Prepare yourselves for the Battle of the Unbeaten at Gillette Stadium on Saturday! CONCACAF Champions' League finalists Real Salt Lake are making the long trek straight from Costa Rica to take on the New England Revolution in Foxboro.
Last season's series was as contentious any in the league. The first leg was contested at Rio Tinto and featured diabolical refereeing. In fact, it was the match that solidified my irrational hate for Fabian Espindola. He shoved and punched Cory Gibbs off the ball and escaped without a warning, then going on to score the first goal and deliberately taunt the Revolution players. That match didn't end well; New England was on the receiving end of a 5-0 drubbing, and the return fixture in Foxboro also ended in defeat.
This season, things aren't looking much more promising. The Royals are the class of the league right now, and despite being undefeated through the first four matches of the year, the Revs still seem to have a ways to go before they reach such lofty heights. The depth just isn't there yet; RSL may rest players on Saturday, and the starting XI they put out will still be as good as most MLS squads.
The injury report is encouraging. Kevin Alston, Ryan Cochrane, and Stephen McCarthy were listed but are probable, while Marko Perovic and Franco Coria were upgraded to join them on the probable list. Andrew Sousa is questionable, and Matt Reis is out again with his adductor strain. A.J.Soares is also, obviously, out serving his suspension.
Today's Q&A is with Denzel Eslinger, the editor of RSL Soapbox, SB Nation's Real Salt Lake Blog. Read my answers to his questions here.
TBM: Congratulations on being the first MLS club to reach the CONCACAF Champions' League Final in its current format. After such a momentous achievement, do you anticipate RSL riding a high into their clash with the Revs at Gillette, or do you think it will cause something of an emotional hangover that could lead to a flat performance?
DE: They have to be on a bit of a high, but considering that they still don't consider that task (the Champions League) completed, I don't think you will see it impact their play too much. I wouldn't be surprised if they actually come out a bit "amp'ed" up for this match, you know they traveled directly to Boston after their trip to Costa Rica. Now I do expect that you will see some of the depth that RSL has to offer.
Rest of the questions after the jump.
TBM: As us Revolution fans are also seeing, 3 games in 7 days can be a grueling proposition for even the best and deepest of teams. Do you think we'll see a reshuffled lineup from Jason Kreis on Saturday or do you believe the first team has it in them to pull through and go the distance again?
DE: I think with this being a second match in 7 days on turf that it is very likely we will rest a couple guys, I would expect that Jamison Olave may be spelled by Chris Schuler, Andy Williams replaced by Ned Grabavoy, and maybe one or two others if they have any injury or fatigue issues. The reality is that Jason will want to win every that the team plays and that he has incredible confidence in the depth of our team, you also have to remember that it is hard to get one of our starting 11 to give up their spot even for a match, these guys love to play the game.
TBM: Give us an under the radar player Revolution fans should watch out for on Saturday.
DE: I actually will give you 2 of them, the first one got an real intro to MLS fans against the LA Galaxy, that is Paulo Jr. He is a fast (not quick but Robbie Findley fast) striker with a great touch and a nose for goal. Against LA, his first MLS start, he had an assist, drew a PK (converted by Morales) and then scored the 4th goal of the night for RSL, he has the potential to be something very special. Then there is Collen Warner, he was our first round draft pick last year, who we had convince not to go trial in Europe but give RSL and MLS a chance. He is a really versatile midfielder who can play any position there but his gifts are great vision and creative playmaking, you could see him fill in for Javier Morales, Will Johnson, or Andy Williams, but I think he will either see action as a starter or off the bench on Saturday.
TBM: Which Revs player do you think RSL fans fear most on the pitch?
DE: If anyone in MLS doesn't answer Shalrie Joseph to that question, then I would question their sanity. He is a force of nature in the midfield, tough enough to break up any opposing efforts, but also given the freedom to join the attack at will. I believe he is one of the most complete players in all of MLS, and if he is on the pitch he is a threat both to break up your scoring chances and to create his own. I also think Kenny Mansally is one of those guys who can come into a match and be a huge difference maker, ask DC United about that from last year, I would love to keep him off the pitch if possible.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a final score prediction.
DE: This is tough but I will give it a shot (the friday injury report could impact my choices): Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and despite some travel issue Paulo Jr.
I think RSL will be on their emotional high and they are looking to do big things, they actually will be more well rested than the home side and are a bit more match sharp with the extra action, they pull out a tough 2-1 win.