Denz, of SB Nation's Real Salt Lake blog RSL Soap Box, and I exchanged three questions a piece ahead of tomorrow's Philadelphia Union-RSL match at PPL Park. To read my answers to Denz's questions, click the linked text here.
SK: After starting the season off undefeated, Real Salt Lake has fallen off a bit, but still sits near the top of the Western Conference with games in hand. Can it all be blamed on Morales' injury in combination with the CONCACAF Finals emotional letdown? Or have all of the other injuries caught up with RSL?
Denz: I think it is a combination of all 3 things, having the early matches in the year was great as it provided a way for the team to be match fit in their earliest MLS matches which I think gave them a huge edge (ie the 4-1 thrashing of LA in April), but the reality of having so much pressure put on them in Champions League (by themselves, the fans, the league, and US soccer fans in general) had to lead to a let down. Even if they had won the final, I think it would have been hard to focus on the "mundane" MLS schedule after that much going on so early in the year, then you throw in the injury to Morales, and a couple of nagging injuries and it is easy to see how the routine gets off the tracks a bit.
I think most MLS teams given everything that RSL has had to deal with wouldn't be too upset to be 6-3-2 with just 6 goals allowed. It is the combined call ups and injuries that have taken a lot of our offense out of our lineup (Alvaro Saborio, Arturo Alvarez, Javier Morales, Paulo Jr, and Cody Arnoux) and even Fabian Espindola dealt with missing a couple matches with injury issues. Hard for any team to lose that much of their offensive game plan and not struggle a bit.
SK: Nick Rimando is once again one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in the league. For the Union it's the defense that makes the world go round for Faryd Mondragon, is it the same way for Rimando or has he continued to make his usually fantastic, game changing saves?
I think it is a combination, Nick does things that no keeper his size should be able to do, it is part reflexes, part knowledge, and part passion that lead to him simply being a guy that you can count on to be a game changer for your team. Then you combine that with a really good duo of centerbacks and his job become easier knowing that he has them in front of him and I think that allows him to take a few more risks in being aggressive in how he minds his net.
Let's be honest if Nick were 6'1" with his abilities he would be a regular on the USMNT, and would be playing in Europe. His vision and understanding of the game and the position are simply that good, he is one of the core that Jason Kreis built this team around and he has been a huge part of the transformation from the "lovable losers" of MLS, to a team that even when we are a bit down (the last month and a half) that nobody is going to take for granted and everyone can get excited about playing.
SK: If the Union pull out a win against RSL they will move to the top of MLS table in terms of points with 13 games played (24). What advice can you give to Union fans about the experience?
Denz: I actually consider them one of the elite teams in MLS, the fact that they have found out that you have to play defense first in order to be competitive has been a huge transformation for the Union, and the fact that they now play with that confidence (I think even more than LA or New York) will be key as the season goes along. A win would move their average per match to 1.8 points, a loss would still see them above 1.6 points per match, keeping that pace for the full season would see you land between 54 points and 61 points, both are going to securely put you into the playoffs and probably on the high end keep you in the hunt for the Supporters' Shield at the end of the season.
My only advice to your fans would be to understand that every team will have off days, that is when your team will need you more than ever. I don't know about the relationship between the Union players and the SoB and the rest of the Union fans, but I know from talking with several RSL players how important the continued support of the fans means when the team struggles or is down. I think a wise person once told me, "Don't let your highs be too high, and your lows will never seem too low".