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RSL faces tough challenge against FC Dallas

Posted on 05 November 2010 by kali

With Real Salt Lake’s season on the line and one of the team’s key attacking players unavailable for Saturday’s Western Conference semifinal match against FC Dallas (8 pm MT, Fox Soccer Channel), coach Jason Kreis might have some cause to be worried.

Or maybe not.  “I think that our team is at their absolute best when their backs are firmly against the wall,” Kreis said earlier this week.  “Now, that’s exactly where we are.”

RSL’s unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, which dates back to May 2009, has been well-documented, giving Kreis cause to be even more confident, but Dallas will present a stern challenge to Real as it seeks to advance in the MLS playoffs.  That challenge will be made tougher due to the absence of attacking midfielder Javier Morales, who is suspended for Saturday’s match after being sent off in RSL’s 2-1 loss in Dallas last weekend, particularly as Real will need to win the match outright in order to advance.

Although Morales’ seven goals and nine assists this season have been invaluable to Real’s success, winning without him isn’t exactly unprecedented.  The Argentine playmaker left last year’s MLS Cup final early through injury, a match which RSL eventually went on to win in penalty kicks; the team also earned some key results earlier in the 2010 regular season while Morales was out with a hamstring injury.

However, Will Johnson has recovered sufficiently from an injury sustained in training last week and is expected to start.  While Johnson hasn’t had the attacking production of Morales this season, his work rate and defensive capabilities will be key for RSL’s possession in the midfield. Nelson Gonzalez could be an option off the bench if an offensive spark is needed late in the match, as the young midfielder has also been on the mend and may be available on Saturday.

With Alvaro Saborio fighting to recover from a knee injury and Paulo Junior nursing a groin strain, Fabian Espindola and Robbie Findley will be the likely starters up front, while Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Andy Williams, and Ned Grabavoy are expected to start in the midfield.  2010 MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave, fellow DOTY nominee Nat Borchers, and Goalkeeper of the Year nominee Nick Rimando will spearhead the RSL defense, with Chris Wingert and Robbie Russell the likely starters on the flanks.

However, Dallas has some injury and suspension woes of its own to deal with.  Milton Rodriguez and Heath Pearce did not travel with the team to Salt Lake City, while Atiba Harris is suspended after being sent off last weekend as well.  Former academy player Ruben Luna, whose goalscoring abilities attracted attention during the Hoops’ preseason training, is set to travel in Rodriguez’s place.

Regardless of who Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman puts on the pitch, RSL must overcome the one-goal deficit from last week’s match in order to keep its title defense alive.

“We’re not going change how we do things or what we do,” Kreis said. “We’re still a very possession-oriented team, we’re still a very dynamic team that’s going to demand a lot of movement in our midfield. And the guys that step in to do the job, we have no doubts that they can do it.”

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