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Red Bulls-Real Salt Lake Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- It took some time for Real Salt Lake to get going in its season opener, while it appeared the New York Red Bulls never did.
Real seeks to extend its recent mastery of the Red Bulls on Saturday night when the teams meet at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake opened its season by rallying for a 3-1 road victory over reigning MLS Cup champion Los Angeles last Saturday. Striker Fabian Espindola was able to wear down the Galaxy defense throughout the match, which eventually paid off on substitute Javier Morales' go-ahead goal in the 80th minute and Espindola's insurance strike four minutes later.
"Fabi is a (darn) good player," Morales told MLS' official website following the match. "We have to give him the ball all the time."
The early results justified RSL's decision to re-sign the Argentine forward in the offseason after he scored a career-high 10 goals in 25 matches in 2011.
"He is able to skin people and get that extra step," captain Kyle Beckerman said of Espindola. "He does awesome stuff for us. He skins people. He gets crosses in. He's a pain in the neck for the other team."
Espindola certainly has been just that against the Red Bulls, scoring four goals and assisting on a fifth in five matches. He had two of RSL's three goals in the first 21 minutes of the most recent meeting between the teams, a 3-1 road victory Sept. 21.
Real is 4-0-1 against the Red Bulls since a 2-0 defeat April 18, 2009, outscoring them 12-1 in that span. Joel Lindpere's goal in the 69th minute of September's loss ended a 463-minute scoreless drought for New York versus Real Salt Lake.
Real's backline, however, will likely have one change due to a knee injury to Tony Beltran. While he played all 90 minutes after picking up the knock Saturday in an early collision, coach Jason Kreis is being cautious, telling the league's official website "there's very little chance that he plays this weekend."
Beltran's likely replacement would be Terukazu Tanaka, who would be making his MLS debut.
New York struggled to create much offense in its season-opening 2-1 loss at FC Dallas on Sunday. Kenny Cooper scored in the 78th minute for the Red Bulls, who were held to two shots on goal despite having nine corner kicks.
There were some positives, though, most notably the play of rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara. He made four saves to help rescue a shaky backline playing without injured central defender Wilman Conde and Rafa Marquez, who will complete his two-match ban for his actions following last year's playoff loss to the Galaxy.
"He was great. He was quite nervous before the game," coach Hans Backe said of Meara, the team's second-round pick. "He had one cross he missed in the first half, otherwise he made two or three very good saves, so I'm happy for Ryan."
Cooper is expected to start with 19-year-old Juan Agudelo selected to the U.S. Under-23 squad for Olympic qualifying that starts Thursday, giving New York's offense a different look alongside veteran striker Thierry Henry.
"He's more of a striker that runs the channel, quite mobile," Backe noted. "With his size, he has decent pace, too, so it can be a little bit of a different game with him starting because I think he can stretch the back fours a little bit more."
Updated March 16, 2012