After the horrendous injury to Javier Morales last weekend (warning: click on the link for photos of the injury only if you really want to see them… Pretty graphic) RSL will attempt to find out exactly where their season is going against former Western Conference foe Houston Dynamo.
This match will be interesting for a number of reasons:
1. First and foremost, we will find out who the immediate replacement for Morales is. We will also begin to see if this person is a DeAngelo Vickers or a Dwight Schrute-type replacement for RSL’s version of Michael Scott (let’s see how many fans of the office read the match previews!). From what the local media is saying, we should expect to see Collen Warner or Andy Williams get the shot first. Warner is young and has shown some flashes of brilliance. If he gets his shot tonight it will be interesting to see if he can become a consistent presence in the on-the-field action. Williams is an RSL original and fan favorite. He has the maturity, creativity, and team knowledge to step in. The main question for him is whether he still has enough left in the tank to be a main cog in the team game in and game out.
2. The team’s reaction to the ups and downs of the last month will be something to pay attention to. The last month of RSL history could truly be described as the best of times and the worst of times. There was true euphoria among the fans and organization leading up to the CONCACAF Champion’s League final being played in Rio Tinto with a real chance to win. After losing the CCL final against Monterrey of Mexico and the egg laid in Portland a few days later fans were reeling a bit. Last Saturday was supposed to be a chance to “right the ship” and unfortunately with the Morales injury not only is the ship still leaning, but a rogue wave looks to be heading straight for the leaning side. I’m not in the habit of predicting doom, gloom, and explosions for the benefit of making waves (okay, enough with the ocean references), but the reaction of the team tonight does mean something. Will the way they play tonight determine the path of the rest of the season? Probably not. But could it be an indicator of what to look for for the next few months? Absolutely.
3. Tonight will also go a long way in determining how full the RSL bandwagon really is. With RSL’s early season form and march to the CCL final, RSL media praise was at an all-time high. After the loss to Monterrey and injury to Morales we saw quite a few people jump right off the bandwagon. We’ve seen that the Royals have plenty of depth this year (RSL-NE last month, for example) but now we will see if that depth can withstand the loss of the team’s best player.
4. This is one of the few chances RSL has to play on national TV. The match tonight is on FSC (BTW, really like the improvements with the re-branding of the telecast as “Soccer Night in America”). It’s really pretty tragic that Real is not on the radar more for the league this year. I have discussed this with a few people and it seems as though it comes down to what is best for the league: Is it better to have your big name players on TV (RBNY and LA) and/or your great atmospheres (Por v. Sea on ESPN 2 later tonight) or is it best to have your best teams on? I really don’t know the answer to this, but it appears as though the league has opted for the big names and atmosphere this season.
Final Thoughts – Again, the match tonight is on Fox Soccer Channel at 11 P.M. EST/9 P.M. PST. Last five matches for RSL: W-L-L-T-W. Last five matches for Houston: L-L-W-T-W. RSL has not lost at home in league play in 28 matches. Until they do so, I cannot pic against them when playing at Rio Tinto. Predicted final score: 2-0 for RSL. Additional reading: Full Game Guide from MLS.
(image courtesy of George Frey/Getty Images)