We exchanged questions and answers, as is our weekly tradition, with RSL Soapbox, our SB Nation cousin covering soccer doings in Wasatch Front. Editor Randall Serr asked and answered for the Utahans.
We ask, they answer
Hot Time: The RSL diamond has become one of the league's tactical staples; the shape stays the same, and the players come in and come out. Maybe its one constant has been Kyle Beckerman at its base. How will the Royals cope with the loss of the dreaded one if he makes the World Cup squad?
RSL Soapbox: You cannot replace a Kyle Beckerman. The coaches have said that, the media has said that, and the fans have said that. He is a unique player in this league and as consistent as they come. That said, the wheels will not come off if he goes to Brazil. There are very capable backups in the wing, namely Cole Grossman, Ned Grabavoy, and possibly even Carlos Salcedo. Any of them could do the job and all of them have done the job whether in a league game or in a reserve game. My biggest concern when Beckerman is out is that RSL will be missing that creative connection between the defense and the top of the diamond.
HT: The Mulholland-Gil showdown is one of the more surprising position battles in the league at this point - who seems to have the upper hand? Can you give us an idea how their games compare?
RSLS: This is a fantastic question. Mulholland has come on and surprised, I think it is fair to say, everyone. He has fit in seamlessly with this club and has brought on a creative aspect that RSL has not really seen before from that position. I do not mean to say that Gil or the others on the outside of the diamond are not creative, what I mean is that Mulholland creates in a way that is very different from the way the others do. As for who has the upper hand a the moment, I would have to give the tip of the hat to Mulholland. That said, Gil has been a staple at the position for a couple years now so I do not see him losing his spot. The reason Mulholland has seen so much time thus far is because Gil has been dealing with nagging injuries which have given Mulholland and opportunity to show what he can do and he has taken that opportunity by the horns. I truly hope this pushes Gil to the next level because if he does not prove that he deserves to retain his spot, he may very well lose it.
HT: If you were the Fire, how would you plan to deal with Joao Plata?
RSLS: The best way to deal with Plata is probably to hogtie him. Since that is illegal, the Fire will need to continually keep an eye on him and never underestimate his speed or his ball control. He can make something out of nothing so the Fire should never think they have him right where they want him. Treat him as though he is the MVP of the league so far, because were it not for Dempsey and a hamstring injury, Plata would be in that discussion.
Predicted starting XI: Rimando, Beltran, Schuler, Borchers, Wingert, Beckerman, Mulholland, Grabavoy, Morales, Saborio, Plata
Predicted score: I always expect the unexpected. RSL 2, Chicago 3.
They ask, we answer
RSLS: Mike Magee was always a solid player when with the Galaxy, but what has the difference been in Chicago to make him great?
HT: When Magee got to Chicago, he went from being a canny, striving third option to the unquestioned first, last and only option. He was in the form of his life, and he joined a team that created chances at a steady clip but finished precious few - an ideal scenario for a guy who poaches like Mike. He's always the player he has been - crazy competitive, a great thinker of the game, strikes the ball well, a fantastic teammate. What we haven't seen is whether he can push himself to that level routinely, or whether that was a high-water mark of a good, not great career. We're hoping it's the former.
RSLS: The Fire has tied plenty this season. Are the fans optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in between?
HT: Depends which fans! There are still pockets of severe gloom; those tend to be supporters who have had to suffer through the slow dissolution of the club's aura of supremacy. For the most part, though, the complete changeover in the front office, the dramatic reworking of the roster, and the refreshing emphasis on playing youth has people seeing the glass half-full ... for now. Frank Yallop surely knows that, in terms of fan support, the ice he's standing on is thin, and the water beneath it brutally cold.
RSLS: What is the perception of Real Salt Lake to the Chicago Fire faithful?
HT: I can't speak for everyone, but I view Salt Lake as the model franchise in MLS at this point. Garth Lagerway is as good as it gets. The Royals have established a tactical template which is flexible, identifiable, and allows them to use a huge variety of players to change the impetus and look of the thing. The academy is big-time. There's kids pushing into the first team. They draft well. They're hard to play against. And they can be pretty to watch when it all comes together. Take all of that, and add a dash of "f--k you, anyway," and you'll have a reasonable simulacrum of the feelings in the city of big shoulders.
Predicted starting XI (4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Lovel Palmer; Harrison Shipp, Jeff Larentowicz (c), Alex, Patrick Nyarko; Mike Magee, Juan Luis Anangonó.
Predicted score: Chicago 2, Salt Lake 2. Fire un-draw the draw record by drawing one of the better teams in the league, and postpones feeling anything conclusive about 2014 for another week.