Real Salt Lake returns to MLS action on Saturday, taking on Chivas USA at StubHub Center at 8:30 p.m. MT.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
Can Real Salt Lake return to its winning ways?
Heading into the MLS World Cup break, the Claret-and-Cobalt hit a bit of a slump, going winless in its last four matches. Real Salt Lake played FC Dallas to a scoreless draw on May 24 at Rio Tinto Stadium, suffered its first loss of the season at Seattle Sounders FC, a 4-0 defeat on May 31, drew 1-1 at Columbus Crew on June 4 and fell 3-1 to Portland Timbers at home on June 7. With nearly a month off to regroup and reenergize, RSL should be hungry to claim three points this weekend.
Will Real Salt Lake continue its road dominance of Chivas USA?
The Claret-and-Cobalt have done well in recent years when facing Chivas USA on the road. The Utah club is currently riding a five-game win streak against The Goats when in Southern California. RSL’s last loss while visiting Chivas came on May 9, 2009, a 1-0 loss at then-named Home Depot Center. RSL has also boasted some high-scoring wins while on the road, routing Chivas USA 3-0 and 4-0 at the then Home Depot Center in 2012 and defeating the Red-and-White 4-1 in their sole meeting in SoCal in 2013.
Who will start up top against Chivas on Saturday?
Excluding RSL striker Alvaro Saborio who is out with a fractured foot, RSL boss Jeff Cassar will have a choice of healthy forwards when the Claret-and-Cobalt travel to Southern California this weekend. RSL’s leading scorer Joao Plata appears to be fully recovered from his hamstring injury along with Robbie Findley who has worked his way back from knee surgery undergone in the offseason – Findley started RSL’s U.S. Open Cup match against Atlanta Silverbacks on June 14. Cassar will also have target forward Devon Sandoval and the speedy Olmes Garcia to choose from as well. The first year coach has started five different pairings up top so far this season, with only Findley yet to earn an MLS start this year.
Real Salt Lake continues to deal with injuries
Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy is recovering from a strained right glute suffered in RSL’s last match before the MLS World Cup break, a 3-1 loss to Portland Timbers. If Grabavoy misses Saturday’s game, RSL midfielder Cole Grossman is likely to fill in at the bottom of the midfield diamond. Grossman subbed on for Grabavoy after he suffered the injury against Portland, which might mean RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar will roll out a similar looking lineup from that night with midfielders Luis Gil and Luke Mulholland on the outside and Argentine playmaker Javier Morales at the top of the diamond.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy joined The Bill & OC Show on ESPN 700 yesterday, to get his take on the U.S.’s dramatic 2-1 win over Ghana. The RSL veteran had some great insight and analysis of the match and of course had nothing but praise for teammate Kyle Beckerman. Below are a few snippets of the interview but the whole thing is worth listening to here.
On Kyle’s performance:
“I think he was the best player on the field. I know I’m biased but coming from a position that is a little bit of an inglorious position for me, Kyle was absolutely unbelievable in that game. I think he plays the position a little bit differently for the U.S. because the players around him, but a guy that has to stay home a bit more for the U.S. and really clean up things, and can’t really get involved in the attack like he likes to for RSL. But at the same time maybe that’s asked of him a little bit more for the U.S. and I thought he did an unbelievable job in there and did everything that was asked of him and more.”
Grabavoy also approved of U.S. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to use the diamond midfield formation – the signature of RSL – that allowed what he thinks are the four best two-way midfielders to be on the field at the same time. But Grabavoy wouldn’t be surprised if the German coach mixes things up in the next match against Portugal on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did especially knowing that a point in the next game maybe gets you through. For me as a coach, I think maybe I would think of switching shapes, but at the same time...he is a guy that claimed to always stay on the front foot and he’s going to try and be as aggressive as he can going forward. So I just think it remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to maybe see them shift towards a 4-2-3-1. Maybe you play Beckerman and [Jermaine] Jones deep in the midfield with [Michael] Bradley in front of them.”
