It’s everywhere you look. All of the biggest rivalries in MLS take center stage throughout the week as Heineken Rivalry Week is upon us. But before the Cali Clasico and Rocky Mountain Cup write their respective next chapter, both San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake have business to attend to Wednesday Night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Both clubs are coming into the match on the outside looking in on the Western Conference Playoffs, making Wednesday Night’s showdown a must win affair for both teams to avoid slipping further down the ladder.
“We’ve got about 8-9 games left and they’re all important, but especially when the team is sitting right in front of you, its a six point depending on if you win or lose. It’s definitely something we’ve been talking about, every game is important, but this game has a little something extra to it.” Real Salt Lake Defender Justen Glad told RSL.com.
Despite some late game heroics Saturday Night from Shea Salinas and Chris Wondolowski that salvaged a 2-2 draw with Philadelphia, the Quakes were leapfrogged by Vancouver for the final playoff spot. Meanwhile, RSL comes in to Wednesday Night off a 3-1 loss to Montreal, snapping a six game unbeaten streak that has pulled them off the mat and revived their hopes at the spot in the postseason, but the Claret and Cobalt still enter Wednesday’s match five points behind Vancouver with three more games played than the Whitecaps.
For San Jose, this match is the start of a make or break three game road trip that also features Cali Clasico rival LA Galaxy and a trip up north to battle prohibitive MLS Cup favorites Toronto FC. The Quakes have struggled mightily away from Avaya Stadium but are ready to take the challenge head on. “I look at it as an opportunity to persevere. “Everyone says we’re not good on the road, and it’s clear we haven’t been, but it also gives us a chance and a reason to prove people wrong.” said Quakes Midfielder Shea Salinas.
If the Quakes are going to pick up those key road points, the back line is going to be forced to answer the bell once again, potentially with out Nick Lima (thigh) and Flo Jungwirth, who had to come off in the 19th minute of Saturday Night’s game with a shoulder injury. Both are listed as questionable.
With the shift to a 3-5-2 under Manager Chris Leitch, Victor Bernardez will look to anchor the back line against an RSL attack that will try to continue to ride the hot boot of Luis Silva. After a slow start to the season, Silva has found the score sheet three times in the last four matches, including RSL’s lone goal in Saturday’s defeat in Montreal.
Unless he’s playing against their club, many long time fans of MLS have found it a treat to watch Nick Rimando between the sticks over the years. Now in his 18th season in MLS and 11th with RSL, the US International is expected to make his 300th start for the Claret and Cobalt on Wednesday Night, needing only one clean sheet to give him 100 for his RSL career. If he is to achieve that against the Quakes Wednesday Night, he’ll not only have to contain his longtime MLS foe and International teammate Chris Wondolowki, who made a little history of his own on Saturday night, but also a new face in Georgian International Vako Qazaishvili. Vako, who scored 4 minutes into his first MLS start Saturday Night, has been a real game changer for the Quakes and will be looking to continue to build chemistry with Wondolowski and the rest of his new teammates.
The bottom line for this game is that with rivalry matches on the horizon, both teams find themselves below the red line with a large negative goal differential and negative games in hand on sixth place Vancouver. Anything less than three points has to be considered a disappointment and depending on the results of the Whitecaps’ Cascadia Cup showdown with Seattle, could serve as a major blow to any chances these two sides have of making some noise in the stretch run.
San Jose Earthquakes
Real Salt Lake