Aug 22, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
In our weekend preview, we billed this as the league’s hottest team against its best. One of those titles has to give tonight. Either FC Dallas stumbles and offsets the momentum it’s build over three undefeated months, or Real Salt Lake shows we’ve been too generous in donning them Major League Soccer’s best.
If that seems like such a negative way to look at tonight’s match (9:00 p.m. Eastern, NBC/Live Extra), consider it from the other, more positive point of view. Imagine Dallas, picked by so few to push for a playoff spot, takes three points tonight. Óscar Pareja’s will have a signature win, one that would advertise them as more than playoff contenders. Beat RSL, and you can beat anyone.
With the star power FC Dallas has at its disposal, you can see Pareja’s team pulling it off. Fabián Castillo, our reigning Player of the Week, is unplayable, right now. Mauro Díaz is one of the league’s most creative midfielders, while rookie Tesho Akindele has started to emerge up top. With new captain Matt Hedges (pictured) in control at the back and Michel’s near-unmatched ability on set pieces, the Toros have a collection of enviable talents, ones that make them legitimate threats come November.
And what about the defending Western Conference champions? Now even on points atop the conference, Real Salt Lake are rounding into form, overcoming their uncertain summer months to recapture their former selves. Get a result in Frisco, and RSL starts to look like favorites to reach a third MLS Cup final in six years.
Credit goalkeeper Nick Rimando for that longevity. Add the names of defender Nat Borchers, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javi Morales to the list, too. They’ve been there throughout the run, as have Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, and general manager Garth Lagerwey. Along the way, the team has picked up talents like Chris Schuler and João Plata, both making claims for Best XI spots this season. When Álvaro Saborío returns from his foot injury, RSL may be the team to beat in Major League Soccer.
Those are the real stakes tonight: Which team can seize this moment? Though nearly a third of the season is left to play, tonight’s win could give either side a boost.
For Dallas, that boost would come in the form confidence – knowing they can compete at the top of the standings.
For RSL, the win would be further validation: The team is ready to defend its conference title.
Lineups, one that see neither Díaz nor Morales make the game day squad:
FC Dallas: Raul Fernández; Je-Vaughn Watson, Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, Jair Benítez; Fabián Castillo, Adam Moffat, Victor Ulloa, Andres Escobar; Blas Pérez, Tesho Akindele
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert; Luke Mulholland, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy; Luis Gil; João Plata, Robbie Findley
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