Being without three US national team starters (with Costa Rica knocked out of the Gold Cup, Alvaro Saborio should be available for selection) and competing against one of the best teams in the east is tough. Being without RSL’s veteran outside backs — actually, in point of fact, both outside backs — will be even harder. Chris Wingert will miss Saturday’s game as well as one additional game for yellow card accumulation on top of the red card he received last week. Oh, and Lovel Palmer might be out with injury as well.
Because speculation is fun(!), let’s go back and look at some possible alternate formations for Saturday’s game.
Okay, so if RSL played the diamond and Palmer is actually out, who we see in the back four will be pretty interesting because it will be a centerback not used to playing an outside back or a midfielder filling in. Maybe Yordany Alvarez slides back and plays right back. That’s about the only thing that makes a whole lot of sense from our midfield roster. Alternately, I’m sure Carlos Salcedo is up for anything, and — being young — maybe he’s got room to be flexible, so assuming his gall bladder isn’t giving him issues, we could see him play right back with Borchers and either Maund or RSL’s newest acquisition, Brandon McDonald, in the center. I don’t feel very confident about this formation just because Real doesn’t have any outside backs left, at least if Palmer is really injured.
Possible starting 11: Attinella; Mansally, Borchers, Maund, Salcedo; Alvarez, Gil, Grabavoy, Morales; Findley, Saborio
Hey, they could do that 3-5-2 formation I talked about in my last post! This formation is sort of the best of the 4-3-3 and the 4-5-1 we’ve seen RSL try out this season. They keep a normal back line of experienced center backs, put Grabavoy and Alvarez in holding midfield positions — both have shown they know how to score from there — and you have both 3 attacking midfielders and two forwards at the top. It would be a really positive and aggressive lineup, despite essentially having five defenders.
Possible starting 11: Attinella; Borchers, McDonald, Maund; Alvarez, Grabavoy, Gil, Morales, Velasquez; Findley, Saborio
Or they could go with a 3-4-3 — which they’ve done at least once after pulling out Aaron Maund who was playing really badly that game. I’m not sure, with the strikers that will be available, that this is particularly likely. I’ve said before that Devon Sandoval seems to like this formation better as a center forward, but with Sabo back, it’s unlikely we’d see him getting a start. So, if Kreis went this route, it would more likely be Plata, Sabo, Findley up top, which doesn’t actually sound all that bad.
Possible starting 11: Attinella; Borchers, McDonald, Maund; Alvarez, Gil, Grabavoy, Morales; Plata, Saborio, Findley
Coming off the loss at home against KC, the guys are going to be hungry and I don’t really see the Red Bulls as being an insurmountable obstacle even with the injuries and absences — certainly not as much as KC was. The Red Bulls have had mixed success this year. Admittedly, I haven’t watched any of their games in the past couple months but Fabi was doing that thing that Fabi does where he looks fantastic for a few games and then not-so-much for other games. Peguy Luyindula looked pretty good paired up with Thierry Henry, but he hasn’t been getting the starts since early this season which means that the Red Bulls goal-scoring forwards are Henry and Espindola. That said, if you look at the top five goal-scorers for each team you have Thierry Henry (7) then a steep drop-off to Tim Cahill (5), Fabian Espindola (4), Jamison Olave (4) and Jonny Steele (tied with Eric Alexander and Dax McCarty) (2). 22 goals among the top scorers. Real Salt Lake has 3 players tied with 5 goals apiece in Javier Morales, Olmes Garcia and Robbie Findley, and Alvaro Saborio and Ned Grabavoy tied with 4 each. With international call-ups and injuries, Sabo hasn’t been seeing much time and Garcia isn’t a regular starter, which makes it all the more interesting that both of them are among RSL’s leading goalscorers, which totals 23 between them. Containing Henry (and Olave on set pieces) will be crucial to winning this game — if RSL can do that, they have a good chance of coming away with 3 points on the road.
The thing is, the Red Bulls defense is a mess, even with Olave back there — or at least they were earlier this season — and it’s not hard to imagine RSL restraining the attack of Henry and Espindola and breaking down the Red Bulls’ defence to see the back of the net. I don’t know if knowing and playing with Jonny Steele, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola makes it easier or harder to play against, but I would suspect that being familiar with those players — and their styles — would make it easier to anticipate their movements. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be an interesting game.