Guest columnist Drew Epperley is the founder and editor of WVHooligan.com. His blog covers everything MLS and U.S. Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @WVHooligan.
FC Dallas (3-7-4, 13 points) finish out another three games in eight days stretch as they visit Real Salt Lake (8-3-2, 26 points) on Saturday (8 p.m. CT on FSSW).
A lot has changed for both sides since their 1-1draw back in April. Jason Kreis’ club has not lost since that game and are unbeaten in their last five games.
RSL is also coming off a nice break from play as their last game was May 12 – a 1-0 win at CenturyLink Field in Seattle against the Sounders.
Dallas is currently winless in their last eight games and have yet to win a game at Rio Tinto Stadium since it opened in 2008.
Depth to be tested
Jason Kreis will be without a few key players for this match.
International call-ups have left Kreis without midfielders Kyle Beckerman (US) and Will Johnson (Canada), goalkeeper Nick Rimando (US) and forward Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).
If losing those four to international duty wasn’t enough, Salt Lake will also be missing veteran attacking midfielder Javier Morales and possibly full back Chris Wingert as well.
Morales is said to be out for at least another week with a quadriceps injury. Wingert could return Saturday but he has been battling a hamstring issue of his own.
Expect Kries to turn to Luis Gil in the midfield for Morales and possibly Chris Schuler in the back for Wingert. Both players have seen plenty of solid minutes this season.
Backup 'keeper Kyle Reynish will likely be in goal for Salt Lake. He has subbed in for Rimando once this season – picking up a scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire.
Replacing Beckerman in the midfield won’t be an easy task for Kreis. So far Beckerman has played in every minute this season for Salt Lake. Look for Cuban midfielder Yordany Alvarez to fill in for Beckerman in the defensive side of the midfield.
Either Jonny Steele or Sebastian Velasquez could slide into the left wing for Johnson. Paulo Jr. should fill in up top for Saborio as well.
Defensively still strong
Even with all the changes in the midfield and up front, Kreis should still be able to turn to his usual crop of defenders in this game. RSL is one of the best in the league at the moment – they are coming into this game on the heels of two straight shutouts.
Center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave make up one of the best defensive partnerships in Major League Soccer. Their size and physical nature give them a tough one-two punch in the back for any attack to deal with.
Olave also brings a surprising burst of speed to his game as well. His ability to track down speedy forwards is one of his more underrated qualities.
Full back Tony Beltran will once again man the right back position, opposite Wingert or Schuler.
Keys to the three points
While injuries and international call-ups will play a factor in this game for RSL, so too will the amount of rest this club has gotten these last two weeks. RSL will hope to use this to their advantage with FC Dallas coming off a midweek game.
RSL loves to use their physical play in the back and through the midfield to dictate the pace of the game. Dallas will need to counter this with their brand of toughness in the midfield.
Dallas will also want to take advantage of the newcomers on the field for RSL by forcing them into early mistakes and taking them off their game as quickly as possible.
Overall, Dallas really just needs to get back to basics here to end this current rut. Play with pace, play to the strengths of the club up top with Blas Perez and play smart overall. Schellas Hyndman will be preaching all of those things come Saturday night.