CenterLine Report: Talking points for the visit of Real Salt Lake

Robert Jonas breaks down Saturday night's top-of-the-table clash with RSL at Buck Shaw Stadium

Simon Dawkins vs New England Revolution

Photo Credit: 
John Todd

While matters off the field have dominated the news this week for the San Jose Earthquakes, a very important on-field event is set to unfold this Saturday evening at Buck Shaw Stadium. By virtue of their 2-2 draw away to New York, the Quakes now sit just two points behind Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference standings. A win this weekend against RSL, and the Earthquakes will ascend to the top of the West.

A closer look at Saturday’s match-up with Real Salt Lake brings up some talking points that should give most supporters plenty of fodder for discussion while perhaps noshing on a Grillaz Gone Wild deluxe cheesesteak sandwich or downing a healthy-sized adult beverage during their pregame adventures in the Epicenter fan zone. Do the Earthquakes have the edge over their conference foes, or will RSL spoil the weekend party at the Buck? Let’s try to find out…

Lucky No. 6 never smelled so good.
In what has to be fashionably described as a make-it-work moment, the Earthquakes look to break their five-match winless streak against their Claret-and-Cobalt-clad competition that dates back to the summer of 2009. In fact, in their last two meetings at Buck Shaw Stadium, both season openers, Real Salt Lake has held the Quakes scoreless in securing two victories. And while very few will argue that Real Salt Lake hasn’t been a top team in MLS over the course of their handling of San Jose, the Earthquakes are better prepared than ever to call out for lucky number six. Erasing the still-soggy memories of the 2011 season-opening Great Deluge and exacting a bit of revenge for the Saborio-gate-influenced 4-0 thumping they received at Rio Tinto Stadium last summer will go a long way toward establishing the Earthquakes as a team to be reckoned with in the West.

It’s raining goals, Hallelujah!
Perhaps a repeat of The Great Deluge, but this time, instead of fire hose quantities of horizontal rain pelting the fans, seeing a barrage of Quakes’ shots on goal bulging the back of the RSL net would be much more welcome. So far this season, San Jose has tallied 10 goals in six games — a 1.67 goals-per-game average — for their second-best scoring rate to open a season since the team was reformed in 2008. Leading scorer Chris Wondolowski has netted seven goals already in 2012, and has 15 in his last 15 matches. And while throughout his MLS career, Wondo has never scored against the Claret and Cobalt, the Quakes’ MVP has been unstoppable so far this season. Given that run of form, Saturday seems like an opportune time to break his personal scoring schneid against RSL.

Hello, my name is Simon, and I look to do scoring.
It was during the last visit of Real Salt Lake to Buck Shaw Stadium that a talented young English midfielder named Simon Dawkins, just hours off a plane from London, made his debut for the Earthquakes in the 2011 March Monsoon, and immediately thrilled the assembled diehards with his skill and movement on the ball. That he almost drew the Quakes level with a superb effort on goal in the waning moment only hinted at the contributions the Tottenham loanee would make to the Earthquakes throughout the season. Dawkins ended 2011 with the second-most goals on the team, and proved how capable he was at being a scoring complement to attacking partner Wondolowski. The start to this season has not featured too many minutes from Dawkins, but due to circumstances arising from suspensions and injuries, the dynamic midfielder appears poised to start against RSL and hopefully make life difficult for their vaunted defense.

Get up, stand up, come on, throw your hands up.
Most of the talk leading up to the match will focus on the battle of the midfields, but perhaps a more interesting angle to discuss might be which of the goalkeepers steps it up on the night. Featuring a pair of MLS veterans in Nick Rimando and Jon Busch, the match features two of the more diminutive ‘keepers in the league. Listed at 5’ 9” tall, but weighing in at a stout 184 pounds, Rimando has been Mr. Reliable between the posts for Real Salt Lake over the last six seasons. He has led his team to the 2009 MLS Cup championship and played his way into contention for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Meanwhile, in the opposite goal Saturday night is the Earthquakes’ own lil’ stopper in the 5’ 10” Busch. No slouch himself, Buschy was the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2008, and the Earthquakes Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. In fact, Busch made his debut for the Quakes in a road game against RSL back in 2010, and he earned a clean sheet for good measure. This season, both Rimando and Busch sit comfortably in the top five of MLS ‘keepers in allowing the fewest goals per game. The offenses of both San Jose and Real Salt Lake this Saturday will be hungry to score, but they’ll need to be at their best to break through Rimando and Busch.

Match of the Century!
While the superlatives being thrown around that Saturday’s match is the most important for the Earthquakes thus far this season seem valid, it would not be wrong to also call it the Match of the Century! To be clear, we are not talking in terms of time, but rather of a couple of potential big number milestones that may be reached this weekend. The first impressive feat comes courtesy of 2008 Earthquakes original Jason Hernandez, who is poised to register his 100th career start as a member of the Blue-and-Black. Stuck on 99 games started since the end of last season, Hernandez has worked his way into playing shape following injuries suffered in the preseason, and is ready to again take the reigns of the Earthquakes defense against RSL. Also on the century watch-list Saturday is head coach Frank Yallop, who with his next coaching victory will reach the 100 mark for his MLS career. What better way to achieve that milestone than with a win in front of an appreciative home crowd that in result vaults the team into first-place in the conference.

Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com and SJEarthquakes.com. Send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas