Time for another look at the opponent from Martin Tomszak.
What Are They All About? Real Salt Lake Preview
After a disappointing road loss in Kansas City the Fire will look to bounce back at home against Real Salt Lake. Despite losing every match they have played against Western conference opponents (0-4), the Fire will be hoping to continue their home match win streak. Almost exactly a year ago these two teams met at Toyota Park in what would be a gut wrenching 3-2 loss on the back of an utter defensive collapse by the Fire. Both teams have a very different look to them and the Fire happen to be catching RSL at the perfect time.
RSL Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): D-D-L-L-D
Previous match: A 0-0 draw with LA at home.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2 Rimando; Beltran, Olave, Vasquez, Phillips; Beckerman, Mulholland, Allen, Gil; Sandoval, Saborio
Strengths: Normally this section of the preview is filled with a bit of tactical analysis. This week it is simpler than that. Having Nick Rimando in net against a group of forwards that haven’t notched a single goal this season is bad news. Rimando has been his typical self this season, only allowing five goals in seven matches. Three of those came in one disastrous defensive performance against Philadelphia (including an Olave own goal) and none of the five allowed can be directly contributed to a goalkeeping error on Rimando’s part. He has a 70% shots saved to goals allowed ration this season, four clean sheets, and registered his first PK save of the season against Los Angeles. If there is any player in the league that is the face of his club it is Rimando. Despite all of the offseason changes to the squad, the goal keeper has been a stalwart for RSL and it will take something special for the Fire to get on the scoring sheet.
RSL has not one, but two faces to their franchise. The other constant for the Claret and Cobalt is club captain Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman and his infamous dreadlocks are in their 16th MLS season, eight of which have been with RSL. He has started and gone 90 minutes in all of RSL’s matches this season. There’s no doubt that he is the engine of the squad no matter what formation or starting lineup is implemented. He can open up play with a perfect through ball, or slow down a match with his skill in possession. Few teams win the midfield battle against RSL and if the Fire are going to get anything from this match they will need to keep Beckerman from controlling the middle.
It is not often that the strengths section of a preview can be diluted to just two players, but Rimando and Beckerman are the difference makers for RSL. Particularly without playmakers Joao Plata and Javier Morales.
Weaknesses: RSL is uncharacteristically below the red line after nine matches this season. That however, is the reality of the situation and the Fire should be licking their chops as they look ahead to this match. RSL hasn’t lost in Chicago since the regular season in 2009, but that could very well change given their recent form.
The last five look bad enough but if you examine the score lines in the last few matches it gets even worse for RSL. Not counting Victor Bernardez’s excellent own goal finish, RSL has not scored a goal in five matches. In fact, they haven’t even come close. The team has only registered ten shots on target in those five matches, six of which came on Wednesday night against LA. Part of the problem lies in the formation that RSL has been experimenting with.
The classic 4-4-2 diamond that RSL has used since the days of Jason Kreis was abandoned earlier this season, with Jeff Cassar opting for a 4-3-3. With only two wins this season, a lack of dominance in midfield, and a lack of goals from the front three, this switch clearly hasn’t worked for RSL. This is further exhibited by the fact that one of their best showings of the season came this week when Cassar abandoned the 4-3-3 for the classic midfield diamond approach. No matter which formation RSL lines up with, the lack of production from the forwards has to be concerning.
The failure to find the back of the net is mixture of the personal available to Cassar and bad form from the attackers. Joao Plata sustained a broken foot in preseason and won’t feature for RSL until June or July. Plata has scored 17 goals in his previous two seasons with RSL and his absence has definitely been felt. In order to make up for Plata’s loss, RSL has tried various combinations with the front three/front two. Forwards Sebastian Jaime, Olmes Garcia, Devon Sandoval, and Alvaro Saborio have all had a chance to impress, with midfielders Jordan Allen and Luis Gil also being thrown into the attacking mix up. None of the combinations has seemed to work. Injuries have also slowed down Javier Morales, one of the few true “10”’s in MLS depriving the forwards of any consistent service. The only reliable name on the team sheet up top has been Saborio, and even he has only managed one goal this season. Frustration is certainly mounting.
RSL hasn’t exactly been solid in the back either. Aside from the continuous jaw dropping performances from Rimando, RSL has been shaky in defense. Their outside backs have often found themselves beaten for pace, exhibited perfectly by the 4-0 loss to New England, and ball watching has been the preferred tactic of Jamison Olave and Elias Vasquez in the center of defense. The Fire will regret not having the speed of Accam as he sits this one out with a suspension, but if Igboananike and Amarikwa get the start they should prove a handful for this RSL backline. They can break into space easily or at least draw set piece opportunities as RSL looks to slow up play with fouls.
Olave and Vasquez seem to handle themselves well on dead ball situations but if Maloney and Shipp can put quality balls in from live play, RSL’s center backs have shown they aren’t always on the same page when the opposition moves fluidly.
Prediction: If the Fire forwards can find their shooting boots on Saturday, the game is there to be won. Rimando is a fantastic keeper, but he is not unbeatable, especially with the center back pairing in front of him. Chicago 1-0 RSL. I’ve been saying it for the last few weeks so why stop now? Guly do Prado in the 85th minute.