Well, the news is out, and it’s not pretty; Josh Saunders suffered a torn ACL at last Saturday’s match in Frisco, Texas against FC Dallas, likely bringing his season with RSL to an early end. Adding insult to injury (or maybe just injury), Academy newcomer Carlos Salcedo will be unavailable after having gall bladder surgery RSL Soapbox reported last night.
Now, I’m not at all concerned about Saunders’ absence. I feel bad about his injury and that he’ll have to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines, but in terms of capable goalkeepers, Jeff Attinella more than proved himself when he stepped up in Saunders’ place. But, I will amend the prediction I made with regard to transfers — if RSL had made a signing while Palmer was out with a red, it would have made sense to get an outside back with centerback capabilities (they did actually make a signing; Academy forward Benji Lopez got signed to the senior team), but now what RSL really needs is another centerback.
On the other hand, going into the Sporting KC match may see Real Salt Lake trying yet another formation, namely a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. In either case RSL would be able to have two defensive backs available on the bench — an outside back and a centerback — instead of being stripped bare by injuries.
Sporting KC is a phenomenal team. It’s going to be tough to break them down defensively. And then there’s a guy named Graham Zusi — you may have heard of him, he occasionally plays with the US Men’s National Team. Not that I think we should expect any injuries, but I’m still nervous when Aaron Maund is playing instead of any of our other centerbacks. Yes, he had a great game last time he started, but that doesn’t make me feel any more secure. So here are a few ways the lineup could go:
Real plays the normal diamond formation that everyone knows and loves. This gives them familiarity, everyone knows their roles. We’d probably see a lineup like this:
Jeff Attinella; Lovel Palmer, Nat Borchers, Aaron Maund, Chris Wingert; Yordany Alvarez, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Javier Morales; Joao Plata, Robbie Findley
This is more or less the lineup we’ve seen through the majority of the season with a few different players swapped in for the absences. This leaves us without any center defenders on the bench with only Abdoulie Mansally being an available defender to substitute in.
RSL has gone this route before and it was relatively successful, albeit a bit shaky at times. But in my observation, 3 forwards up top seems to play well into how Devon Sandoval likes to play, so we might see something like this:
Jeff Attinella; Lovel Palmer, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Yordany Alvarez, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Javier Morales; Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval, Robbie Findley
This would allow Joao and Robbie to use their speed up the flanks and shoot the ball to Devon in the middle. I’m keeping Gil in these lineups not because I think he’s the best selection but because I think he’s the most likely selection. I’d love to see Velasquez get the start instead, but I’m not the one who makes those choices and I think it’s much more probable that Kries will play Gil and maybe put Velasquez in at the 60th minute. We’ve seen Real Salt Lake switch to a 3-4-3 at least twice this season, once in the 1-1 tie at home against the Rapids and once in US Open Cup play in the 5-2 win against the Charleston Battery which may well have contributed to the victory.
This is what I’d like to see, and I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question. It’s basically a modification of what we saw on Saturday. We know the back line will be at a reduced strength, so we keep two defensive midfielders on to help out and push up field with 3 attacking midfielders and two forwards. It would probably look something like this:
Jeff Attinella; Lovel Palmer, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Yordany Alvarez, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Javier Morales, Sebastian Velasquez; Joao Plata, Robbie Findley
The midfield is identical to Saturday’s match. Palmer is much more of a defensive back than Mansally (though he’s been pushing up field more and more lately), so we still have a solid back line with the ability to move upfield when play calls for it. Then we have the two-pronged threat of Robbie Findley and Joao Plata, both who are able to get down the field quickly and make things happen. Granted, both Findley and Plata have been somewhat underperforming in the goals department, but Grabavoy was able to snatch a goal last week from a CDM position and Yordany got his first career goal this season as a defensive midfielder as well. RSL is not the same team they were last season where you can only really expect goals to come from the forwards (or, you know, forward as the case may be…).
What are RSL’s chances of winning against KC? I don’t know. It’s a tough one to call. The next several games are going to be battles and they are going to be gut wrenching and exciting. Assuming no more injuries crop up and they can hold on to the end of the month when Saborio, Beckerman, Rimando and Beltran return from Gold Cup duties, Real will be in pretty good shape. Not that they aren’t now, of course. The depth of this squad has been something to behold and the performance of some of these guys has been outstanding. There is no “B” team this year on Real Salt Lake — every player has a more or less equal right to play on the field which has been demonstrated numerous times this season. As a fan, I’m still waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under us and everything to collapse, but so far, that has not happened. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Re: centerback signing…
Aaron Falk, the main sportswriter who covers Real Salt Lake for the Salt Lake Tribune, tweeted this Tuesday afternoon:
So, it would seem another centerback may be forthcoming.