MLS Regular Season
Real Salt Lake returns home to complete one of its toughest stretches of the 2014 season, playing host to Western Conference rival Portland Timbers on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium at 8:00 p.m.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
Will RSL continue its dominance over Portland?
Real Salt Lake has a pretty dominate history against the Portland Timbers, and is currently riding an 11-game unbeaten run against the Cascadia side. Portland’s only win came over three years ago, with the Timbers defeating RSL in April 2011 when the sides first met in MLS. RSL kept the undefeated streak going the last time to two sides met on April 19 at Rio Tinto Stadium, with RSL earning a 1-0 win thanks to a great Ned Grabavoy goal. The Claret-and-Cobalt posts an 8-1-3 mark across all competitions against the Pacific Northwest side and a 5-1-3 all-time regular season record against Portland.
Will Plata make his return on Saturday?
Lethal striker Joao Plata has missed the Claret-and-Cobalt’s last two matches due to a hamstring injury picked up against FC Dallas on May 24. The speedy Ecuadorian has six goals in nine appearances this year, tying him for the team lead with forward Alvaro Saborio. RSL has severely missed the absence of both Plata and Saborio, with no other forwards finding the back of net this season. RSL midfielder Luis Gil snapped the Claret-and-Cobalt’s scoreless streak at 275 minutes on Wednesday, when he scored in the 56th minute against Columbus.
Will RSL’s diverse attack against Portland endure?
Historically, RSL has had a very diverse attack against Portland with ten different players scoring and eight different players assisting on a total of 15 goals in the Utah side’s last seven matches against the Timbers (2013-14). RSL midfielder Javier Morales leads the way for RSL with three goals; followed by Saborio, Plata and Robbie Findley with two goals each; forward Devon Sandoval, midfielders Luis Gil, Cole Grossman and Ned Grabavoy, and defenders Chris Schuler and Nat Borchers all have one tally against the Cascadia club in that time frame. Captain Kyle Beckerman, Morales and Plata lead the way for RSL in assists, with three helpers each; Grabavoy, Gil, Findley, Saborio and midfielder Sebastian Velasquez all have one assist against Portland since the start of 2013.
Will the Claret-and-Cobalt return to the diamond midfield and normal starting lineup?
On Wednesday night in Columbus, Head Coach Jeff Cassar deviated from RSL’s standard diamond midfield for the first time this year, opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation instead. With RSL playing three games in eight days, the road test against the Crew was an opportunity to rest some starters ahead of its clash with Portland. Wednesday’s lineup featured an almost entirely new back line (Rich Balchan, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Schuler, Abdoulie Mansally), and marked the first career start for midfielder John Stertzer. With veteran defenders Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Nat Borchers rested, Real Salt Lake should look a bit more familiar on Saturday.
Last MLS match before World Cup break
Saturday’s match will be Real Salt Lake’s final MLS regular season match until June 28 when the Claret-and-Cobalt travel to California to take on Chivas USA at StubHub Center. That isn’t to say RSL won’t be busy in June though, since it will play its first Open Cup match against NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks on June 14 in Georgia. But with the upcoming regular season break, RSL will want to end on a high note at home. Will RSL leave it all on the line on Saturday?
The last time Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew met, RSL punished the Crew 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 24, 2013. But now the tables are turned and RSL will be facing the Ohio club on its home turf at Crew Stadium.
RSL’s romp last year saw a brace from Captain Kyle Beckerman - his first multi-goal game since April 2008 - and goals from forward Devon Sandoval and midfielder Luis Gil. Sandoval and forward Olmes Garcia started up top together which is likely to be the case tomorrow as well. Get pumped for tomorrow’s match by reliving all the action from last summer’s goal-fest.
Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back after suffering its first defeat of the 2014 season last week against Seattle. RSL travels to Columbus on Wednesday to face the Crew at 5:30 p.m. MT at Crew Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s clash:
How will RSL react after suffering its first loss of the season?
With Real Salt Lake ending its 12-game unbeaten run last Saturday with a disheartening 4-0 loss at Seattle, many will be looking to see how the team responds after its first non-result. With only three days between Seattle and Columbus, the Claret-and-Cobalt hasn’t had much time to dwell on the defeat. With the focus now on the Crew, RSL will have an opportunity to showcase its character in the way the team comes out on Wednesday night.
How will RSL’s toughest stretch of games – three in eight days – affect Wednesday’s lineup?
Real Salt Lake is currently facing its toughest stretch of games this year, playing a total of three matches in eight days. The Claret-and-Cobalt face Columbus only three days after playing a tough road match in Seattle. RSL will have another quick turnaround after Wednesday, hosting Western Conference rival Portland Timbers on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Head Coach Jeff Cassar will have to choose whether or not to rest some tired legs in Columbus ahead of what always tends to be a heated and physical affair between RSL and Portland.
RSL currently facing a lack of options at midfield and forward
With Captain Kyle Beckerman, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and forward Alvaro Saborio’s absences continually looming over RSL, it couldn’t have been a worse time for the injury bug to bite. RSL forward Joao Plata, who has scored six goals and notched three assists in nine appearances this year, reinjured his hamstring against FC Dallas a little more than a week ago. The dynamic and speedy Ecuadorian did not travel to Seattle and is still doubtful for Wednesday’s match at Columbus. Cassar’s only option could be the up top pairing of Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia – the same duo that started against Seattle.
Will RSL be able to find the back of the net?
