Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on Upcoming Match: RSL –vs- Chicago

Real Salt Lake takes on Chicago Fire this weekend in the Eastern Conference Finals showdown. The match will be shown Saturday at 6 PM on FSC. 

Much focus will be put on Chicago standout and Designated Player, Cuahtemoc Blanco.  He brings three important elements to the table:

  • His ability to pick out teammates in dangerous positions.
  • Deadline set piece capabilities.
  • The ability to draw fouls, setting up free kicks in situations near the goal area.

However, it’s important to point out that Blanco, like Schelotto, is a defensive liability and it will be important for RSL to take advantage of the open space in transition.

Chicago’s 5-4-6 home record this season is less than stellar.  They actually gave up 1 more goal (17) than they scored at home.  Not what you would expect from the second place team in the East.  Like Columbus before, Chicago is also not in their best form of the season, after starting out on a torrid unbeaten streak in the first 11 matches. 

Marco Pappa should scare you – if he doesn’t, you haven’t seen enough of him.  He was stellar at the end of last season.  He also started off on fire this season, but has trailed off later in the season.  His ability to create, and work with the ball at his feet is at the head of the class in the MLS.  Between his creative ability and Blanco’s, they can come at a team from many angles. He’ll get his opportunities bringing the ball in from the wing, and it will be important for the RSL defense to close him down quickly.

Another potent combination is that of Blanco and McBride, but its the blue-collar John Thorrington that helps to tie things together.  Offensively, he makes runs off of McBride’s knock-down plays, and defensively he helps to fill in the holes that Blanco causes by his freedom from defensive responsibility.

The backline is not nearly as solid as it once was.  With Bakary Samare making a rash departure to Europe and Wilman Conde and Gonzolo Segares have not yet returned to the pitch after late season injuries.

Andy Williams will have the chance to put away another one of his former teams this week after helping to down the Crew last week.  In addition, Will Johnson has a chance at vindication against a club that he clearly resented prior to his departure to Europe for offering him a developmental contract, when it was clear that he had earned a full roster spot.

I hate to do this, but I think RSL will struggle to keep Chicago out of the net at home.  I’m also not completely sold on the team’s ability to score in bunches on the road (despite the 3 goals last week).  I’m predicting a 1-1 regular time draw, and I’m afraid if it comes to that Chicago has too much going in their favor at home.  Heart says RSL, head says Chicago.  I hope I’m wrong.