Headlined by U.S. men's national team star Michael Bradley, English forward Jermain Defoe and Brazilian forward Gilberto and goalkeeper Julio Cesar, TFC is red-hot two wins in two matches in starting its MLS makeover, presenting another stiff test for RSL in this incrementally difficult start to the 2014 campaign.
"I guess we always play with a chip on our shoulder," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "I think we feel we're a small-market team, feel like we have to go out of the ordinary to get recognized, so when you can win a big game against a team with high-profile players, that'll definitely help."
Coincidentally, Saturday's match will be viewed more of a barometer outing for visiting TFC than RSL. The Reds did open the year with a 2-1 win at Seattle on a nationally-televised Saturday afternoon, but the new-look group will face another veteran team on the road out West, against a motivated home team and crowd.
And Bradley knows it.
"It's a good team, for sure," Toronto's midfielder said of RSL. "A team that over the course of a number of years has established itself as one of the better teams in the league. We have respect for that, but we're also confident in who we are."
After facing Robbie Keane and Chris Wondolowski in the first three weeks of the season, RSL now draws Defoe, the 31-year-old who made his name with English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, scoring 91 total goals in his career at White Hart Lane. Already staking a claim as a threat in MLS, Defoe has three goals in TFC's undefeated start.
"He's obviously an extremely big name and he brings a lot to the table," said RSL center back Chris Schuler.
Three matches into his first year as head coach, Jeff Cassar said he's happy with the way his group has battled to an undefeated start, earning five points on a season-opening win at L.A., and back-to-back draws. An unfortunately common theme for RSL has been its rash of injuries, as Joao Plata, Robbie Findley and Devon Sandoval are battling through various ailments to help strengthen the striker corps.
Which means Alvaro Saborio and Olmes Garcia are expected to start up top against the Reds on Saturday night, a pairing that will be called upon to perhaps match the dangerous chances created by Defoe and Gilberto.
Now just four weeks into the young season, RSL welcomes in another star-filled squad to Rio Tinto Stadium in search of three points at home. With that comes the motivation of taking on a club that doled out a reported $100 million this offseason to commence its hopeful shift into an annual contender.
Ned Grabavoy has seen that kind of change among clubs in the league.
"I think teams are aggressively going and spending money because they want to win now," said the RSL midfielder. "I think in this league, more so in other leagues, with the parity, everyone feels like no matter where you finished the prior season, if they make the right moves and additions, they're a season or two away from possibly competing for an MLS Cup."
Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4. Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 1-0-2; Toronto FC 2-0-0
Last meeting • RSL 1, Toronto FC 0 (June 29, 2013)
About RSL • Having faced the same team twice in the first three weeks of the season, RSL beat rival L.A. in the season opener on March 8 in Southern California and tied the Galaxy in RSL's home opener last Saturday 1-1. … Injuries continue to be an issue entering the fourth week of the season as Sebastian Velasquez, Aaron Maund, Joao Plata and Robbie Findley are all out, while Devon Sandoval, Jordan Allen and Kwame Watson-Siriboe remain questionable. … Plata's hamstring strain against L.A. last week hinders a great start for the young forward, who recorded two goals and two assists in the first three matches. … RSL is 6-4-2 against TFC all time. … RSL's 1-0 win at BMO Field last June marked the club's first-ever win in Canada.
About Toronto FC • Newly minted TFC forward Jermain Defoe has three goals in TFC's 2-0-0 start, scoring two in TFC's 2-1 win at Seattle and the game-winner in the home opener against D.C. United last weekend. … Rebuilt from the last few seasons, TFC brought in a number of new players, including Defoe, Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Jackson, Dwayne De Rosario and Julio Cesar. … Jackson will not face RSL on Saturday after being suspended for a match by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a foul against D.C. United last week. … TFC's 2-0-0 start is the best start in club history, as the Reds try to continue their unbeaten streak against RSL Saturday.