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Real Salt Lake vs. LAFC: Three Questions

A lot has happened since LAFC last saw the Utahns.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake
Meet RSL’s new boss.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club will head out to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake in league play on Saturday night. LAFC beat RSL in U.S. Open Cup play a couple months back, but a lot has happened since the last time the teams met. To get us caught up, we spoke with Lucas Muller of RSL Soapbox about the upcoming opponent. Thanks to Lucas for taking the time to answer my questions!

Angels on Parade asks RSL Soapbox:

1. Got to start with the big news: Mike Petke is out as RSL head coach. How has the news been received in general by the fanbase and what has it meant (if anything) on the field so far?

Real Salt Lake’s fanbase is incredibly divided over the firing of Mike Petke as head coach, and it seems to differ vastly from which social media platform you’re looking at. Facebook is very pro-Petke and the general consensus is either that he went too far (ed. note: Here’s the background) but shouldn’t have been fired, or that he was just fighting for the team and shouldn’t have been punished at all. Elsewhere the understanding seems to be that using the language he used and shouting at the ref over a several minute period in different locations is a fireable offense. The fanbase is calming down though. Good results help people to move on.

Since Freddy Juarez took over as interim head coach from his role as an assistant, the team has taken 10 out of a possible 12 points. In those four games, he’s averaged 2 points per game on the road, which may be a small sample size, but is up drastically from RSL’s 0.8 PPG on the road under Petke. From the outside, it looks like a new manager bump if I’m honest. Freddy is a guy who’s been in the RSL organization for over a decade, starting out with the academy, then was the first head coach of RSL’s USL team the Real Monarchs, then an assistant under Petke. Many of the academy guys such as Justen Glad, Corey Baird, Aaron Herrera, and Bofo Saucedo have played under him for years. He’s certainly more of a tactician than Mike, but lacks some of firefly personality that Petke is known for.

Overall, the team is playing well under Juarez. Their passing accuracy is up, possession is put, and they’ve won their last 3 games. It’s early days, but these are the things you want to see during a coaching transition.

2. RSL are the hottest team in the league, six games unbeaten. Has a switch been flipped? Are they rounding into form ahead of the next **gulp** playoff upset?

A switch has flipped. It goes back prior to Petke’s suspension and subsequent termination. RSL has been a good second half of the season team for the last three or so years. We’re seeing that again. After RSL’s training today, Corey Baird said the team wasn’t playing differently, but they were having good games. We’re seeing multiple players, Baird being one of them, come into good form during a curtail time of the year.

The defense has been much better as well. The whole team adds to the defensive effort and that’s helped the backline significantly. Center back Nedum Onuoha had a massive five blocked shots that prevented the Seattle Sounders from registering a shot on target on Wednesday, and he’s just one of three solid center backs for the team.The last thing that’s helped Real is they have a healthy squad. There have been times in the last season or two the list has been massive, but right now they only have three players in their injury report. Keeping the team healthy has been a problem, even this year with Everton Luiz, Joao Plata, and Sam Johnson out for stretches, but Juarez will have a mostly healthy squad available Saturday.

3. I know Real Salt Lake aren’t a star-based team per se, but as of this moment who is the team MVP for this year?

Had he not gotten injured, it would be Sam Johnson. It’s been years since RSL had a proper center forward and Johnson fits that bill and does it very well. It’s been refreshing to see how the team has more options in the attack with him on the field.

Albert Rusnak is probably the biggest start on the team. The 25-year-old Slovakian attacker has been more involved in the attack lately and he’s probably the best recognized name outside the league (aside from Onuoha, who is still well known in England). Johnson and Rusnak are both on 9 goals, but Rusnak edges him out with more assists. At the moment, I’d give it to Albert, but Sam could easily earn MVP by the season’s end.

4. (Bonus) Prediction for Saturday’s game?

If you’d asked me a month ago, I’d say LAFC would win 3-1. Right now, RSL is on a great run of form. LAFC is undoubtedly the best team in the league, but I think RSL holds them to a 1-1 draw.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!