With a scoreless draw against FC Dallas and getting shutout at Seattle, Real Salt Lake has now gone 219 minutes without finding the back of the net. With the news of RSL forward Alvaro Saborio’s broken foot (which will keep him out 3-4 months) and the ongoing recovery of Plata, RSL’s forward depth will be tested for longer than originally planned for. Wednesday’s match against the Crew couldn’t be a better time for Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia to gain a little confidence and find the back of the net for the Claret-and-Cobalt for the first time this year.
Real Salt Lake will look to continue its unbeaten start to the season on Saturday, travelling to Seattle to face the Sounders at 2:00 pm. MT at CenturyLink Field.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
Will RSL break the all-time record for longest unbeaten start to a season?
If Real Salt Lake produces a result on Saturday, the Claret-and-Cobalt will enter the MLS record books, breaking the record for longest unbeaten streak to start a season at 13 games. RSL tied the all-time record last Saturday, earning a 0-0 draw against FC Dallas to join the 1996 and 2010 LA Galaxy and 2000 Kansas City Wizards atop the record books.
RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar will also be looking to take sole possession of a MLS record on Saturday. Cassar is currently tied with 1996 LA Head Coach Lothar Osiander for longest unbeaten streak to start a managerial career at 12 games. A result at Seattle on Saturday would give Cassar the record on his own.
First-place on the line in battle between top two teams in MLS
It’s early days yet, but Saturday’s match could have a significant impact on the 2014 Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield races. Seattle currently sits atop both tables with 26 points, two points ahead of second-place RSL, which has a game in hand on the Sounders. With the way things are shaping up in MLS, all three matches between these two sides figure to be crucial for the playoff race, with Saturday’s contest the first test.
With both teams suffering major absences due to the World Cup, whose depth will shine?
RSL and Seattle will both be missing key players on Saturday due to international absences and injuries. Saturday’s contest will be the third straight match that RSL will be without Captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando and the third straight contest that Seattle will be missing leading goal scorer Clint Dempsey and young right back DeAndre Yedlin. All four players have been named to U.S. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s final 23-man World Cup roster and will be heading to Brazil next month.
RSL has also been without striker Alvaro Saborio for its last two matches. Saborio was with the Costa Rican national team in World Cup preparation camp before suffering a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot on Thursday. The injury will keep Saborio out for the next 3-4 months.
Plata doubtful for Saturday
RSL forward Joao Plata has been on fire for the Claret-and-Cobalt this season, scoring six goals (tied with Saborio for the team lead) and notching three assists in nine appearances this year. Unfortunately for RSL, Plata might not have a chance to showcase his skills at Seattle on Saturday after injuring his left hamstring in last week’s match against FC Dallas. Plata – who missed three games earlier this year with an injury to the same hamstring – is doubtful for Saturday’s contest. RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar will have forwards Devon Sandoval, Olmes Garcia and Robbie Findley to choose from to start on Saturday. All three have yet to find the back of the net for the Claret-and-Cobalt this year.
The latest edition of ABC 4's Crossbar Challenge dropped on Real Sports Live on Sunday night, with Dunny taking on the always-intense Cole Grossman on the heels of his start against Colorado and ahead of his start in Saturday's draw with FC Dallas.
Check out the extended, Director's cut of this week's Crossbar Challenge above. Don't have 27 minutes? Watch the shorter version here.
Real Salt Lake will look to stay unbeaten on the 2014 season on Saturday, hosting FC Dallas at 7:30 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Can RSL tie the all-time record for longest unbeaten start to a season?
With a result on Saturday, RSL can move its unbeaten streak to 12 games in 2014. Should the Claret-and-Cobalt pick up a result, they’d tie the 1996 and 2010 LA Galaxy and 2000 Kansas City Wizards for the longest unbeaten streak to start a season in MLS history. It should be noted that all three of those teams had much better records through 12 games than RSL will, with the ’96 Galaxy posting a 12-0-0 mark in MLS’ shootout era and the 2010 Galaxy and 2000 Wizards both posting a 10-0-2 record.
Can Cassar continue his rise up the record books?
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jeff Cassar could also make a bit of history on Saturday night, as a RSL result would tie him with 1996 LA Head Coach Lothar Osiander for the longest unbeaten streak to start a MLS managing career at 12 games. Sadly, Cassar can’t touch Osiander’s record through 12 games – the Galaxy’s inaugural coach was 12-0-0 in 1996.
Cassar faces off against former team
Saturday’s match will be a reunion of sorts for Cassar, who played for Dallas from 1996-97 and 2003-2006 and served as an assistant coach for the Hoops for the first half of the 2007 season before moving to RSL in May of that year. Cassar was hampered by injuries and served as a backup at times in Dallas, playing just 33 MLS matches in his six years in Texas.
Former teammates Cassar and Pareja set for matchup
Cassar and FC Dallas Head Coach Oscar Pareja’s relationship goes way back, with the two playing together in Dallas from 2003-2005, before Pareja retired to become an FCD assistant. Pareja spent the last two years as head coach in Colorado before moving this offseason to Dallas, where he played and coached from 1998-2011. The former Colombian international started his FCD tenure brightly but his side has fallen off of late, losing five of its last six matches.
Will Morales stay hot?
RSL maestro Javier Morales has been red hot recently, scoring four goals and adding two assists in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s last two matches. He’ll look to continue that recent success Saturday night against FCD, against whom he has three goals and six assists in 11 career regular season matches.