The Union head to Rio Tinto for their only match this season against RSL and play them away for the first time since a 1-0 loss in 2017. Getting us caught up on RSL is Lucas Muller, an editor at fellow SB Nation site RSL Soapbox. You can see my answers to his questions about the Union on the RSL Soapbox site.
How is this team different than the team that the Union beat 4-1 last season?
Much like 2018, the 2019 iteration of Real Salt Lake are consistently inconsistent. That 4-1 loss was right after a win and followed by three wins. We’re seeing similar results this year, though the offseason moves do feel like an upgrade. The biggest issue for RSL in 2018 was the lack of a true center forward. Rookie Corey Baird and MLS newcomer Damir Kreilach did well to step into that role, but it’s not the ideal spot for either player.
The signing of Liberian forward Sam Johnson has been a huge value add. The 26 year old is the first true striker the club has had since Alvaro Saborio was traded to DC United in 2015. He’s been a breath of fresh air for the attack and leads the team with 8 goals this season. Luckily for Union fans, he’s injured and unlikely to feature in this game.
Two other valuable players that are new to the team are Donny Toia and Everton Luiz. Toia is a 27 year old left back who was a homegrown product for RSL, but was released before ever seeing minutes with the team. His addition to RSL has allowed Aaron Herrera to shift from left to right back, which is his natural position. Everton Luiz is an absolute destroyer in the midfield. The Brazilian bounced around Europe before coming to RSL on loan. He was injured for a stretch, but when he’s fit, he changes the game for Real.
RSL has had some impressive wins this year over teams like Atlanta, Toronto, and SKC. What’s been the key to success when you’ve beaten good teams?
RSL are a much stronger team at home and all those wins came at Rio Tinto Stadium. In my mind, the Atlanta and Toronto wins felt more similar than the win over Sporting Kansas City, who our fans very much dislike. In the ATL and TOR wins, Jefferson Savarino and Bofo Saucedo both scored. Some of those goals were truly incredible. The team did a good job of attacking from the wings and were able to create some real magic, even from outside the box. In the win over Kansas City, it felt like the Sam Johnson had the finishing touch, though other players did much of the work. He scored both goals in the game, but that first goal was something the team had worked on in practice and I was able to see them do something almost exactly the day before in training. A lot of credit goes to the coaching staff for that goal.
The team has conceded a fair number of goals this season, but the backline has grown a lot this year and when they’re on point, they can put together some incredible performances. Those games serve as great examples of a backline in form.
Coming off of a tough loss in the 93rd minute to San Jose, how do you expect this team to respond?
That loss was a huge disappointment and it should light a fire under the team. They played well throughout that game, but a quick corner was all it took for San Jose to snatch all three points at the death. They’re a team that’s better than that kind of lapse and they know it. Being at home is always a huge boost and Mike Petke won’t be happy about that result. The Union will certainly be a tough challenge and not being able to score a goal without Johnson is a concern. If they can lineup like they did last year, with Kreilach as a false 9, that may be their best plan of attack.