Even with injuries to Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler, the RSL midfielder claims the Americans “couldn’t be in a better position” heading into Sunday’s clash in Manaus.
Wow, what a 48 hours! It still hasn’t completely hit me yet that I’m in Brazil (!), watching the US Men’s National Team play in the World Cup (!) Let’s start from where we left off in the last post.
Early Sunday, the rain continued pouring in Natal, to the point that flooding became an issue in the streets. As we collected our tickets from the FIFA Ticketing Center, our taxis had to plow through the water. It seemed about a foot deep in some places, though the news channels here showed locations where people were in up to their waists. Luckily, the rain stopped later that day, allowing the city to dry out somewhat.
That night was the official US Soccer night-before party, and I’m incredibly impressed with how US Soccer put the event together. They actually converted a used car showroom into a pop-up “arena” for the night, filled with gigantic TVs everywhere, plenty of food and drink for the huge crowd, and a DJ and Brazilian band. The crowd for the event was great too: we started off with some US soccer chants, then the group just got into the music: crowdsurfers and energy everywhere.
On game day, us American Outlaws were bussed to a pizza-and-sushi restaurant (yes, really) near the stadium. That was another amazing experience: as a convoy of the Brazilian military sent to protect us watched on, we chanted and sang the National Anthem and God Bless America. Passing busses of Brazilians snapped photos and cheered us on. It was incredible. When the time came, a group of thousands made the March to the Match, again passing happy and surprised Brazilians in their streets.
The new Arenas das Dunas is beautiful; it was a remarkably intimate experience for a large stadium that seats over 40,000. Part of the credit for that goes to the Brazilian hosts, who made every effort to chant along with a majority US crowd. The group of Brazilians in front of me had a difficult time learning to pronounce “I believe that we will win”, but they eventually figured out a reasonable facsimile. The Dempsey goal was a flash: neither the crowd nor the Ghanaian defense believed that it could happen so quickly. Then progressed 80 minutes of hell. Jozy and then Besler got injured. Dempsey went down. Ghana bore down on the US left side, attacking Beasley to nearly calamitous effect.
Ghana eventually got their goal, and the Ghana crowd erupted, and rightly so: it was a great goal. For the last 10 minutes, the stadium buzzed. As you all know, John Brooks scored, and everyone lost it. The best description: So. Many. Hugs. We all bussed back to the hotel, all still in a daze, all of us not quite believing that the US had finally beaten Ghana and given themselves a great chance to advance out of the group.
We now have five days off in between games, during which I’ll be exploring more of Natal before heading off to Manaus. What a happy five days it will be.
The latest video in the Soccer Smarts with Professor Leo World Cup series takes a look at the group stage - the opening round-robin tournament featuring all 32 participating nations.
Andy's first post since arriving in Natal, Brazil with the American Outlaws ahead of tomorrow's U.S. v. Ghana match - kick at 4 p.m. MT on ESPN
Road to Natal
After a 32 hour journey, I’m safely in Brazil. The last two days have been spectacular and tiring, an exciting taste of what’s to come.
My first 2014 World Cup experience actually happened in Salt Lake City, at Rodizio Grill in Trolley Square. There, my friends and I attended a party thrown by the restaurant to watch Brazil’s opening match against Croatia. As I entered, a few Brazilians danced the Samba, waiting for the big event to begin, but it quickly got too crowded for that. It seemed as if the entire Brazilian population of Salt Lake City suddenly appeared, and it was significantly more than Rodizios expected. We all stood shoulder to shoulder. As the game began, the whole place shook as all Brazilians, and especially the young ones who attended, practically yelled the Brazilian anthem in unison. Then, when Neymar scored the equalizing goal, all stood up and cheered as one, with air horns and vuvuzelas and screaming and dancing and all. More celebrations came on Fred’s penalty, though perhaps more reservedly as the room sensed that it was an unfair decision. It was a veritable sea of yellow, though just a hint of what I would experience as I arrived in Brazil.
