Freddy Juarez - Real Salt Lake - clapping hands
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Real Salt Lake coach Freddy Juarez: Any team needs luck, quality when playing LAFC

LAFC may be in a rough patch, but Real Salt Lake head coach Freddy Juarez expects a stout test when last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners come to Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday evening (9:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; on DAZN in Canada).

Specifically, Juarez said they’ll need a couple game-saving saves from their goalkeeper to stay in contention. LAFC winger Diego Rossi leads the Golden Boot race with 11 goals, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips has seven tallies himself and Uruguay international winger Brian Rodriguez has seven assists to tie for third in MLS.

“We have to keep ourselves in the game,” Juarez said. “Any team that plays LAFC, even though you've seen at times some lopsided scores against them where they lose, it wasn't because they didn't have opportunities to be up early or in the middle of the game or didn't create enough. They're always in there. 

“You're going to sometimes need some luck, you're going to need quality play, a solid game, everyone individually and collective defending, and then when you get chances, you got to capitalize. I think the last time we played them here at home, if I'm not mistaken, we evened out on shots.”

Juarez was spot-on, with RSL and LAFC also meeting Sept. 9 in Sandy Utah. The home side emerged with a 3-0 win, though they tied 19-19 on shots and required a career-high eight saves from goalkeeper Andrew Putna.

That was without Carlos Vela, who’d make LAFC’s final-third threat even more dangerous. The reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP remains out with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and head coach Bob Bradley said it’s hard to provide an exact timeline for the forward’s return.

Highlights: Real Salt Lake 3, LAFC 0

“Carlos is doing a little bit as a neutral player in training, that's really positive,” Bradley said. “When you have an MCL, that final stage, getting the confidence in the knee, feeling that it's strong and stable for the different actions – as everyone knows, his MCL is the left knee. With his ability to do incredible things with his left foot, that's the final part, to get all of that back. It's really difficult to give a final timeline for that stage, but just seeing him on the field in training is a boost for everybody.”

As for current form, LAFC are 3-6 since returning from the MLS is Back Tournament. They have two more losses (6) than their record-breaking pace from a season ago, and they’re coming off a late-game collapse, a 2-1 defeat at home against San Jose.

RSL, meanwhile, recorded a win and draw last week. Juarez provided a window into how LAFC can be beaten, but he knows a balancing act is needed against a team with high-grade options.

“I actually think they're a pretty good defensive team when they high press,” Juarez said. “What the high press does to you, though is, for any defender in the world, you're pressing into the attacking half and you leave 60 yards of space behind you. So that's why I think they become very vulnerable to the transition and to the counter attack. 

“It's not saying that they're bad at defending, but based on their soccer that's what happens. When you have a blanket you try to cover your head and all of a sudden you can't cover your toes, or you cover your toes and can't cover your head. So it's tough to get that balance right, and I think that's what happens with them."