Chivas USA are back in full-on MLS competitive action on Saturday, when they host Real Salt Lake for the first time this season. Both teams are coming out of the World Cup break on the back of disappointing U.S. Open Cup 4th round losses, and will clearly be ready for a chance to grab three points with the second half of the season underway. In order to get a sense of how things are going for RSL, I spoke with Randal Serr of SB Nation RSL blog RSL Soapbox about his team. Many thanks to Randal for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks RSL Soapbox:
1) Real Salt Lake started the season with a long unbeaten record, but ever since that run was snapped, they've struggled. What accounts for those struggles, and do you think they will carry over to the game against Chivas USA?
RSL had one of the best starts to a season in their franchise history from a wins-losses-ties standpoint, but there were a substantial amount of RSL fans complaining about how many leads RSL gave up that turned into ties, or lately they turned into losses. The struggles stem primarily from Real Salt Lake missing some of their best players to World Cup duty and secondarily from a congested schedule. So not only were they missing their most skilled players in Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, and Nick Rimando, but there were three less players to rotate in and out of a tight schedule which led to tired legs and fatigued minds. Hopefully the struggles bottomed out with their loss against the Atlanta Silverbacks in Open Cup play, but I would not be surprised if Chivas USA is able to capitalize on a shorthanded squad.
2) The biggest change for RSL this season is the coaching situation, with Jeff Cassar in charge. While it appears he's carried over most of what Jason Kreis laid out in his time with the club, surely he's made some changes. What are they, and how successful have they been so far this season?
The longer the season goes on, the fewer changes I see in the organization with regards to Cassar. The biggest change is his attitude compared to Kreis'. Cassar is a positive guy and I have yet to see him not upbeat in his interviews. He seems to be a players' coach. By not changing the style of play, Cassar has solidified the RSL system and shown that this philosophy of a team-first, "play the right way" mentality is here to stay. Cassar has of course put his own touches on the tactics and has a large say in who to keep with the club and who to bring in, but RSL's identity is healthy and looks to be here for the long term thanks to Cassar wanting to stay the course. In fact, when he was hired part of his argument was "Why would you hire anybody else?" He had been with Kreis for years and understood the club as well as anyone.
3) It seems like there's been a lot of injuries (and international absences) for RSL this year. Who's stepped up in the regulars' absences to impress?
The most impressive players that have stepped up at opportune times by my estimation are Joao Plata, Luke Mulholland, and Chris Schuler. Joao Plata is on track to have his best season by a long shot. He has six goals and three assists in 10 games played which speaks to his incredibly efficient productivity. Mulholland is in his first season in MLS and has turned some heads with how seamlessly he has fit in. He has four goals and two assists thus far and has really given RSL a shot in the arm with his creativity. Schuler, however, proves to be the difference for RSL. RSL rarely loses when he is in the lineup. He solidifies the defense and has all the tools to be an elite defender even on the international level.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for this match?
I predict a 1-1 tie with Plata scoring RSL's lone goal.
Find my answers to Randal's questions here.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!