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Match preview: Do or die as RSL faces San Jose in Round of 16

RSL takes on Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes in their first knockout round game of the MLS is Back tournament.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake will officially enter the round of 16 tonight when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes in a win-or-go-home tournament game. San Jose came out strong and finished at the top of their group with two wins and one draw, surprising everyone across MLS. RSL had a great start in the group stage against the Colorado Rapids with a 2-0 win, but couldn’t find any goals in their following two games as they squeaked through to the knockout rounds.

The all-time regular season series between the two teams is — and I’m not making this up — 11-11-11 through 33 games played. You may be hard pressed to find two more evenly-matched teams right now, which is why this could be the perfect matchup for both sides.

Wondo’s still going

The 37-year-old Chris Wondolowski, to the surprise of many, stayed on with the Earthquakes for the 2020 season, though accepting somewhat of a reduced role. He’s played in all five games this season so far, but has come on as a substitute in every single one. That hasn’t seemed to slow him down, though, as he notched two goals in the group stage of this tournament, scoring one against Vancouver and then against Chicago.

Wondo’s fresh legs for the final 25 minutes of tonight’s game might be something RSL needs to be wary of and pay extra attention to.

The Quakes have shown they can’t be counted out when trailing late in a game, as they proved a couple weeks ago against Vancouver when they made a massive comeback from a 3-1 deficit. They scored three late-game goals — including the winner in the ninth minute of stoppage time — to ultimately come out on top with a 4-3 scoreline.

Rusnak might not be back

With Albert Rusnak missing RSL’s last game after suffering a hip injury against Minnesota in the group stage, it’s left his status up in the air as far as whether he’ll see the field against San Jose or not. RSL looked considerably worse without him on the field as they struggled to find their footing in the attack against Sporting Kansas City, so missing him tonight would be a big deal for a team who struggles to find goals in the first place.

The defense, however, has continued to look solid for the most part despite the two goals allowed against SKC. Justen Glad has been stalwart in central defense, even without Nedum Onuoha. Aaron Herrera looks like a different player this year, and Everton Luiz has come up huge several times already.

The winner of this match will move on to face the winner of Columbus and Minnesota, who are set to play on the 28th at 6:00PM MT. Columbus have quickly become the tournament favorites, after not only finishing the group stage with three wins, but also impressively didn’t concede any goals.

Should RSL move on, that Round of 8 match would be played on August 1 at 6:00PM MT.

Match info

When: Monday, July 27, 6:30PM MT

Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports — Orlando, FL

Weather: 79 degrees, scattered thunderstorms, 45% chance of rain

Broadcast: FS1, FOX Deportes