Real Salt Lake vs FC Dallas: Javier Morales Homecoming

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FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 23: FC Dallas midfielder Javier Morales (#11) takes a shot during the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal match between CD Arabe Unido and FC Dallas on February 23, 2017, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. FC Dallas won the game 4-0. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Undefeated FC Dallas (4-0-3) heads to Sandy, Utah this Saturday to lock horns with Real Salt Lake (2-5-2) at Rio Tinto Stadium. Oscar Pareja’s outfit sits third in the Western Conference, having played two less matches than the West’s top two. Real Salt Lake’s start to the season has been unconvincing. They’ve earned eight points over nine matches and currently reside in eighth place.

Real Salt Lake vs FC Dallas: Javier Morales Homecoming

These teams met three times in 2016 with FC Dallas winning once at home, Real Salt Lake winning once at home, and the teams splitting points in a nil-nil draw in the September rubber match. Here are the important storylines heading into the match.

Javi Mo’s Return

Javier Morales spent ten years wearing Real Salt Lake colors and is their all-time assist leader with 81 assists. He returns to Rio Tinto for the first time since his contract option was not picked up at the end of last season. The Buenos Aires native was part of the 2009 MLS Cup winning team for RSL. He came off injured after only 22 minutes in that cup final, but Real Salt Lake prevailed on penalty kicks over the LA Galaxy.

Morales has worked his way into Pareja’s favored eleven, starting three of the last four FC Dallas matches. He said the following on his return to Salt Lake:

“It’s going to be emotional, to be honest I have no idea how I’ll feel…but I think everything is going to be ok….I think when the game starts, you can have a lot of thoughts in your mind, but when the whistle blows you try to defend your team. I will do my best to win the game.” [FC Dallas]

Salt Lake’s Thin Defense

Real Salt Lake has conceded the second most goals in MLS this season, second only to Minnesota United. They’ve allowed three goals in each of their last two contests and need to tighten up at the back to get their season on track. They have been tougher to break down at home however, conceding only five of their 15 goals allowed at Rio Tinto.

Real Salt Lake has been plagued by injuries this season. Eight RSL players are injured or questionable for Saturday’s match, including four defenders. To add to their troubles, defender Chris Schuler will miss this match as the result of a dangerous tackle against Sporting KC last week.

Players to Watch

Slovakian midfielder Albert Rusnák is heating up and has two goals and two assists for Real Salt Lake in April alone. He’ll look to unlock a stingy FC Dallas defense that’s conceded only five goals this season, the lowest total in MLS.

Javier Morales is the player to watch for FC Dallas on his homecoming. He’ll try to set up leading scorer Maxi Urruti, who put his name on the score sheet again last weekend in a 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers.

Prediction

Given current form and injuries, it’s hard to see Real Salt Lake mustering enough to take down one of the top teams in the West. FC Dallas hasn’t played up to its full potential this season, but they should have enough to get past RSL. These teams tend to play each other close, especially in Utah. You have to go back to 2011 to find a result where either team won by more than a single goal at Rio Tinto. FC Dallas wins 2-1.

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