FC Dallas-Real Salt Lake Preview
Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke isn't the least dismayed about his team's two-game losing streak, and there's reason to believe better results may soon be coming.
Bolstered by a trip back home and the return of several important players, RSL looks to get back on track when FC Dallas visits Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night.
With playmakers Albert Rusnak, Corey Baird and Jefferson Savarino as well as key defender Marcelo Silva all unavailable, the odds were certainly stacked against Salt Lake (1-2-1) for last weekend's match at unbeaten Los Angeles FC. Petke's undermanned group still showed plenty of fight, even if it wasn't rewarded in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss that was decided by LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman's goal in second-half stoppage time.
"(LAFC) is a special team we played, a very special team," Petke said. "To have six homegrowns (start) with four or five or our starters missing and to put up a gutsy performance like this where we did the defensive things that we worked on the entire week, when we go to other teams, we're going to win those games if we have this mentality."
Getting Rusnak and Baird back from international duty won't hurt either, nor will having Savarino reinstated from a one-game suspension for a red card in a 5-0 loss at D.C. United on March 16. The trio combined for 25 of the club's 55 goals during a 2018 regular season in which RSL sneaked into the playoffs as the Western Conference's final seed.
Playing at home should help matters as well, as Salt Lake is 12-1-4 over its last 17 regular-season games at Rio Tinto Stadium. That includes a 2-0 victory over FC Dallas in July that halted the Toros' four-game unbeaten run in the series.
The task still doesn't figure to be easy. A playoff team in four of the past five seasons, Dallas (2-1-1) has remained quite competitive thus far under first-year coach Luchi Gonzalez and displayed plenty of resolve in its most recent outing. The Toros shook off a game-tying goal in the second half against Colorado last Saturday to earn a 2-1 win when defender Ryan Hollingshead knocked home a rebound of Zdenek Ondrasek's saved chance.
"I thought we showed our depth in this game from start to finish," Gonzalez said. "It was a moment that we let some opportunities get away from us and Colorado got back into the game. So for us to then respond again and push it late is a credit to them and their mentality. I'm very proud of that."
Dallas has held a possession advantage in each of its first four matches and ranks second in the league in that category, controlling the ball over 57 percent of the time. That could lead to plenty of chances Saturday with Salt Lake allowing 16.3 shots per game, among the highest marks in MLS.
FC Dallas has fared well against RSL in recent years, going 5-2-2 in nine matchups since 2015. It went winless in last season's series, however, with the clubs playing to a 1-1 tie in Texas in the 2018 opener.
Updated March 28, 2019