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.
The near-month long road trip continues on Saturday evening for FC Dallas (7-11-8, 29 points) as they head to the Wasatch Mountains to face Real Salt Lake (13-9-3, 42 points).
Real Salt Lake is coming off two straight losses in league play and a third in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage – all losses were on the road. RSL is 9-3-1 this season at Rio Tinto Stadium – their last home loss was back at the end of June when the San Jose Earthquakes beat them 2-1.
RSL has the edge in the season series with FC Dallas this season going 1-0-1. The previous meeting between these two sides was a 3-2 win for RSL back in May. Nat Borchers scored a stoppage-time goal after Dallas had pulled it all level on a Blas Perez goal just minutes before hand.
Dallas is hoping to extend their current winning streak of two games on Saturday after beating the Colorado Rapids 3-2 last weekend and the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 on Wednesday.
Banged up in key spots
Just as in the previous match between these two sides, manager Jason Kreis may have to do some line up juggling.
Midfielder Javier Morales is listed as questionable with adductor tightness (thigh/hip). He was pulled earlier from RSL’s previous game at Vancouver last weekend in the early stages of the second half. Should he not be able to go RSL could have to turn to someone like Luis Gil in the midfield to run the attack.
Defender Jamison Olave is also listed on the injury report and could be big hole to fill in the back. In the Vancouver game Kreis had to turn to Kwame Watson-Siriboe to fill in for Olave. Watson-Siriboe showed well in his fifth start with RSL. He paired up nicely at times with Borchers in the center of the defense.
Another potential miss could be midfielder Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson. Both were out in the midweek with their respective countries playing in international friendlies. Beckerman was with the US National team that pulled off a historic upset of Mexico in Mexico City.
Johnson played a solid game for Canada, going the full 90 in the midfield and scoring a penalty kick goal in the 86th minute of Canada’s 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in Lauderhill, Fla.
Two other players saw international duty on Wednesday for RSL. Striker Alvaro Saborio played for his native Costa Rica in a 1-0 loss against nine-man Peru. Keeper Nick Rimando was on the bench for the US win in Mexico.
All four players who had international duty on Wednesday should be expected to go but they may not be quite at 100% come game-time due to the quick turn-around between games.
Dallas may experience the same situation with Brek Shea, Carlos Rodriguez and Julian de Guzman.
Filling in the gaps elsewhere
Kreis and his bunch have had a tough few games as of late. RSL is 4-6-1 in their last 11 games dating back to the FIFA break in early June. Look for his lineup to be a little patchwork again on Saturday due to RSL’s involvement in the Champions League group stage. RSL’s next group stage game comes next Tuesday.
Defensively RSL should go with Rimando in goal with a defensive group of Chris Wingert, Watson-Siriboe, Borchers and Tony Beltran. In the midfield diamond will be Beckman in the defensive holding role behind Gil in the attacking position; Johnson and Ned Grabavoy will man the wings. Up front will be Saborio and Fabian Espindola.
Kreis has several options off his bench as well in strikers Justin Braun and Pablo Jr., midfielders Jonny Steele, Kenny Mansally, and Yordany Alvarez.
Keys to the three points
The injuries and international call-ups could play a huge factor for both clubs on Saturday.
Salt Lake is 11-1-0 this season when scoring first – so gaining an early lead will be huge for Dallas who is 3-8-0 when allowing the first goal. Dallas will want to shut down Saborio, who has scored six goals in his last six games.
The recent success for Dallas has centered around getting David Ferreira involved early and finding Fabian Castillo on the wings in space. Dallas will want to involve the two Colombians in the attack and try to emulate what Vancouver was able to do a week ago against this Salt Lake defense by spreading them out in the attack and using speed up front to get chances on goal.
Lastly, Dallas will want to keep a cool head in this one. Staying out of the center official’s pocket will go a long way in getting points in this one.