- No suspensions, some injuries. United, of course, are missing the fiesty Ben Olsen in midfield, while RSL have some of their defensive depth dinged up (though not the starters) and may well be starting their third string keeper despite United old boy, Nick Rimando, being listed as questionable.
- Tired legs. United's midweek Open Cup play-in might give us a clue as to Tommy's thinking given his substitution pattern. Jacobson and Gomez each got a half, meaning both should be rested. Fred got an hour and may be somewhat more questionable, though Pontius going 80 minutes might mean Fred looks to start. Wallace only got 30 minutes and Burch 10, which should see both of them ready to start as well. Quaranta, Moreno, Simms, Jakovic, and Emilio all resting means they're probably penciled into the starting eleven as well.
- Apply pressure. RSL will likely start their third-string keeper, and they have a center back in Olave who is prone to cards and questionable decisions. If they come out in their normal narrow diamond midfield, making sure we have wide threats will keep their fullbacks at home, thus minimizing RSL's attacking width. That said...
- Speed kills. United's defense has seemed particularly vulnerable to quick, mobile forwards, and RSL certainly have those, plus the likes of Morales and Mathis who are more than capable of springing frontrunners. We need to close down the time and space the RSL midfield has on the ball, and whoever is in goal will need to be ready to play a bit of "sweeper-keeper" for through and long balls.
- Keep them guessing. Beckerman covers a lot of ground for them, but I think our current style of having Emilio up top while Moreno/Pontius/Quaranta drops into midfield alongside a second attacking midfielder might cause them some issues. In addition to forcing more of their midfield to focus on their defensive duties, we may be able to pull Olave out of position to get the ball in behind.
- No hope. RSL haven't won away all season, including an Open Cup play-in away to the Sounders, and are winless in four (five including the Open Cup match). Even since their 6-0 demolition of the Revs, they've been in freefall, so their confidence will be low. We need to come out like we did against the Red Bulls in midweek. Jump all over them. Don't give them a chance to settle in and start building confidence. Of course, saying that, I'm fully aware that a "real" MLS unit isn't going to be the shambles that Osorio arrayed against us on Wednesday.
...with Fred off the bench for Wallace, Gomez, or Jacobson depending upon whether we're ahead and looking to counter (Wallace), running out of steam (Gomez, Fred goes to the right, Quaranta to attacking mid) or chasing the result (Jacobson). Pontius probably also makes an appearance to spell Moreno and/or Gomez, depending upon how the match is going, with other substitutions dictated by fitness, injury, or game status.
Mind you, that's what I think we'll see, not what I'd like to see. Might we see Pontius reprise his midweek role in the center of midfield? Perhaps. Might we see Fred there as we did against Chivas? Also an option, though more likely off the bench if we find ourselves trailing (as mentioned above). I'd have questions about starting Gomez, but his two assists and getting yanked at the half in midweek would seem to indicate that Tommy is thinking otherwise.
Moreno and Emilio are pretty much givens, as is the back line, no matter how much I (and others) complain about Burch not being up to snuff, and it doesn't seem likely that John will (or should!) replace him any time soon. The question of netminder is ripe for debate, but RSL is a team more likely to test us with balls over the top and through the middle than crosses. For my money, that has "advantage: Crayton" written all over it.
So what do you think? How would you line them up? Who do you see as the big RSL threats? What are your keys to the match? Think we'll deliver another thrashing or get sucker-punched? Have at it in the comments.