Real Salt Lake opens the season Sunday against the defending Supporters’ Shield champion San Jose Earthquakes.
The match is a chance to exorcise last season’s demons following a humiliating season sweep to the Bay Area side.
The Key Matchup
The key match-up is Salt Lake’s back line against the forwards of San Jose. Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon are a handful by themselves, and that is before you consider the 2012 Golden Boot winner, Chris Wondolowski.
Wondo has built his career getting to the right place and finishing when he gets a chance. He isn’t the fastest or strongest player in MLS, but he knows how to score. Against a young back line, that skill can be deadly.
It was last season when he earned a hat trick en route to a 5-0 victory against an RSL back line consisting of Kenny Mansally, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Jamison Olave, and Chris Wingert. This year, Salt Lake will probably start Mansally, Watson-Siriboe, Chris Schuler, and Tony Beltran.
Two of those players are the same, while the other two are arguably a step down on the defensive side of the ball.
To be fair, Salt Lake gave up four of those goals after Kyle Beckerman received a red card. Still, the Salt Lake back line will have to be focused in order to keep the match close enough for their attack to matter.
Upside for RSL
Salt Lake will likely run out Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley up top, an attacking pair that should cause headaches for the San Jose back line. Sebastian Velasquez appears to be in top form and will likely form a competent midfield with Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, and Luis Gil (fresh off of U-20 duty).
If the back line can hold up its end, this Salt Lake attack looks potent and capable of getting three points to open the season in San Jose.
NOTE: As Francesco notes in the comments section, both Gordon and Lenhart will be unavailable for Sunday’s match. Still, the San Jose attack is potent with Wondolowski and can cause headaches for Salt Lake’s young back line.