RSL has a bit of a break — they don’t play until next Saturday — but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking ahead at what we might expect.
Gold Cup matches are taking 4 of our starters out of the lineup for what could be the entirety of July. Barring the MLS Disciplinary Committee rescinding the red card issued to Lovel Palmer in the Union match on Wednesday (it could happen; we saw the second yellow given to Carlos Salcedo taken back and given, instead, to Tony Beltran earlier this year), we can expect to be out one more player in our already thinned-out back line against FC Dallas (and possibly more). But let’s take a look at what do have and a possible starting 11.
In virtually every start this season — with the possible exception of the pre-season — Josh has started out a little shaky. That’s understandable; he’s gone from being the starting keeper for the LA Galaxy for the past 2 years, earning two MLS Cup trophies and a Supporters’ Shield in that time, to being number 2 to Nick Rimando. Now he’s got an extended stretch to be our number one keeper while Rimando’s with the national team and I fully expect him to step into form, especially after that mind-blowing one-on-one save against Sebastien Le Toux.
I really like Mansally. I like how quick he is and how he can play virtually any position on the field. But he can be inconsistent. Still, with Palmer likely to miss at least the next match from the red (unless we get lucky) we’re likely to see Chris Wingert move over to the right side to fill in for Tony Beltran and Abdoulie Mansally start as the left back. I don’t think we’ve seen Mansally and Wingert on the field at the same time (maybe in a reserve match), so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
After his goal of the week, his performance at home against Philidelphia…well, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t…you know…Kyle. No else one is, really, but it will be interesting to see if Jason decides to keep Yordany in as CDM, slide Grabavoy back, or go with the 4-3-3 we saw in Toronto.
Wow. He tore up the field in the last game, making an immediate, visceral impact on the game. In my mind, it would be hard to keep him out of the lineup, at least as a sub in the 60th, but even as a starter. Then there’s…
I’m not Gil’s biggest fan. But I did see his spectacular goal in Turkey on the U-20 team, and I can’t deny his second-half substitution followed by a headed goal to tie the game against the Union. He’ll probably get the start unless Kries moves Grabavoy back into a defensive position and starts both Gil and Velasquez. Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen, but I can dream.
While Plata hasn’t had a lot of “OMG awesome!” moments, what he has shown is speed and consistency, and he’s been good at feeding the ball to his teammates and being in the right places. With Sabo joining the Costa Rican national team, we’ll likely see Plata get the start again in Dallas. It’s been said by others that Joao needs to start finishing his chances, though. He currently leads the team in shots — one ahead of Kyle Beckerman — but is second to Kyle in shots on target. For a forward to be beat out in shots on target by a deep midfielder with fewer total shots (by one)…well, it doesn’t speak too highly. He needs to convert those.
When he’s hot, he’s hot, and when he’s not, I end up asking myself why did we sign him again? I’ve been waiting to be impressed by Findley all season; I’ve been wanting to be impressed by Findley, but it hasn’t happened. Now, I grant that he had some persistent injury issues at the beginning of the season and the way Kries wanted to get him through that and back to form is giving him minutes. But Robbie needs to take advantage of those minutes; he’s still lacked the kind of sparkle that we get when Olmes Garcia is on the field. Which leads to…
I will admit it: I love this kid. Even when he’s whiffing the ball, there are still other times he has moments of pure brilliance. And until Javi or Robbie get another goal, he’s still tied for most goals this season with considerably fewer minutes. As far as I’m concerned he can’t get enough minutes on the field.
Probable starting 11: Saunders; Wingert, Borchers, Salcedo, Mansally; Alvarez, Grabavoy, Gil, Morales; Plata, Findley
RSL has never won in Texas
Add to the absences is another thing that a lot of people will talk about in the next week as an argument for a sure fire FC Dallas result. A lot of people like to get excited about talking about how we’ve never won in this place or that place. I’ve never taken a dump in Texas, but that doesn’t have any bearing on my dump-taking abilities, does it? Given the right combination of circumstances, I’m sure I could take a dump in Texas just as easily as I could anywhere else. These types of conversations are ridiculous and they get blown out of proportion. On any timeline there is something that has never been done.
The other factor in this “we’ve never won in Texas” thing is the fact that most of the players going to Dallas haven’t been with the club long enough for this to be a crazy grim reaper hanging over their heads. We’ve got Morales, Borchers and maybe Findley who might be thinking about it. You know who has won in Texas — and specifically Dallas? Jason Kries. Garth Lagerwey. Jeff Cassar. You know, because they all played there.
Will it be hard? Sure. We’ll be out at least 4 starters and probably 5. It will be hot (though, it’s not as if RSL is unfamiliar with heat) and it will be humid. FC Dallas has been doing fantastic this season. But if the best we can get is one point in Dallas, it won’t be due to Texas being a fortress because we’ve never won there before. We’d never won in Canada before, either — that’s three teams — and we nixed that curse in Toronto. This is no different than any other road game. In fact, maybe our players will have a little more to prove, because they’ll want to end this no-win streak in Texas the same way they did in Toronto.
Stats don’t lie (but they don’t tell the whole truth, either)
Look, I’m not saying that where we are at the top of the tables is where we’ll stay for the rest of the season. There’s a long way to go and, frankly, I’m surprised that we’ve done as well as we have this season — a lot of people, myself included, were writing this off as a rebuilding season and looking forward to next year and a possible cup run then. As it turns out, our new players have gelled a lot faster than a lot of folks expected, and some players have stepped up and really shone this season (Grabavoy, Velasquez and Morales come to mind). People like to say that RSL takes other teams’ cast-offs and turns them into dominating forces. I like to think that we give our players the opportunity to meet their potential. I don’t know what goes on in the locker room and at training sessions. Maybe we challenge our players more. Maybe we give them more responsibility and force them to step up. Maybe it’s our team culture and maybe that’s something that’s lacking at other teams. Whatever it is, it’s in full gear right now, and I don’t see the next 2 months against some of the best teams in the league (FC Dallas, Sporting KC, NY Red Bulls, the conclusion to the Rocky Mountain Cup in Colorado, Portland three times in August, with the Dynamo, Galaxy and Crew in between) being a challenge that will necessarily be the end of this great run.