Real Salt Lake and Rapids ready for playoff berth battle

Real Salt Lake and Rapids ready for playoff berth battle

Major League Soccer

Real Salt Lake and Rapids ready for playoff berth battle

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Real_salt_lake_logoColorado_rapids_logo

Two teams, one game, one playoff spot.

That is the easiest way to describe tonight’s crucial showdown between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Real Salt Lake needs a win or draw to secure third place in the Western Conference while the Rapids must win the match in order to secure the same spot.

Who will be favored going into the weekend’s most highly-anticipated match? It’s not that easy to figure out because both teams have strengths and weaknesses that will be key factors in what should be a memorable regular-season finale.

So who comes in with the better form?

  • Real Salt Lake is 2-0-2 in its past four. Colorado is 2-2 in its past four
  • RSL is 1-1-2 in its past four on the road. Colorado is 2-1-1 in its past four at home.

These teams last met on Aug. 29 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Real Salt Lake registered a 2-0 win on that day, with Fabian Espindola nothing both goals.

Things have changed a bit since that last meeting. For RSL, Espindola has been sidelined with an ankle injury, paving the way for Yura Movsisyan to step up and emerge as the team’s top striker. Real Salt Lake also didn’t have Canadian forward/midfielder Will Johnson, who has emerged as a solid contributor.

Colorado has changed as well. Since taking over as head coach in late August, Gary Smith has helped shape the team in his image and the result has been a 4-1-2 record since September. Striker Conor Casey has emerged as one of the league’s top strikers in the second half of the season.

Here is how the teams could line up on Saturday (Colorado players in bold):

—————————-Coundoul————————–

Kimura———–Ihemelu———-Petke———–Harvey

——————Movsisyan————————————

—————————————-Mathis——————

—————————-Mastroeni————————–

—————————–Morales—————————

Cooke—————————————————-Clark

Johnson——————————————–Kovalenko

—————————-Labrocca—————————

—————————-Beckerman————————

——————-Casey————–McManus—————

Wingert——–Russell—————-Olave————–Joy

——————————Rimando————————-

Colorado’s lineup is quite a bit more difficult to predict. Whether at forward (McManus or Cummings), defense (Ihemelu or Gibbs) or midfield (Cooke or Ballouchy).

The battle will be in central midfield, where Pablo Mastroeni will look to shackle Javier Morales, while Kyle Beckerman will look to get into the attack while also shadowing Nick LaBrocca. The potential Will Johnson-Terry Cooke match-up will be very interesting. You have two players who aren’t crazy about defending but love to get into the attack. Whichever of them is more effective getting forward, and more capable of not being a defensive liability, will help their team win.

The funny thing is about a month ago you wouldn’t have given RSL a chance of winning on the road, but their road form has been much better the past month and the Real Salt Lake offense will keep the visitors in Saturday’s game, even if the Rapids get off to a fast start.

What do you think of Saturday’s match? Which match-up do you see determining the outcome? Which team do you see winning the game?

Share your thoughts on the big Real Salt Lake-Colorado Rapids clash in the comments section below.

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