The next morning, I took a Delta flight to Houston, the meeting spot of the American Outlaws before taking a charter to Brazil. I found some fellow AO members at baggage claim and we desperately wanted to watch the rematch of last year’s final: Spain-Netherlands. However, there was just one establishment in the entire Houston airport complex featuring a TV that was outside of security, a literal hole-in-the-wall named the “Stadium Bar and Grille.” For those of you who will ever go to Houston, a tip: avoid the Stadium Bar. It has remarkably terrible food, exactly the kind you’d expect from a school cafeteria. Its only redeeming element was a single TV, which about 15 of us crowded around to watch the game. Two fans, especially, were notable: one was a Dutch man, who seemed almost too shocked at the proceedings to celebrate. Only the smile on his face and occasional hand gestures told the story of his inner emotions as he watched quietly. The other was actually my roommate, randomly assigned to me during the trip. He’s from Nebraska, and unfortunately lost his luggage when the airline sent the luggage to IAD (Washington DC) rather than IAH (Houston). He’s scheduled to receive it tomorrow, but we may have to share some supplies in the meantime.
As the day went on, and more and more U.S. fans arrived in Houston, I heard a wider variety of stories. The American Outlaws have grown greatly in the last four years, and I’ve met people from a wide variety of locales: some from large chapters (like Los Angeles, Washington DC, and San Francisco), and some from places as small as Carney, Nebraska, home of the smallest AO chapter with a population of just 35,000. We all waited to check in for our chartered flight at 8:30 to Natal, and as we waited to board, I looked up from my writing and decided to join a circle juggling a soccer ball. While the information phone may have been in danger from our touches, we didn’t particularly care.
The flight, a nine hour journey from Houston to Natal, Brazil, was an interesting experience in itself. We were served “dinner” at 2:30 AM due to delays, and as some tried to sleep, others tried to revel in the excitement of the times. Everyone, though, celebrated at the end of the flight, getting together for a rousing “We Are Landing in Brazil!” chant.
After getting through customs and grabbing our luggage, we were taken by bus to our hotel in Natal, a 35 minute ride from the airport. As visible on TV during the Mexico-Cameroon match, Natal has experienced heavy rain in the last two days. It’s clear that this is a rarity for the Natalians; indeed, I’m told Natal only receives rain 16 out of the 365 days per year. As we drove by, I saw kids making “mud angels” in the puddles, their parents waving to the bus filled with Americans.
The U.S.-Ghana game isn’t until Monday, meaning we have a day to get settled and learn about our surroundings here in Natal. Another dispatch from Brazil soon!
Bone up on the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with the first video in this year's Soccer Smarts with Professor Leo World Cup series.
Real Salt Lake kicks off its participation in the 101st Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament on the road, taking on the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks in a fourth-round match at Atlanta Silverbacks Park at 6:00 p.m. MT on Saturday. The match will be streamed live on RealSaltLake.com and broadcast live on ESPN 700.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
RSL out for revenge after coming up short in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final
Real Salt Lake will be looking to make amends after letting the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Championship slip away last year, falling 1-0 to D.C. United in the Championship match at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 1, 2013. Reaching last year’s Final was the furthest the Claret-and-Cobalt had gone in the tournament, besting previous runs to the Quarterfinals in 2006 and 2011. Real Salt Lake posts an even record in Open Cup play, recording nine wins and nine losses all-time. The Claret-and-Cobalt has fared better against lower division teams, unsurprisingly, posting a 5-2-0 record. Both of RSL’s losses came at the hands of NASL side Minnesota United FC.
