Last week the main talking point was Real Salt Lake playing a game in front of five thousand fans during a global pandemic. That did not happen as a player protest against racism and police brutality turned into the removal of RSL’s owner and his right-hand man. It’s been a tumultuous week for the organization and fanbase alike. Tonight, Real Salt Lake will take on the reigning MLS Cup champions after having stolen a point from the reigning MLS Is Back champions over the weekend.
The non-soccer stuff
There’s a lot going on that has little to do with soccer. The first is the safety concerns around COVID-19 while five thousand fans will be allowed to attendance. The club is making every effort to have a safe environment for this game, but it still seems like a risk.
The second issue is what’s been largely lost in the conversations surrounding the removal of Dell Loy Hansen, and that’s black lives matter. The thing that set the RSL owner off was the fact players protested the continued use of police force against people of color. We should not lose sight of how important that message is and how much work we as individuals and we as a society have to do in this area. The games that have followed since last’s Wednesday have included players kneeling, but there could always be something more.
The last is how focused the team can be while the organization is dealing with so much. Freddy Juarez seems to excellent in this area. He guided the team through the Petke fiasco around this time last year, and he helped the team fight back to a dramatic 4-4 on Saturday. Seattle is a very good team, so this challenge will be a big one.
Sam and Pepito
Going into the 2020 season back in February, Sam Johnson and Giuseppe Rossi would have been the best guess for starting attackers, given that they’re healthy. Johnson did have some injury issues last season and at the start of 2020, and Rossi has years of injury struggles. Both players want more time but neither has been on the injury report of late.
On Saturday, they both showed their quality against the Timbers by delivering a 4-4 win (ok, technically a draw but an emotional win and valuable road point). Rossi scored his first goal for RSL in the 90th minute of the game. At the time, it felt like it returned some dignity to the team but wouldn’t ultimately matter. The way he received the ball, turned, and finished highlighted his quality. Four minutes later, Sam Johnson would save the day after Corey Barid, as has been described by others, went “full Messi”.
The question for tonight is if those two have earned a starting spot, or at least more minutes. An ideal but realistic situation would be to start Johnson, then replace him with Rossi early in the second half.
Andrew Putna has started the last two games for RSL, having displaced journeyman Zac MacMath. MacMath had a decent performance at the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, but it wasn’t perfect. Punta played very well against Colorado but had some glaring mistakes against Portland, one of which lead directly to a goal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see MacMath back in goal, but Juarez may want to instill confidence in Punta but sticking with him.
Not medically cleared to play:
Douglas Martinez (concussion)
Christopher Garcia (non soccer injury)