case you’ve been on a social media lockdown over the last few months, let’s see a quick recap of the signings and departures.
Players Out: Nick Rimando (retired), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United), Bofo Saucedo (Pumas UNAM), Joao Plata (option declined), Jefferson Savarino (Atlético Mineiro), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Danilo Acosta (LA Galaxy), Jordan Allen (retired), Alex Horwath (retired)
Players In: Alvin Jones (from OKC Energy FC), Zac MacMath (from Vancouver), Ashtone Morgan (from Toronto FC), Jeizon Ramirez (from Deportivo Tachira FC), Milan Iloski (homegrown), Maikel Chang (from Real Monarchs), Christopher Garcia (homegrown), Justin Meram (from Atlanta United), Giuseppe Rossi (free agent)
The most recent signing, announced yesterday, was 33-year-old Giuseppe Rossi, who spent the preseason training with the club amidst rumors of his imminent signing. Clearly they finally came to terms on a contract, and not a minute too soon, either. We could see him getting some significant minutes in the next few weeks especially with Sam Johnson still on the mend from a surgery in the offseason.
Battle of the ‘keepers
With Rimando’s retirement, there has been a whole lot of speculation around who would take his spot in between the pipes come 2020. With the addition of Zac MacMath, it still wasn’t clear who would be the regular starter once the season came around, as he, David Ochoa, and Andrew Putna would all seem to be vying for the gig.
MacMath claimed the majority of the time spent on the field during preseason, as Ochoa got a little bit of time as well. While we still don’t know what Freddy will ultimately do, it seems as though MacMath will be the starter to kick the season off based on what we saw in preseason. Whether Freddy has a plan to rotate through all of them until one comes out on top, or if MacMath will be the guy until something changes based on performance, we have no idea.
We’ve never been in this position before, to be honest. Nick Rimando was the preferred starter since 2007, and although we’ve had some great backup goalkeepers over the years, nobody ever really challenged enough to steal the starting spot from him. Before Rimando, we had Scott Garlick in 2006 and DJ Countess in 2005 who were easily the preferred starters. So to enter into an era where we have three starting-quality goalkeepers with the spot basically up in the air is uncharted territory for this club, and it’ll be entertaining to watch at the least.
Everton Luiz (red card), Sam Johnson (knee)
MacMath; Herrera, Glad, Onuoha, Toia; Kreilach, Besler; Baird, Rusnak, Meram; Rossi
Record: 9-15-10 (37 points)
Table: 11th place (east)
Points per game: 1.09
Most goals: Nani (12)
Most assists: Nani (10)
Orlando City will look to start the season off strong as they aim for a first-ever playoff appearance in 2020. Unfortunately, they’ll have to start off without their best player Nani.
Nani will miss the first two games of the season after being suspended for aggressive behavior toward a referee in Orlando’s last game of 2019. The team’s leader in goals (12) and assists (10) last season, that will be a rough way to start off the season for the Lions. To add to their struggles, Dom Dwyer will also miss the season opener due to an injury, making RSL’s path to victory a little smoother.
So who will step up and lead the charge for Orlando in the first few weeks of the season? They brought in some new pieces this offseason, including Junior Urso from Brazilian side Corinthians. It’s expected that Tesho Akindele will start up top in place of Dwyer, flanked by Benji Michel and Chris Mueller. They may struggle in attack without their main goal scorers, especially with RSL’s central defense intact and healthy.
Newly appointed coach Oscar Pareja, who is back in MLS after spending a year in Liga MX in charge of Club Tijuana, will look to shape this team and build a roster to fit his playing style, much like he did with FC Dallas.
Nani (suspension), Dom Dwyer (lower body injury)
Gallese; Ruan, Antonio Carlos, Jansson, Moutinho; Mendez, Urso; Mueller, Pereyra, Michel; Akindele
When: Saturday, February 29th, 4:00PM MT
Where: Exploria Stadium — Orlando, FL
Weather: 61 degrees, sunny
Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
Assistant Referees: Andrew Bigelow, Benjamin Hall-Volpenhein
Fourth Official: Marcos DeOliveira
Video Assistant Referee: Sorin Stoica