Real Salt Lake boasts multiple connections to NASL
Real Salt Lake has three players on its current squad that have previously played in NASL, specifically the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Claret-and-Cobalt goalkeeper Jeff Attinella played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies from 2011-2012, helping lead the Rowdies to the NASL title in 2012 while finishing second in NASL MVP voting and earning a spot on the league Best XI. RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland played for the Rowdies from 2012-2013, helping win the NASL title in 2012 with Attinella and became the first player to be named to the NASL Best XI in back-to-back seasons. RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe spent a year with the Rowdies in 2011 in a year-long loan with the Chicago Fire.
RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar also has a connection to the Atlanta Silverbacks, spending a year with the NASL side in 2002 before returning to MLS’s FC Dallas the following year.
Can RSL forward Devon Sandoval carry over last year’s successful Open Cup form into 2014?
Real Salt Lake forward Devon Sandoval shined in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup in what was his first year with RSL. The New Mexico native ended the tournament as the Claret-and-Cobalt’s leading goalscorer, recording three goals in two appearances. The target forward scored in RSL’s 3-2 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks and bagged a brace in the club’s 5-2 win over Charleston Battery. RSL forwards Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata finished second in scoring with two goals apiece.
RSL to be the first MLS team to play at Atlanta Silverbacks Park
Real Salt Lake will be the first Major League Soccer team to play at Atlanta Silverbacks Park on Saturday. The unfamiliarity with the turf field, and the team itself, will be an added element to the match along with mounting injuries and World Cup absences.
The Silverbacks, coached by former U.S. international Eric Wynalda, currently sit in eighth-place in the NASL standings with a 3-5-1 record this season. Silverbacks forward Jaime Chavez, leads the team and league in goals scored with five, and is coming off a two-goal performance against NASL side Indy Eleven. The Silverbacks have struggled defensively this year, conceding a total of 20 goals in nine games played. In 2013, the Silverbacks reached the NASL Championship match but fell 1-0 to the New York Cosmos.
Real Salt Lake kicks off participation on the 101st Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament on Saturday, taking on NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks at 6:00 p.m. MT at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. Saturday’s match will be streamed live on RealSaltLake.com and broadcast live on ESPN 700.
Saturday’s match will be the second year in a row that RSL has faced Atlanta in its opening match of the tournament. The Claret-and-Cobalt hosted Atlanta on May 28, 2013 at Rio Tinto Stadium, which resulted in a thrilling 3-2 win in extra time for the Utah side.
Check out the highlights from that wild and rainy match that jumpstarted RSL’s run to the 2013 Open Cup Final.
U.S. Soccer has released another series of videos, this time providing short highlight clips of for every player on the U.S. World Cup roster. With the big event kicking off tomorrow, get even more hyped by checking out some of Beckerman and Rimando’s best plays for the USMNT. You can find all 23 videos here.
RealSaltLake.com is excited to introduce its new World Cup blog contributor, Andy Larsen. Andy will be travelling to Brazil with the American Outlaws, the official supporters group of the United States Men’s National Team, and chronicling his adventures for our Dispatch from Brazil series. All of Andy’s Dispatch from Brazil pieces will be posted on RealSaltLake.com’s The Sovereign and World Cup page.
We look forward to having Andy provide a glimpse into one of the greatest sporting events in the world!
First a little about Andy:
After years with a love for soccer as an RSL season ticket holder, Andy Larsen signed up with the American Outlaws to follow the USMNT around Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. As a writer, Andy is best known for his basketball work as the managing editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN Truehoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. In addition to being the only credentialed Utah Jazz blog, Andy and his team of writers at Salt City Hoops also host a podcast and are featured guests each week on ESPN700.
Before Andy jets off to Brazil this week, he tackled U.S. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial decision to exclude American stalwart Landon Donovan. Check out his first contribution below.
Will Landon Donovan’s absence from the World Cup haunt the U.S. in Brazil?
Last weekend, I attended one of Salt Lake’s fine Brazilian barbecue restaurants (or churrascarias). Naturally, having stacks of fine meat brought to me was delicious, and the experience was a treat.
