LAFC vs Real Salt Lake: Preview
Six wins in the last seven games.
After convincingly taking care of business at home with a 4-2 win over the New York Red Bulls last weekend, LAFC hit the road and travel to Utah on Saturday to face Real Salt Lake in a battle of two of the hottest teams in MLS. Both clubs are currently on 3-game winning streaks with the Black & Gold coming out victorious in six of their last seven matches. RSL are on a 6-game unbeaten streak but most impressively have won seven of their last eight games at Rio Tinto Stadium with a goal differential of +16. With much improved defensive efforts, the Claret and Cobalt have completed a total of five shutouts in their last ten matches. Although Real Salt Lake are full of confidence with a good run of positive results, LAFC is no stranger to ending opponent’s momentum as they recently ended an 11-game unbeaten streak on the road in New England a couple of weeks ago. The Black & Gold will be looking to cool off RSL’s run as well and as a result, potentially clinch a spot in the MLS playoffs.
Defense Wins Games
Over the past ten games of the regular season, Real Salt Lake have statistically been the best defense in the league with only five goals allowed during that time period. Assisted by the veteran leadership of English defender Nedum Unoha and 40 year-old goalkeeper Nick Rimando, center-back Justen Glad has solidified himself in the backline with stellar performances. It will be very difficult for LAFC to break down RSL’s defense as they tend to stay deep in the back while allowing the midfield to return to position and get behind the ball to block passing lanes. However, new head coach Freddy Juarez will allow his fullbacks to spring forward if the Black & Gold press through the middle, especially Aaron Herrera, who has tallied four assists so far this season.
The three consecutive victories have really boosted the confidence in all of the Real Salt Lake players and will be looking to build on the momentum they have created by having more possession of the ball. It will not be an easy to task to out possess a side that dominates the possession-based football approach as RSL are just recently starting to pick it up. In fact, the goal for Juarez is to wear out the opponent with possession and attack them in transition or through the counter. On the other hand, LAFC uses more of the build-up with patience type of philosophy that has worked so well for them.
Real Salt Lake has a very dangerous group of players in the final third of the pitch: Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Sam Johnson. The improved defensive efforts that were mentioned earlier starts with them as at least a couple of these individuals will drop into the middle to overload the area and hope for an LAFC turnover. If this happens, the Black & Gold must do their best to prevent Rusnak and Kreilach to receive the ball with space and time as they will be searching for the ongoing runs of Johnson, who leads the team in scoring along with Rusnak with nine goals.
Keep Calm & Control
The Black & Gold have been playing some really good football as of late but have had their share of defensive mental breakdowns as well. The return of U.S international Walker Zimmerman should help to calm the waters a bit in the backline after serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation in the match vs New York Red Bulls. Living one of his best moments if not the best as an LAFC player, left-back Jordan Harvey has been absolutely fantastic as of late. Not only has the fullback provided security in defense, the 35 year-old veteran has been dishing out assists and scored his first goal for the club last week. Harvey’s excellent positional awareness along with experience will be crucial in this match.
The midfield trio of Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing will be kept busy for the entire game. Bob Bradley will look for his midfielders to control the match in that section of the pitch while maintaining the same style of patient, possession-based football that LAFC plays. As long as Atuesta, Kaye and Blessing can position themselves correctly, it will help them to make better decisions in regards to passing or dribbling out of pressure. The Black & Gold must be prepared for the pressure and instead of reacting to the moment, they should be looking to anticipate the play and dictate the tempo of the game.
With a few players going out on loan this week to other clubs and two crucial matches next week, don’t be surprised if Bradley begins to rotate his players in the second half if the score permits it. The likes of Josh Perez, Adrien Perez and Lee Nguyen will most likely see minutes in Utah if not surely vs San Jose next week. With Real Salt Lake coming off short rest after playing just a couple of days ago, their reserves might be called upon as well. The substitutes in this game may be the difference between a win and a loss as both side have players on the bench with something to prove to their head coach.
Club captain Carlos Vela will be looking to break the combined goals and assists single-season record in this match as all he needs is one of either. It will surely be an accomplishment to celebrate if he does indeed reach that milestone as he already declared it is the most important record to him as it shows an overall leadership on the field of scoring and assisting. By the time of kickoff, LAFC will know if a win will secure them a spot in the playoffs. However, do not count out Real Salt Lake as they will have a full squad at their disposition and will be looking for their first victory over LAFC at Rio Tinto Stadium.