Preview: New York City FC at Real Salt Lake

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM

New York City FC boss Jason Kreis had this match circled on his calendar the day MLS released their fixture listings.

And he isn’t alone.

The City boss is one of nine people under the NYCFC umbrella whom, at one time or another, donned the RSL colors. Chris Wingert, Sebastian Velasquez, Ned Grabavoy, Josh Saunders, Mehdi Ballouchy and Kwame Watson-Siriboe each called Salt Lake home at different points in their career while Miles Joseph and C.J. Brown served as assistants to Kreis in his time at RSL.

Now, they face the perennial Western Conference power at Rio Tinto Stadium.

While NYCFC comes into the match riding a nine-match winless streak, Salt Lake is not much better off. Kreis’ former side is on a 1-3-3 slide in their past seven matches, plummeting them to eighth in the ten-team Western Conference with an unsightly 3-5-3 record through the first 11 matches of the season. Their -5 goal differential matches NYCFC’s for second worst in the league, besting only the lowly Philadelphia Union who are -10 on the season.


PROJECTED STARTING XI

NYCFC (4-4-2): Saunders; Williams, Wingert, Hernandez, Brovsky; Diskerud, Jacobson, Grabavoy, Ballouchy; Mullins, Villa

RSL (4-1-3-2): Rimando; Beltran, Olave, Elias Vasquez, Phillips; Beckerman; Allen, Gil, Mulholland; Saborio, Sandoval

HISTORY: N/A

LAST MEETING: N/A

BATTLE TO WATCH: Villa vs. Olave. Even at 34, Olave remains one of the very best central defenders in Major League Soccer. Villa will be in for a war in the back as he searches for his first goal in over five weeks.

X-FACTOR: The Kreis Effect. One of the most anticipated stories about Saturday night’s encounter doesn’t involve the play on the field, but the reaction off of it. Jason Kreis made his NYCFC move after years at RSL as a player and coach. He knows Rio Tinto, the fans know — and love — him. For those reasons, the coach may be a bit more incentivized to take this one on the road.


 

ANALYSIS:

NYCFC are looking to build upon their come-from-behind, down-a-man draw against the Chicago Fire at home. In fact, it was the kind of result captain David Villa has publicly hoped for; a character building point at home.

For many players and coaches on the team, a trip to Rio Tinto may be a bit more forgiving than your typical road encounter. As stated above, NYCFC players and coaches alike are familiar with the Utah stage, with many spending crucial developmental years at RSL’s picturesque home.

Momentum and familiarity will be an important driver for Kreis and his side, particularly as they continue to find their footing in their inaugural year. Chris Wingert, a converted centerback, has been having problems taking control of the position as of late. Likewise, veteran Jason Hernandez has fallen short of expectations since returning to the lineup. With Allen out, expect the hot-and-cold Josh Williams to get a sniff at fullback, with Brovsky switching to the left.

Grabavoy has had a tough run, but Kreis would be wise to return his midfielder, along with Jacobson and Ballouchy, to the familiar confines of Rio Tinto. Their familiarity could be enough to seize control of the midfield play against a potent RSL group, allowing enough time and space for Mix Diskerud to finally emerge into the contributor NYCFC fans have hoped to see.

That won’t be easy, of course. Kyle Beckerman pads a defense that is just starting to get their feet back. He and Olave combine for a gruesome duo against the NYCFC attack. On the other end, Saborio and Sandoval, when healthy and in form, are one of the best strike duos in the league, which can push an already battered Hernandez and Wingert into tough situations.

For as bad as Salt Lake has been, they still have several pieces that are simply better man-to-man compared to the NYCFC roster. Another slow start by City can sink them this time around, and they may not have the talent to answer.

And if Javier Morales is available to start, it will be an even longer day.

Prediction: 3-1 RSL