[TV PREVIEW]Thursday's ESPN2 game looks like the mother of all mismatches. But it's not.
Western Conference leader FC Dallas (6-5-1) visits last-place Real Salt Lake (0-3-6), the only MLS team yet to post a victory and smarting from fines and other disciplinary measures meted out by MLS (kickoff: 9 pm ET).
Coach Jason Kreis, in addition to tying four of his five games in charge, was fined $20,000 for improperly contacting former FC Dallas keeper Jeff Cassar about being his assistant coach. The team also has been dinged $10,000 for two other infractions too mundane to be detailed here. Kreis is paying his dues for learning the ropes but getting his first win as a coach against the team with which he lit up MLS would be priceless.
RSL has played FC Dallas reasonably tough in their two meetings this year. They opened the season with a 2-2 tie at Rice-Eccles and on May 20 FCD took a 2-1 decision at Pizza Hut Park, but needed a searing left-footed strike by Chris Gbandi in the 82nd minute to get the victory.
As the results indicate, shutting down opponents - not to mention shutting them out - hasn't been an FCD forte this season. It has zero shutouts to three for RSL, and the bottom team has conceded 14 goals in nine games (1.56) versus 17 goals in 12 games (1.42) for Dallas. A virtual push.
The Dallas attack is more potent, at least on paper, with 17 goals against just seven for RSL, but strikers Kenny Cooper (fractured tibia) and Roberto Mina (complications of two knee surgeries) are sidelined, midfield catalyst Ramon Nunez (groin strain) is questionable, and striker Carlos Ruizis with Guatemala. RSL midfield anchor Carey Talley suffered a hairline fracture of the fibula in the May 20 game and is questionable.
Dallas thumped Los Angeles, 3-1, last weekend with a lineup tweaked by Coach Steve Morrow. Marcelo Saragosa replaced Dax McCarty in FCD's three-man midfield, and Dominic Oduro started up top with Abe Thompson and Arturo Alvarez. Thompson scored against LA and also netted in the previous match, a 2-1 loss at Houston, after earning three assists in three previous starts.
RSL is riding a shutout streak of 188 minutes, having tied Chicago and New England in 0-0 games after conceding that incredible goal to Gbandi. On the other hand, it hasn't scored since Freddy Adu got his first goal for the team in that same game midway through the second half.
RSL is averaging 15,949 fans at home and this matchup is a test of how a good market can draw fans for a nationally televised Thursday night game. The commentators are sure to focus on Kreis and his accomplishments as a player, but the storyline should be in which direction his team - and the franchise -- is heading.