Stumptown Footy: Real Salt Lake have really struggled to string together wins this season and are well off the playoff pace at 1.22 points per game, so what needs to happen for RSL to get back in playoff contention?
RSL Soapbox: The season thus far has been especially frustrating to a fanbase that is used to a consistently good team that competes for trophies. We have gotten so accustomed to making the MLS Playoffs that I think many fans took it for granted. I have been saying for a while now that if RSL does not start to string together some wins by the end of July, we will be in serious trouble as far as playoff contention goes. The biggest issue thus far has been injuries. In fact, RSL has yet to start their preferred XI. Now that the forwards are back and healthy, the offense is looking much better. The defense is still depleted. RSL may finally get their best players on the field when they are already in a tough spot. It will be a dramatic second half of the season.
SF: Who are Real Salt Lake missing for this match and how are they going to fill those gaps?
RSLS: RSL will be missing three key players for this match: Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, and Alvaro Saborio. All of them are out on international duty, but all of them have capable backups. Jeff Attinella is arguably the best backup keeper in MLS. He has covered for Rimando many times before and has done an admirable job. These days it looks like John Stertzer will cover for Beckerman and he is really coming into his own this year. As for Saborio, there are a couple of forwards that can take the center forward position. I would expect to see Devon Sandoval tonight and Sebastian Jaime thereafter. These are all great players, but clearly it is difficult to replace and perfectly replicate players that are good enough to be consistently called up to their respective national teams.
SF: Real Salt Lake has only scored seventeen goals in MLS so far this season; what is going on with the attack and where should the goals be coming from?
RSLS: Joao Plata was injured for nearly the first half of the season. He picked up an injury on the first day of training and it has been a headache for RSL fans ever since. It was ironic that he picked up the exact same injury that kept Alvaro Saborio out for four months in 2014. Plata was RSL's leading scorer in 2014 and signed some sort of DP contract over the offseason. He has all the potential in the world and is a game-changer when he comes on the field for Salt Lake. Luckily, Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Jaime seem to finally be finding their form having both scored a couple of goals over the past few games. Plata looks sharper every game and the offense is finally starting to produce chances and, thank goodness, goals. When Javier Morales is creating with the likes of Saborio, Plata, and Jaime, it is a potent and creative attack. We simply haven't had them all on the field together yet for any meaningful amount of time.
We also returned the favor and answered three of their questions.
Stumptown Footy: Well, you can't put it all on Johnson, but the Timbers are so far 4-0-0 when he is on the pitch this year. Johnson is the emotional core of the Timbers, but more than that he is a skilled player both on defense and in the attack, and his ability to transition from one to the other is among the best in the Timbers line up.
So, yeah, pretty good so far, but you probably won't see him in this one as he is still limited by his recovery from the tibia-fibula break he suffered in September of last year.
How Johnson fits in tactically also comes into play. For much of the last three years, the Timbers have played a game that is very dependent on creating holes and space in which to work by overloading certain parts of the field then switching the ball away from those areas. Johnson, and his pinpoint long range passing, make those tactic work much better as he is able to do precisely in one pass, what others might take two or three passes to accomplish.
SF: The Timbers of March were a strong defensive side who were prone to the occasional mistake but had a consistently misfiring attack. They were missing some steel in their game and some creativity going forward. In short, they were missing Diego Valeri and Will Johnson and nobody was really stepping up to fill that void.
Now, the Timbers have ironed out the kinks in their defense, Valeri and Johnson back, and a number of players have stepped up their game, giving the Timbers an absurd number of realistic lineup choices for this packed in run of five games in two and a half weeks. The team is in a great run of form, aberrant loss to the LA Galaxy notwithstanding, and there is every expectation here that the Timbers are capable of this level of play for the remainder of the season.
SF: Disbelief. Amusement. Schadenfreude. Mostly schadenfreude. It was just such an unreal moment and there was so much going on that the fact that Dempsey tearing up the ref's notebook seemed like it couldn't possibly have happened, until you watched the replay and saw that, yup, that just happened. It was really a magical moment to witness, knowing that the Seattle Sounders had gone completely off the rails. The only thing better would be if the Timbers were to subsequently put an absolute beat-down on the Sounder in league play...
Anyway, Caleb Porter wants to win this thing because A) Caleb Porter wants to win everything and B) the Timbers are starved for hardware. The team's trophy cabinet is looking pretty bare and to win the U.S. Open Cup would certainly be a good start. Plus, it is within grasp: four games to play in a single elimination tournament is very doable, as opposed to sixteen remaining games for the Timbers in the regular season if they want to somehow take the Supporters Shield off of D.C. United who are essentially playing NASL/USL-level teams over in the Eastern Conference, or sixteen games plus at least five more to make a run through the playoffs for the MLS Cup.