Real Salt Lake is in the Big Apple looking to knock off a conference leader for the second time in as many matches. They will face Eastern Conference leader New York City FC at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night (5 p.m. MDT). NYCFC enters the match unbeaten on the season (4-0-1) after rallying to defeat San Jose last Saturday 2-1 while RSL (2-2-1) enters the match on the heels of a 2-1 home victory over Vancouver.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will be looking to string together their first pair of results on the season but it won’t come easy on the postage stamp of a pitch NYCFC calls home. RSL coach Mike Petke said after the Vancouver win that he’s looking for consistency and creativity from his side.
“If I’m being very honest in assessing the team five games in, I don’t like the way we’re playing with the ball,” Petke explained. “I don’t think a lot of the players do. We’re wondering what’s going on here? When did we stop playing? When did we stop having ideas? From last year and from preseason this year, it seems to be a little bit of a confidence thing.
“When we’re clicking – our front four especially – we’re a pretty damn fun team to watch,” Petke continued. “But it’s been few and far between this year, so far, so we’re looking to get back to the way we know how to play.”
NYCFC enters the match averaging a tidy two goals per match. Maximiliano Moralez and Ismael Tajouri lead the team with three goals on the season followed by two from Alex Tinnerholm. Former Major League Soccer MVP David Villa has just one tally on the young season and his status for the match is uncertain, but the Spanish forward is a threat every time he’s on the pitch. Petke has preached and reiterated the need for his team to be sound at the back through their first five matches.
“We’ve really been trying to focus on defensive structure, getting behind the ball and then playing from there…these guys are putting that effort in. Now we have to remember how we played out of that last year. So we’ll get there,” said Petke.
RSL lost left back Demar Phillips and centerback Marcelo Silva to injury in the first half of the Vancouver game and the duo will be unavailable to go against The Blues. Danilo Acosta got the start for the Real Monarchs Saturday night in their win over Phoenix Rising FC and could be a candidate to start at left back as could Adam Henley, who replaced Phillips Saturday night and acquitted himself well in his debut. David Horst, who replaced Silva Saturday, is the logical player to pair alongside Justen Glad in the middle but Mike Petke will have to again shuffle his lineup with just three days between matches. Joao Plata did not make the trip to New York City after picking up a knock Sunday during training.
Here is the injury report for RSL heading into the match:
OUT: D – Tony Beltran (right knee surgery), M – Jordan Allen (knee), D – Taylor Peay (knee), D – Demar Phillips (undisclosed), D – Marcelo Silva (undisclosed), F – Joao Plata (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: D – Shawn Barry (hamstring), M – Luke Mulholland (hamstring)
PROBABLE: D – Aaron Herrera (groin)
Real Salt Lake has the series history in their favor entering the match, having won all three matchups between the sides since New York joined MLS in 2015. RSL won last season’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium 2-1 behind Albert Rusnak and Aaron Maund goals, rallying after Sean Okoli scored in the fourth minute. In their lone previous match at Yankee Stadium, RSL took home a 3-2 decision.
Mike Petke has preached patience in the early going this season and he reiterated that after the Vancouver match but wants his team to continue to work towards becoming the team that came a point short of making the playoffs last season.
“We’re five games in, we’re 2-2-1 now, and we have 29 games left to go,” he said. “We’re not panicking. We’re not worried. We just won 2-1, and we’re going to rejoice in that before we have a very quick turnaround on a small field against a tough team like NYCFC.
“We’re going to continue to get back to the way we want to play.”
Match time on Wednesday is set for 5 p.m. MDT. David James and Brian Dunseth have the call beginning at 4:30 with pregame coverage on KMYU, the KSL TV App or streaming online at KSL.com.