Many thanks to Denzel Eslinger, who is the lead author of RSL Soapbox, the SB Nation blog for Real Salt Lake. He took the time to answer a few questions about Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, and his thoughts on the keys to the game this Saturday.
1. Real Salt Lake seem to be hitting their stride at the right moment as teams make their final push for a playoff spot. What do you think has been the difference as of late?
A. Well it is about finally getting a group of guys on the pitch who have played more than a handful of matches together, between injuries, national team call ups, and the never ending string of bizarre red cards it has been hard to get the same players on the pitch. I think was was really clear in our midfield, first we lose Javier Morales and while the team was looking for a way to attempt to fill that void by using a number of different players, Andy Williams, Collen Warner, Nelson Gonzalez, Arturo Alvarez, and Luis Gil in a number of different combinations with what had become our regular starters of Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, and Ned Grabavoy, the injuries and call ups kept hitting us. Finally it was Luis Gil, a 17 yr old who started to distinguish himself from the pack as a creative player strong enough to claim that top spot in the diamond. Of course then Ned went out with an injury and Will had some big call ups for the Canadian National Team, but when RSL has been able to go with a midfield of Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil, and Will Johnson the results have been fairly good.
I also think getting Jamison Olave back from the injury he suffered in the MLS All Star Game, you remember that when he handled Wayne Rooney with little problem, then you toss in a in form, and fully recovered Alvaro Saborio and all of a sudden RSL are back on track. It could get even better within a few weeks as Javier Morales may be back able to play soon.
2. I realize this is probably one of the more generic questions one could ask in regards to any sports team but I think it’s a bit more interesting in regards to Real Salt Lake as they have a couple of legitimate candidates. Who’s the team’s MVP this year?
A. I think it is a toss up between 3 guys this year, Kyle Beckerman who is having a great year on both sides of the ball but whose contributions on offense over the last couple months have him on the radar of league MVP candidates as well. Then there is Nick Rimando, again this year he has simply proven himself as one of the best keepers in the league and every match he seems to find a way to do the incredible, and finally Fabian Espindola, he has been such a work horse this year for the team. When others have been injured or out of form he has made up for it by simply going 110% and working harder than I have ever seen him work, his energy and passion are contagious in a good way.
3. Saturday’s game is obviously a huge match for both teams. What does Real Salt Lake have to do this weekend to come out of Rio Tinto with a win against Sporting Kansas City?
A. Well the first key will be getting off to a solid start, for RSL the team has had some matches where the first 15-20 minutes are a bit rough, so with a team that has as many dangerous offensive weapons that Sporting has, it will be important for RSL to get off to a good start. SKC have only gotten a single win when they have give up the first goal, while RSL are 13-2-1 when scoring first.
Then there is the dealing with the physical issues, Sporting is a big and physical team, so for me limiting the number of set pieces will be one of the keys as well as the number of balls played into the area will be huge keys for RSL. With Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara, and C.J. Sapong all over 6' and with some dangerous speed it will be a handful for our defenders, this means we will need to be very disruptive in the midfield and try to not allow the ball to be moved into our final third easily.
A couple of things that I think will play in RSL's favor: the travel, only once in the past 12 matches have Sporting had to leave home, so their routines will clearly be disrupted a bit. The crowd, this will likely be a sell out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium and as we have seen with other teams that can be a very tough thing to overcome. Elevation, with as much running and work as Sporting tend to do during a match, the elevation could really be a factor late in the halves.
Finally, it should play to RSL's advantage that they have been able to string together some very good results. They all know that this is a huge match and this is a team that they could see again in the playoffs, there also are some issues from the preseason that flared up last month again and may show up again. RSL players, staff, and fans have a long memory and I expect all 3 will be ready for a great battle on Saturday.