Waking The Red: Johnson, Espindola, Olave and more gone. Wasn't this supposed to be a bit of a salary cap forced rebuilding year? Yet there RSL are at the top of the league, how's that happened, who's stepped up to replace them?
RSL Soapbox: It's difficult to say that any one player has stepped up to replace any one other player, but that everyone has stepped up in different ways. Espindola has been replaced, more or less, with four strikers, which has changed the attacking dynamic of our side in great ways. Olave has been replaced by Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe, by and large, but they seem to have inherited his injury bug, too. Academy graduate Carlos Salcedo has now stepped up in a huge way. Will Johnson's the tough one, and it's easier to simply say that the midfield is different: Players are more attack-minded, and a rotation cast of characters has filled the huge gap that's been left by Johnson. Luis Gil, Khari Stephenson, and Sebastian Velasquez have each brought their own more attack-minded style to the position.
WTR: Joao Plata, plenty of people here thought he was done, a one trick pony that the league had found out and that would never be able to be a consistent threat. How's it gone so far with him, do you see him as someone who could be with RSL for a while? How have the fans taken to him?
RSLS: We love him here, really. His finishing isn't great, but there's nothing we've seen that indicates he's a one-trick pony. With how he's showed in his first half-season, I'd be pleased if he steps up a bit and stays with us for some time. Once he finds finishing, he'll be a fantastic piece, but as is, he's made a profound difference tactically against sides that sit a bit deeper than we'd like.
WTR: Luis Gil is turning heads with the U20's right now. Has he been as impressive with RSL? Does he have much time left in this league?
RSLS: For me, Gil was the brightest spot among a fairly dull team, and that's down to his playmaking at the edge of the attacking third - something he's been learning well from Javier Morales. But it's not where he's playing with us now, as he's been in one of the side of the diamond box-to-box spots, and it's been a little difficult for him to make a difference in the same way. He's been effective at home, and he's grabbed a couple goals, too, but he certainly hasn't made it yet. We're certainly considering selling him to the right club, and I have no clue if he'll be here at the end of the season.
WTR: Lineup and score prediction.
RSLS: 2-1, Real Salt Lake. This could be the year we win in Canada for our first team. (How dubious of us.) Lineup: Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Velasquez, Morales; Findley, Plata.
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RSLS: So, uh, yeah. You guys still haven't been very good this season. Is there any chance Ryan Nelsen could turn things around this season, or is it a long-term thing?
WTR: It's very much a long term thing, though there's the usual brave talk of a playoff run being possible, it's totally not going to happen. This season is all about seeing signs of progress and basically just not being so bad that we have to start over again, again. In that respect there are some things to cling to especially in the last few weeks. The first few weeks we had a fairly stable team and Robert Earnshaw was on fire which masked some problems, but there was clearly a lot of work to be done. April and May turned into another pre season, a few signings and releases, constant lineup and positional changes but eventually we seem to have settled on a first team and had a decent June, 3 games unbeaten now.
The defence looks good, with 32 year old Scot Steven Caldwell bringing the experience and style of play to bring things together a bit. We're still going with two defensive midfielders for now, those training wheels aren't ready to come off yet, and that does mean that we're not exactly an offensive juggernaut. Best to get the defence sorted out though, a foundation to build upon, and that's starting to look as if it's coming together.
RSLS: You've won fairly recently - what are the odds you can pull off another one without a loss between wins?
WTR: Probably not big, it's been almost a full year since TFC pulled that trick off with 3 straight wins in early July 2012 (then 14 games without a win to finish the season). The win was against DC, so in a way getting the 0-0 result in Houston last week is more impressive and a tie seems more than realistic really given how they seem to have become more reliable and stable, especially against Real Salt Lake given their poor history here. Having said that though, the other way of looking at it is that we're due another shitshow, that could well be this week.
RSLS: Given we only see each other once a year, who are some of the more dangerous characters who could give our young defender fits?
WTR: There isn't really a lot of fits giving that TFC have done to anyone really this season, they're more focused on defence. Part of that means that we've recently given up on having your traditional fancy winger who can, on his day, give a defender fits with fancy individual skills and showboatery, ie Joao Plata. As much as anything that's due to the failure of the players who've tried to fill that role this season, all now released or relegated to the bench. What we now have is a midfield that's more about passing it through the defence, at least when we're not just playing hit and hope that is, which there's still a lot of.
To answer your question though, Jonathan Osorio will be the right wide midfielder and he has combined well at times with Luis Silva in the secondary striker role and scored a few goals already this year. Robert Earnshaw might not be fit, but if he is he's definitely someone to watch out for, very opportunistic and ready to take advantage of lax marking or a bad offside trap. You might also get the return to the starting lineup of Danny koevermans who is pretty lethal when at full fitness and sharpness.
RSLS: Lineup, prediction.
WTR: Lineup; Joe Bendik; Ryan Richter, Doneil Henry, Steven Caldwell, Darren O'Dea; Jonathan Osorio, Matias Laba, Jeremy Hall, Bobby Convey; Robert Earnshaw, Luis Silva.
Prediction: You still can't score in Toronto, 0-0.
Thanks Matt, and best of luck with the rest of the season. Be sure to check out RSL Soapbox for the RSL view of the game.