Never mind the fact that two of the West’s top squads tonight will draw swords. Disregard the tight proximity of Dallas and Salt Lake on the table. Forget that these are two of the better footballing teams in MLS. Tonight’s match at Rio Tinto is all about the previous joust in Frisco.
With the playoffs in full view Pareja made the best of two Blas Perez yellow cards and took down an overmanned RSL 2-1 at home. The game had it all: outstanding counter attacking, a flop on a two-handed push, a caution for a player who raised two hands on an opponent, a late RSL goal, yet clear underdog coming out on top. The only thing the last meeting lacked between the two teams was a little sexual intrigue (which probably can’t be promised for tonight, either).
Two weeks have gone by since. Two weeks that bitter taste has lingered on many palates across Utah.
“That was definitely not a pretty game last week,” defender Chris Schuler said. “We didn’t get the performance we wanted out of that, especially after being up a man. So it’s definitely on our minds.”
This isn’t a memory that will be randomly and sparingly accessed in Salt Lake. Neither will it be for FC Dallas, who left Frisco with a boatload of confidence and three points in a smash-and-grab job.
But all was for naught, and the headway of momentum gained over ten games came to an end in Chicago last week for Dallas. It was a forgettable performance, but given the team’s absences it was palatable.
The loss in Chicago, one of MLS’ struggling sides, leaves Dallas with a similar bitterness to that of RSL. What makes tonight even more auspicious is that is the three year anniversary of the passing of Bobby Rhine. Throw that sentimental fuel into the fire as well.
Salt Lake will be more than ready for this final affair. They have yet to beat Dallas in league play this season. Still, they will be a depleted side: leading goalscorer Joao Plata will be absent due to international duty. But Javier Morales, the RSL legend, will certainly feature in the lineup tonight despite being an off-and-on playmaker with injury woes throughout the 2014 campaign.
FCD will at least see the return of Michel to the lineup. Mo Hernandez, who made a second half appearance against Chicago, should also be available for selection. However, Mauro (hamstring, Seitz (quadricep), Moffat (hamstring), and Perez (international duty) will all be effectively out.
The obvious absence is Mauro to this lineup, but Pareja et al. have managed very well without him. Blas is only missed for a physical presence up top – not because he is there to be chief instigator. Had the last meeting ended in a Dallas drubbing we would think mighty less of his actions with defender Chris Schuler.
Squad-wise, we could see something similar to last week’s lineup against Chicago. Michel’s return will revive set pieces for FCD, but in terms of ground covered and balls won in the midfield he and Ulloa will have a daunting task laid before them resembling a bitter Kyle Beckerman and a tight-knit, small RSL midfield diamond.
There could not be any more intrigue surrounding the match. RSL and FCD both desperately need this game. For FCD it’s more of a confidence issue than nothing else. Two consecutive losses haven’t been seen in Frisco for quite some time. A quality performance will thus be paramount, should RSL’s bitter vengeance be the dominating factor that leads them to a victory. However, Pareja has shown that no matter what the squad he throws out on the pitch he can conjure magic. FCD will need it to tonight.
Do it for Bobby, boys.
(image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)