Real Salt Lake. 2009 MLS Cup champions, 2010/11 Concacaf Champions League finallists. One of the premier MLS teams of the last few seasons, with some seriously good players, Nick Rimando, Jamison Olave, The Dirty Hippy, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio etc etc. Yet not only have they never won at BMO Field, they've never even scored a league goal there (they did get a 1-1 draw in the CCL group stage last year). Seriously, since 2007 there's been two 1-0 TFC wins and 2 0-0 ties.
Toronto FC. 46 goals conceded in 25 MLS games so far, only 3 less than the TFC record set by Mo Johnston's expansion team, and 10 more than the closest other team. With a goal difference of -22, twice as bad as the next worst team. The team that turned to Andy Iro to be the rock who'd turn the defence around, and have let in 12 goals in 6 games since he arrived, 10 in 4 MLS games, including penalties in 3 straight games, all conceded by a certain Andy Iro.
So one team that can't score, another that can't stop itself from giving up goals, one way or another, something's got to change, either RSL break their streak and finally score, or TFC get their act together and finally keep a clean sheet. One of those things is clearly more likely than the other, but you really shouldn't count TFC out, and there's more reasons than my usual half-arsed optimism of 'anything can happen' or 'hey, we've got a two game win streak going against teams called 'Real''.
First off, despite their well earned reputation as a good team, it's not just at BMO Field that RSL struggle away from Rio Tinto stadium. They haven't won in 6 MLS away games, (8 if you include the CCL and the US Open cup) with only 2 goals in those 6 games, so it's not just stats from past seasons we're relying on. Secondly, for the first time since all TFC's summer signing arrived and started playing, they've actually had a whole week off to rest, and work on things in training, so I'm expecting a better performance with less of the confusion and sloppiness we've seen recently in defence. Add in the fact that Jamison Olave is doubtful due to injury, which will make things easier for TFC up front, and I might just be convincing myself we have a chance here.
After a week off, and with TFC's CCL game in Panama not happening until Thursday, I'd expect to see a full-on first team put out there for TFC, so that's obviously Stefan Frei in goal, but then again maybe not as he picked up an injury in training (he got a kick in the leg, who the hell's kicking Frei in training? let me grab my pitchfork) and may not be fit, in which case it'll be Milos Kocic) and Richard Eckersley at Right Back. Ashtone Morgan hasn't been entirely convincing at Left Back, but then neither were Danleigh Borman or Mikael Yourassowsky so I'd expect him to keep his place there, which brings us to Centre Back, which is anyone's guess.
Andy Iro's been an ever present first choice since he escaped from Columbus, but went from merely shaky to full on disastrous against DC last week, though Aron Winter's substitutions and going to 3 at the back didn't help him out much. Doneil Henry's looked ok recently but is still very much a project, Ty Harden's a very mediocre level of dependable, Eddy Viator had a couple of rough outings at Right Back and hasn't been seen since, and Dasan Robinson hasn't got near the first team since coming here from Chicago. It really could be any 2 out of those 5, but I'm going to guess that with none of them offering a clear upgrade in terms of skill, Winter will at least go for stability, and give Iro and Henry another chance.
When we played at Rio Tinto stadium, RSL and particularly Kyle Beckerman passed the crap out a midfield that consisted of Dan Gargan, Nathan Sturgis and Gianluca Zavarise as starters. Things should be a lot tougher for them this time as there's genuine competition for the 2 final midfield positions alongside Torsten Frings. Eric Avila had a sporadically good game against DC, but did enough to earn another start in the Attacking Midfield position, Julian De Guzman played well after his introduction into the game last week, so he may get a start as well, but then what about Terry Dunfield, who hasn't looked out of place either. I'd guess at De Guzman and Frings playing behind Avila.
Up front, there's more positively difficult choices to be made in the wing positions alongside Danny Koevermans. Ryan Johnson was frankly poor at Right Wing against DC, looking much more impressive at Left Wing, and i'd really like to have Johnson in the team. But moving Johnson to the left would mean moving Joao Plata to the right Wing or to the bench, neither of which is ideal. Also Peri Marosevic has impressed with his goalscoring ability off the bench and may well have earned a start, and Right Wing would be the most obvious place for him to fit in.
It's nice to have too many choices to make this easy, rather than having to figure out who the least bad option is, so I'll have a stab at this, with Plata as the main attacking option off the bench.
That would make Milos Kocic the 37th player used in MLS games, finally breaking the all time MLS record for one season, and it's a shaky looking defence isn't it? For whatever reason though, I'm confident this will work out, and that even if Real do finally manage to score, they won't do it often enough and TFC will actually come out of this with a win. I was going to go with the unlikely shutout and 1-0 win, but if Frei's out, I'lll say 2-1 TFC.