Some of the luster is off of Real Salt Lake. They lost the CONCACAF Champions League 2nd Leg at home, they lost their MVP candidate and have drawn their last two matches. None of these mean that they are even just an average team. They are still quite good, but the Seattle Sounders have a few things going for them in that RSL has been hit by the Gold Cup already. Denz from www.RSLSoapbox.com is our guide.
DC: Real Salt Lake has all of one loss in the last two + years at home, and that was to the best team in the region. What is the key to that impressive streak?
RSLSB: I think there are a couple factors, first are the physical ones. The altitude makes an impact on almost every team to come here, it is hard for teams to not struggle late in matches due to the lesser amounts of oxygen. The pitch, I think the clear reality of playing where you train (often) makes a difference, it is the familiarity of things (how much water will be put on pitch before a match, where will their be unusual lighting) and things like that.
Then there are the mental things, knowing that you slept at home the night before and should be well rested, you can do the same prematch rituals, and for RSL it has become an advantage to feed off the crowd. While we may not have the biggest numbers in MLS, or the largest supporter groups, there are very few places where you find everyone in the stadium having the same level of knowledge and passion as the fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. I was asked a few weeks ago, when did I think RSL quit being an "expansion" team, and I said when they played their first match at Rio Tinto Stadium. The team found a home, and one that has allowed them to build a unique relationship with their fans, and that has really allowed RSL to find extra energy when they need it. Now I have gotten goosebumps at both of the matches I have attended at Qwest Field, and I have gotten them at other stadiums as well, but for me there is no place like home and I think the players of RSL feel that way as well.
DC: The effect of the CONCACAF Gold Cup starts this week for Kreis' men. How will they deal with losing even more offense?
RSLSB: A lot of people, myself included have proclaimed that Real Salt Lake is the deepest team in MLS, well we are about to find out if that is true. The injury to Javier Morales was a huge blow to the style that RSL loves to play, but the call ups of Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, Arturo Alvarez, and Nick Rimando (who will remain with RSL, pending emergency) leave some very big holes in the RSL lineup. Will Johnson is one of those high energy guys that may not make a huge splash on the stat sheet each week, but he is one of those guys who makes a difference every minute he is on the pitch. Arturo may be new to the team, but with Paulo Jr. on the shelf with an injury, and Fabian Espindola recovering form one, he served a huge role for RSL in recent weeks, and while Sabo may not have been burning up the stat sheets like he did last year, he has been getting better each week (as he plays himself back to full fitness).
Those holes are like open doors, and for RSL the success of their 2011 season may well hinge on who steps through those doors, we have seen that Collen Warner has the potential to play well at the MLS level, can the amazing rebirth of Andy Williams go even higher, will RSL find out that Jean Alexandre should have been playing up top instead of in the midfield, or will Nelson Gonzalez take everyone by surprise by living up to his potential? I don't know, a lot of ifs and not a lot of sure things to count on, and I think that is the biggest concern for most fans. Over the past two seasons, few injuries, few call ups, fairly consistent lineup, we knew who would be there and what we could count on them to do, not now, but I have a feeling that a lot of people are about to learn some new names.
DC: Will Nick Rimando join most keepers the Sounders have faced and make the short list for all-league this week?
RSLSB: Probably, he has been rock solid all year, I mean not many guys out there with a 0.29 GAA and shutouts in over 70% of their matches. Yet if you ask Nick he will point out that a lot of his success is the result of a very solid defensive unit from top to bottom. He does benefit from playing behind 2 of the 3 defender of the year candidates, who do their best to ensure that he doesn't have to make a lot of saves, which I think helps him to make those spectacular ones. Will he benefit from a Sounders team that has struggled a bit to score goals lately? Not so sure, I mean I expect Fredy to come out and make a lot of noise on Saturday, after being called out in public by Sigi. I think if Brad Evans is back that he presents a real threat, he simply seems to be playing out of his mind when healthy this year, and then the real question mark Nate Jaqua. The guy has been a RSL killer in the past, and I hope that he enjoys this match from the bench.
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RSLSB: The Sounders lost both Steve Zakuani and O' Brian White for an extended period of time, they have also had a number of other injuries that have impacted their lineups almost weekly. With just 3 healthy players who have scored goals this year (Montero, Fernandez, and Parke) who can we expect to see leading the offense efforts on Saturday?
DC: Well, I don't think that just because Mauro Rosales, Mike Fucito nor Nate Jaqua don't have goals yet this season it means that they can't score in future matches. Each brings different attributes to the game and should provided chances for the team. With #TheTrialist (Rosales) you'll see a player who is fast with the ball at his feet, can beat a man or two on the dribble and then put in a cross or shot from tight angles. Fucito will shoot when no one thinks there is an opening using his speed and tenacity to find spaces and is 6th on the team in shots on goal in only 140 minutes. Jaqua is what he is, a big player who pulls a centerback where ever he goes, a capable poacher, skillful short passer and able to get a head on things.
Thursday after practice Sigi said that Brad Evans will definitely be in the 18, and possibly start. Evans offers generally safe passes, some of the best late runs in the league and can put away the penalty.
RSLSB: With just a single win in their last 5 matches, what happened?
DC: You kind of hinted at it in the first question in that Seattle's offense has suffered the loss of the following attacking players at some point during the season - Zakuani, White, Montero, Jaqua, Fucito, Evans, Rosales, and Friberg. While the Sounders were regarded as being pretty deep, not many teams could go through significant stretches where at least half of those players are effected at a time and still produce. Sigi is still trying to figure out how to open the scoring gates through various tactics, formations, and lineups. It isn't working, as players are learning on the go, rather than through training. Case in point was the pairing of Fucito with Montero against Dallas, those two just haven't worked together in training.
RSLSB: The Sounders clearly have some of the deeper pockets in MLS, what moves do you think they will make this summer to improve the team? Will it be a big name like Ljungberg, a smaller name with bigger on field potential, or will they look to make due with what they have?
DC: Adrian Hanauer and Chris Henderson will scour the world looking for the best player not just for this season, but for at least next as well. For the most part this is actually a young team, and with Joe Roth targeting continental greatness the club won't look for a short term fix. It could be a huge signing like a Diego Forlan or Didier Drogba (Seattle can match any contract they are offered anywhere), but it could also be a relative unknown like a Montero or Alvaro Fernandez. In addition to adding an expected DP they will add one or two smaller contract players to fill needs at fullback and on the wing. The offseason will see a new keeper added too.
RSLSB: Bonus Question) If you could take one player from the RSL roster and add them to the Sounders roster who would it be and why?
DC: Kyle Beckerman if Seattle didn't already have a very capable defensive mid. To me he's the engine of the team. He wins balls and links to the attacking players quite well. But since Seattle has no need there I would probably take Collen Warner. There is a need here for what he can do right now. His ability to serve the ball on set-plays is strong and his role flexibility as an attacking midfielder would help Seattle's current issues right now.