Real Salt Lake will play a midseason friendly against Mexican side Club Tijuana on Tuesday, as they look to keep the squad's match rhythm on the right level in the hunt for Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield.
Real chase the Seattle Sounders by two points in the Western Conference (although Seattle has two games in hand) and look like a safe bet to make the play-offs, but with several clubs making a push for the top five, the Royals will have to stay on their toes.
A friendly against Club Tijuana might do the trick. Xolos have completely missed their start in the Liga MX, but they still boast the quality to give the hosts a strong challenge.
Date: Tuesday, August 12
Time: 8 p.m. MT/10 p.m. ET
Venue: Rio Tinto Stadium
Tijuana need a break to shake things up—badly. Xolos have only secured two points in their first four matches and find themselves near the basement of the Liga MX standings, but this early in the season, that doesn't have to be a death sentence.
What Tijuana need most is a spark, something that gets the team started. The squad has looked uninspired in front of goal, and the lack of offence has largely negated several solid (if unspectacular) defensive outings.
Greg Garza has been one of the team's bright spots at left-back, and his strong performance against Morelia will have solidified his position as the only regular American starter in the Mexican squad.
The match against Morelia was a perfect illustration of Xolos' season so far: Dull and uninspired, and when the club got the chance to win the match, Cristian Pellerano did this, as shared by San Cadilla:
Real Salt Lake have had no such concerns. The Royals find themselves comfortably surviving the chase for the play-offs, and their big win 3-0 over D.C. United on Saturday was cause for celebration.
As reported by USA Today, stopper Nick Rimando recorded his 113th clean sheet in that match, passing Kevin Hartman to become sole owner of the MLS record. The veteran told MLS Soccer's Scott Pierce he was glad he got to clinch the record at home, while praising his teammates:
To hear those fans out there screaming my name with two minutes left made me a little nervous. But it's great to do it in front of the fans who stuck by me all my career here. I don't think any shutout is for myself. I have the name on the shutout but it's a committed effort from the team, so this is not only my record. My name is on it, but there are a lot of guys that should be getting credit for this.
RSL have (logically) looked much improved since some of the World Cup heroes returned to the squad, and they are unbeaten in their last five matches. Fielding your strongest XI and playing to the whistle in a mid-season friendly can be quite dangerous, however, and their motivation to win might not be as strong in this one.
The Royals are on the right track, improving on their way to the play-offs in a Western Conference that looks loaded with strong teams. Giving some of the key contributors a rest in a friendly like this seems like the smart thing to do, and it can only help a wider array of players build match rhythm.
Tijuana are struggling, and some tactical alterations with an eye on the Liga MX could come into play on Tuesday. But the mental aspect of the game can be just as important, and a win against a leading team from MLS is just the boost Xolos so desperately need.
Motivation will play a key role in this match, with the hosts' primary objective still being the Supporters' Shield. Health will trump this result every single time; expect that factor to even out the gaps between both teams.
Final score: Real Salt Lake 1-1 Club Tijuana