WASHINGTON — Compared to recent history, Saturday’s visit to Rio Tinto Stadium looks a bit easier for D.C. United (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
After all, Real Salt Lake enter this weekend with only one win in their last six games, as the 2009 MLS Cup champions continue to cope without injured midfielder Javier Morales.
“They’re not the same team without Morales,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “He’s an unbelievable player. He was a big part of their success. Saying that, they’re a very good team, rather than probably the best team in the league.”
But DC aren’t going to assume RSL will be any easier to beat without Morales, as well as forward Álvaro Saborío (away on Gold Cup duty), as they travel to play in a stadium where they’ve never won. Forward Josh Wolff knows there are plenty of other guys out there that need to be stopped.
“They’re still very capable — good players, good experience on the field,” he said. “[Fabián] Espíndola is clearly a game-changer and a guy you clearly have to keep your eye on, whether he’s out wide or underneath, or just being crafty.”
Along with Espíndola, Jean Alexandre has been a handful for opposing defenses playing out of position as a forward, the club’s reliable captain Kyle Beckerman patrols the middle of the park, while Nat Borchers and Jámison Olave form one of the best defensive partnerships in the league. Statistically, they have the best defense in the league, with only seven goals allowed on the year in 12 games.
Since losing Morales to a severe ankle injury on May 7, though, RSL have struggled. They’ve posted a record of 1-2-3, including a 2-1 loss at Rio Tinto on May 28 that snapped a 29-game home unbeaten streak in MLS.
Regardless of recent form and who’s missing, however, United know they’ll have to overcome RSL’s favored style of play that has worked so well over the last couple of years.
“We know they’re a possession-oriented team, they go off a lot of rhythm throughout the game,” defender Perry Kitchen said. “It’s going to be a tough game, we’re definitely going to have to roll up our sleeves and do the dirty work, and hopefully get a result.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark