Looking Ahead: Rocky Mountain Cup Game 3 – RSL at Colorado Rapids

kwame-rmcNo time to recap the Red Bulls game — I got back from California a couple days ago and got to watch the replay of the loss on MLS Live after getting back from WordCamp SF (if you want to read about that, head over to my main blog). All I’m going to say about that is pretty much an echo of Jason Kreis’ post-game comments and the analasys on RSL Soapbox — the defense was lacking. I thought Mansally had an iffy game and there were several critical plays where Maund flubbed. I was really hoping for a different formation to take advantage of the players we had available rather than suffering for those we were missing and, yeah, that didn’t happen either. On the one hand, welcome back Sabo — scores a hat trick on his first game back — but it says something specifically about how your defense is playing if you can pull off a hat trick and still lose the game. With that in mind, here’s what to look forward to in tomorrow’s game, the last leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup.

Gold Cup players are back…except when they aren’t

RSL’s players are back! Hooray! This is good news, but it doesn’t solve all Real Salt Lake’s problems. Tony Beltran will be out, serving his suspension from before he left for national duty. Wingert will still be serving his suspension and I just heard the fantastic news that Yordany Alvarez is also suspended (though, as of the time of this post, it isn’t reflected on the disciplinary report on mlssoccer.com but that may change later today). That’s okay, though, because I was really hoping he wouldn’t play tomorrow anyway — at the Gold Cup, a lot of what Kyle did was clean up so things never needed to get any further in their territory than the middle of the pitch, keeping the pressure off the back line, that’s exactly what RSL is needing right now with how shaky their back four have been playing.

But with Beltran and Wingert out that means we’ll see — for better or for worse — Mansally and Palmer again. Lately, it’s been Palmer who’s been impressing me more than Abdoulie, but we’ll see which version of Abdoulie walks onto the pitch on Saturday — the exciting, aggressive Mansally who gets involved in plays all over the pitch and serves in balls from the outside, or the one that gets caught out, makes bad tackles and ends up in the wrong places at the wrong times.

Another place where having RSL’s missing players back will be significant improvement is in goal. Having played 45 minutes of the All Star Game on Wednesday, Nick will be much more rested than if he played the full game, though travelling from Chicago to Kansas City to Colorado with very little time in between and hardly any time to train with the team will be rough. Still, I expect to see him get the start over Jeff Attinella on Saturday. Nothing against how Attinella has played, but Nick is one of the best in the league — especially against PKs — and you have to think that had that been Nick in Jeff’s place, at least one of those Espindola penalties wouldn’t have gone in.

RSL needs to win to keep the cup

This is the last leg in the series, it’s away, and RSL is down 0-1-1 in the Rocky Mountain Cup. That means only a win will keep the cup in Salt Lake. Will that be enough to drive the skeleton crew making the trip to Colorado to a win? I hope so. Even if RSL loses, it doesn’t necessarily knock them out of the running for Supporters’ Shield or the playoffs, but putting an end to these late-game goals and not closing out matches will only help things moving forward.  In the history of the RMC, Colorado has held it only the first two years, with Real keeping the cup in Utah since 2007. It would be unfortunate to lose that in what may end up being one of Real’s most successful seasons.

Starting 11

Will Carlos Salcedo be back from his gall bladder removal? Will Brandon McDonald get the start? Who will be up top with Sabo; Plata, Findley or Garcia? I think we’re likely to see a more familiar lineup for Saturday but here’s the thing: RSL has 2 more tough games to play after this — Portland on Wednesday for the US Open Cup, and Houston in a week. Decisions about lineups and formations made today will affect the selections for those two matches. And here’s some more food for thought: both times this season when RSL has played the Rapids, Kreis has played with the formation — pulling Mansally out for Khari Stephenson in the last meeting and putting on Devon Sandoval for Lovel Palmer in the first leg. Will we see a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 in Colorado?

4-4-2 Diamond

I expect Kreis to play the standard formation, but I’m going to throw out a 3-4-3 possible lineup just for fun. If Jason goes with the old standard, I’m guessing this is who we’ll see:

Rimando; Mansally, Borchers, McDonald, Palmer; Beckerman, Gil, Morales, Grabavoy; Plata, Saborio

Why Plata over Findley? Mostly because I haven’t seen anything out of Robbie lately that’s impressed me. Ditto for McDonald over Maund — that’s what I’m hoping for, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Maund gets the nod over McDonald or Salcedo anyway.

3-4-3

It’s possible Jason would start out with an alternate formation. It’s also possible — and maybe more likely — that he switches later in the game. If so, could we see some variation of this?

Rimando; Palmer, Borchers, McDonald; Beckerman, Gil, Morales, Grabavoy; Plata, Saborio, Garcia

Plata and Garcia are great at getting down the pitch and serving the ball in. In any kind of formation in which there are 3 strikers up top, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Plata and Garcia on the outside.

This is a game that RSL can win. The only explanation I can see for why the series is this close at all is because when they met Colorado the last two times, it was still at the beginning of the season and the younger players had yet to really start to sparkle. Now they’re in a run of not-so-fantastic form preceding this last leg. Colorado hasn’t done horribly this season, but they aren’t a team that should cause RSL a ton of problems, either. Colorado has scored 2 goals over the past two games in the series to Salt Lake’s lone goal — Real scored more goals in New York, surely they can come up with some in Colorado.

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