SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake face their latest test to start the 2014 MLS season on Saturday against a revamped Toronto FC side (9:30 pm ET, MLS Live in US, TSN2 in Canada), but injury troubles on the attacking end present a concern heading into the clash.
Joao Plata, who injured a hamstring in the 28th minute of RSL's 1-1 tie with the LA Galaxy on Saturday, is out for three weeks after tallying two goals and two assists in two-and a third games. That leaves Salt Lake down three forwards heading into its next match, with Robbie Findley and Devon Sandoval still recovering from offseason surgeries.
Olmes Garcia came in for Plata on Saturday, joining Alvaro Saborio at forward. RSL's other options up top are 19-year-old Benji Lopez, who has yet to see action for RSL, and 18-year-old Jordan Allen, a midfielder who can also play forward – and who is recovering from an ankle sprain suffered against San Jose on March 15.
It is possible that RSL may have looked at the match against Toronto as a break of sorts a few months ago when the schedule was released.
But that was before Toronto FC spent the money to remake their team.
So expect another tough match for the Claret-and-Cobalt. It's not just that four of their first six matches and six of their first 10 are on the road, it's who they're facing in that gauntlet. The LA Galaxy, home and away. Toronto, Portland, Vancouver at home. San Jose, Sporting Kansas City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston on the road.
“It's not just the six road games, all those games are tough,” RSL coach Jeff Cassar told MLSsoccer.com. “There are no easy games.”
That includes Toronto. Last season, the Canadian club had the third-worst record in MLS. But a flurry of offseason, big-bucks signings – including Jermain Defoe, Gilberto, Michael Bradley – has remade the team. Toronto is 2-0-0, with wins at Seattle and at home over D.C. United.
And TFC is coming into Rio Tinto Stadium with confidence, clearly, which will make the game an even tougher challenge.
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“Especially at the beginning of the season, everyone has hope and belief,” RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy told reporters. “Whether you're a team that did well last year and you're looking to build off that, or you're a team that made a ton of changes and you're hoping for better days ahead. So I think you'll see the beginning of the season, everyone's going to fight.
“Most teams are healthy, and so there's no matchups at the beginning of the season where you have a team coming in that you can take advantage of.”
Despite the challenge, Cassar prefers to look on the bright side after his team opened the season 1-0-2.
“I'm very optimistic,” he told reporters. “If you look at the schedule that we have to start off the year, it's pretty daunting. But the guys are up for it. If you think of taking four points out of six from LA, I'm pretty pleased with that.”