SANDY, Utah—Real Salt Lake is on a roll.
The team resides atop of their CONCACAF Champions League group and are coming off back-to-back victories in league play, scoring three goals in each. Now they welcome Salvadoran club Santa Tecla FC to Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday looking to put themselves in the Group G driver’s seat.
RSL’s attack has been humming since new signing Juan Manuel Martinez moved into the first XI for the club’s 3-1 win at Houston on September 12, with “El Burrito” notching a goal and an assist in two starts. Forward Devon Sandoval has also surged in September, slamming in three goals of his own.
After fielding a reserve lineup in a scoreless draw in El Salvador last week, RSL head coach Jeff Cassar should bring much more firepower to bear Thursday. Expect them to try and put the visitors away early.
HOME SWEET HOME
Santa Tecla’s small, artificial field played right into the Salvadoran club’s hands last week, giving RSL fits in a frustrating, scoreless draw. RSL returns to the friendly, open, natural grass of Rio Tinto eager to play their way.
“I think it’ll be a little easier for us to stretch them out and keep possession, being on our home field,” said RSL defender Tony Beltran. “The turf was very problematic for us. But again, if we don’t stay organized, if we don’t stay focused, they have the quality to punish you.”
MIXING AND MATCHING
Between crucial CCL matches and vital MLS contests, RSL has plenty on their plate. Three weeks ago, it appeared RSL had no shot at the playoffs, but two straight wins have ignited hope that RSL can inch their way above the red line. Claret-and-Cobalt head coach Jeff Cassar, who will lead his charges into a huge match at No. 7 San Jose on Sunday (7 pm ET, FS1), will need to be judicious with his lineup choices to ensure passage to the CCL quarters while also leading RSL to an eighth-straight postseason berth.
“It’s about putting out two lineups that you think you can get the results from,” Cassar said. “I think it would be naïve to run out the same 11 every game. It just can’t happen. There are a lot of things that go into our thought process. We have a lot of guys on yellow cards. If they pick up a yellow card in this game, they’re out against Municipal. So we have to be thoughtful and mindful of not just this game, but what Sunday’s game is.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
JUAN MANUEL MARTINEZ, RSL: If it seems like the new RSL man has had a hand in every goal that the team has scored since his arrival, it’s because that’s close to reality: “Burrito” has already drawn two penalties, scored a goal and added an assist, with two of his saved shots against Houston directly leading to a teammate’s tally. Should Martinez play Thursday, RSL will try to feed him as often as possible.
GERSON MAYEN, SANTA TECLA: Mayen had a few dangerous free kick opportunities in last week's draw, forcing some tough saves from RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. RSL will need to keep him Mayen's offense bottled up Thursday if they want to grab all three points.