Then, an irony hit me: in just 2 days, I’ll be visiting actual churrascarias, you know, in Brazil. Meanwhile, Landon Donovan won’t be, left off the 23-man roster to Brazil barring injury. How did this happen?
Let’s look at Donovan’s credentials: He’s MLS’s all-time leading goal-scorer (and impressively, primarily from a midfield position) in both regular season and playoffs. He ranks second in assists. He’s been on MLS’ Best XI 6 times, and he’s captured MVP, Golden Boot, Silver Boot, and Goal of the Year; essentially winning nearly every award there is to win. Importantly, he’s got the team hardware, too: In America’s domestic league, he’s won MLS Cup five times, Supporters’ Shield twice (runner up three times), and the US Open Cup.
Oh, imaginary contrarian, so his MLS resume isn’t enough? Let’s look at what he’s done for the USMNT: he’s the US’s all-time leading goalscorer and assistman, coming in second in appearances. He’s won Gold Cup four times, led the Confederations Cup run in 2009, was the 2002’s World Cup Young Player of the Tournament, and probably single-handedly saved the US from a group-stage exit in 2010 with his goals against Slovenia and Algeria.
In short, as Andres Cantor said after the most famous goal in US soccer history, “Landon Donovan es el major jugador en la historia de los Estados Unidos”.
And lest you think he’s over the hill, his 2013 performance proved otherwise: he was CONCACAF’s MVP for the USMNT’s Gold Cup win, scoring 8 goals in 11 appearances in 2013. That’s the very best yearly strike rate of his career (well, save for his 1-for-1 performance in 2000). And days after being snubbed from Klinsmann’s final roster three weeks ago, Donovan went on to break the MLS all-time goal record, scoring twice against the Philadelphia Union to give him 136 goals. Donovan added another one a week later, scoring against Chicago Fire.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has his own impressive resume, and the USMNT’s 12-game winning streak through 2012-2013 reveals that his tactical style works just as well in America as it did in Germany. But two weeks ago, Klinsmann decided that his vision for the club didn’t include Donovan; reports have suggested that the two haven’t seen eye-to-eye since Donovan’s call to Bayern Munich in 2009.
As a result, what could have been a synergistic relationship between two great international legends working together for US soccer glory has instead transformed into a referendum on Klinsmann’s managerial talents. Now that he’s made himself the unquestioned lead story, Klinsmann fairly will receive the blame should the US struggle in 2014 without Donovan.
Obviously, despite the decision, the World Cup goes on. The USMNT heads to Brazil for its most challenging test ever, and wherever the USMNT goes, so do the American Outlaws, the official supporter group of the team. I’ll be following along with them.
How did this happen? As a longtime RSL season ticket holder and soccer fan, I’d known for a long time I had to find a way to see soccer’s biggest event at some point in my lifetime. In 2012, I decided to start saving money for a trip to Brazil, and that year I put my name down on the already-full waiting list for the American Outlaws all-inclusive package. In January of this year, I got an email saying that a spot was open! I jumped at the chance, sent in my payment, and locked in to follow the USMNT wherever they ended up in the group stages of Brazil.
And what an itinerary! For most of the two weeks of the group stages, the home base of American Outlaws and therefore myself will be Natal: a relatively small Brazilian city in the northeast, famous for its beaches and sand dunes. Naturally, we’ll be there, loud and proud, for the US’s first game with Ghana. Then under a week later, we’ll take a chartered plane to the Amazon jungle to the city of Manaus, witnessing the USMNT battle Cristiano Ronaldo and his 10 Portuguese teammates. Finally, we’ll take a bus to Recife, and watch the US battle Germany, almost certainly for our nation’s World Cup life.
Along the way, I’ll be experiencing the thrill of the World Cup and Brazil – trying out a new language; visiting beautiful beaches, lakes, rainforests, and jungles; interacting with the citizens of Brazil and every other nation imaginable; and of course, trying out the local cuisine, including those famous churrascarias.
It’s just too bad Landon Donovan won’t be along for the ride.