Real Salt Lake hosts the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night in a matchup of two top teams in the western conference. While the season is still young, both teams are riding surprising starts to the season and are looking to keep their momentum going. Here are three things to watch for in tonight's matchup:
Despite only being three weeks in, RSL already has several injuries to manage. Nick Besler will likely start in place of Everton Luiz for the second week in a row, as Everton picked up an MCL strain in practice ahead of the SKC game last Saturday. Aaron Herrera and Anderson Julio are the big question marks for this game, as they were both subbed off last Saturday against SKC with tightness in various muscles. Both Andrew Brody and Justin Meram are great replacements, so Coach Freddy Juarez might opt to rest both Herrera and Julio out of an abundance of caution, even though neither appear on the injury report. The schedule this season is very condensed, so it is important the everyone is healthy long-term, especially since RSL is not a particularly deep team.
Goals, Goals, and More Goals
Both teams are off to a strong attacking start in 2021, with San Jose scoring 8 goals in 3 games and RSL accounting for 5 goals in 2. Both teams give up about a goal a game, although neither team is known for their defensive capabilities. Last season, RSL gave up 1.6 goals a game and SJ gave up 2.2, which were some of the worst numbers in the league. Neither team really improved defensively, so except a lot of goals on Friday night. This is a game that could easily finish with 7 combined goals as the game opens up.
Who is actually good?
This game is surprisingly a battle at the top of the western conference standings, with San Jose in second and RSL in third, despite RSL having a game on hand. SJ was expected to finish in the middle of the pack this year, while RSL was projected by many to be the worst team in the conference. Both clubs have already performed well above those expectations, with several quality wins over powerhouse teams. While week four is still too early to tell who is a legitimate contender and who is not, this matchup should give us a good idea where the teams stand in relation to each other. A 3 point performance will help propel the winners forward into the rest of the season and could end up bringing the positive momentum that is needed to make sustained runs in the league.
My score prediction: RSL 3, SJ 2