Hudson River Blue caught up with Lucas Muller of Wasatch Soccer Sentinel, the successor to SB Nation’s RSL Soapbox, to learn more about what’s going on with Real Salt Lake, New York City FC’s opponent tomorrow in Matchday 17: Here’s your NYCFC vs Real Salt Lake preview.
1. Unhappy times at Rio Tinto
Hudson River Blue: Real Salt Lake look like they’re having a frustrating year. They sit in ninth place, just inside the playoff zone, but they’re winless at home in their last four MLS league games with two draws and two losses. What’s the mood in the Beehive State?
Lucas Muller: The mood around RSL is fairly negative. There have certainly been some fun moments this season, but the inconstancy seems to confirm to fans that this team has some real holes in it. This is the second year in a row where RSL have failed to replace their top goal scorer (Albert Rusnak left after 2021, and Sergio Cordova left after 2022), and there are real questions around the FO’s ability, or ownership support, to bring in a good striker.
The home loss to the Galaxy last Wednesday was a real shock. Rio Tinto had been seen as a fortress for much of the 2010s, and to suffer a home defeat to last-place LA was tough. But that was immediately followed by RSL’s first-ever road win in Austin, so there’s a real sense of uncertainty around the result in any game right now.
2. Bad defense, bad
HRB: Even more worrying is the defense. Real have allowed 27 goals in 16 games, which tie them for third-worst in MLS. What needs to be fixed? Or do the numbers lie?
LM: RSL are a bad team defensively and there’s no doubt about that. Last season their defense was one of their strengths. The sale of right-back Aaron Herrera to Montreal remains a head-scratcher. They did replace him with Brayan Vera (who can play both left back and center back) and they retained Bryan Oviedo (primarily a left back), and that allows Andrew Brody to play on the right.
The main issue in my mind is the midfield. No one, outside of Scott Caldwell, who isn’t great and doesn’t see a ton of minutes, is a real defensive midfielder. Pablo Ruiz is RSL’s best midfield option, but his work behind the ball simply isn’t his strong suit. If the midfield can contribute more in defense, then results should improve.
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3. One to Watch: Andres Gomez
HRB: Jefferson Savarino is your leading goalscorer, and last week Rubio Rubín scored two against Austin on the road. Which other players should we look out for on gameday?
LM: Jefferson Savarino is RSL’s best player. He’s creative and can score from multiple spots. Danny Musovski has started to look like the team’s most dangerous center forward. He scored a few in US Open Cup play already and has been involved more and more with RSL’s chance creation.
Another one to watch is Andres Gomez. He’s a 20-year-old winger from Colombia and he’s able to pull out some impressive goals himself. He’s also good about getting back when RSL are out of possession, which is something Sava struggles to do. Since he didn’t start for RSL over the weekend, I expect him (and Savarino) to start in this game.
4. The X-Factor: Damir Kreilach
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide Saturday’s match?
LM: For me it’s Damir Kreilach. RSL’s captain has slowly been working himself back into the team after missing most of last season with a back injury. He’s now 34 and isn’t as quick as he once was, though his game was never really built on speed. He often feels disconnected from the game, but he’s good at organizing the press, so when RSL are attacking, he’s an asset. If he’s able to get a good header or crash late into the box, that will change things for RSL.
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5. RSL Starting XI
HRB: Prediction time: Lineup, score?
LM: RSL with a 2-1 win.