Real Salt Lake did well to start the Western Conference Championship series on the right foot, scoring four-straight goals en route to beating the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday night.
We all know that the Claret-and-Cobalt’s two-goal advantage heading into the series’ second leg at JELD-WEN Field next Sunday, Nov. 24 is a big leg-up, even against a team as tough as the Timbers. Just how big of an advantage is that two-goal lead? Let’s take a historical look:
Since MLS shifted away from the best-of-three series and began using the two-legged aggregate goal format in 2003, a team has taken a two-goal aggregate lead into a series’ second leg nine times. The team with the two-goal advantage has advanced to the next round seven of those nine times, losing the two-goal lead and falling out of the playoffs on two occasions.
Teams that take a two-goal lead in the first leg at home and then play the second leg on the road have advanced to the next round three times and lost the series twice.
Interestingly, San Jose was involved in both of the series’ in which the team with a two-goal lead after the first leg was eliminated from the playoffs. The Quakes made the first such comeback in 2003, losing the first leg 2-0 at LA before moving onto the next round with an improbable 5-2 win over the Galaxy after extra time. San Jose wasn’t so lucky the next year, taking a 2-0 first leg lead over Kansas City before dropping the series following a 3-2 loss at the Wizards in the decisive second leg.
History is clearly on RSL’s side. Of course, that doesn’t mean much with the second leg in Portland, where the Timbers have gone a sterling 14-1-5 in MLS regular season, MLS Cup Playoff and U.S. Open Cup action this year. We’ll see how it plays out at JELD-WEN Field in 10 days’ time.
MLSsoccer.com’s Ben Jata published on Tuesday an in-depth study of the league’s 50 most accurate passers in 2013, and – surprise, surprise – Real Salt Lake was very well represented, with five players making the top-30.
Defender Nat Borchers (No. 2), midfielder Ned Grabavoy (No. 3), midfielder Yordany Alvarez (No. 12), midfielder Javier Morales (No. 29) and midfielder Kyle Beckerman (No. 30) all made the list from RSL. Beckerman and Morales both got additional plaudits in the article, with Beckerman getting recognized for leading MLS in passes attempted and successful passes and Morales earning praise for leading the league in passes attempted in the opponents’ half and successful passes in the opponents’ half.
Click here to read the entire piece. It’s an interesting read – definitely worth the time.
ABC 4's Real Sports Live aired another "Crossbar Challenge" segment on Sunday night, with RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth taking on American soccer legend Alexi Lalas at Rio Tinto Stadium.
While Dunny and Alexi struggled a bit to hit the bar, their interview was right on the mark, touching on a wide range of topics from the early days of MLS to where American soccer stands today. Check out the must-watch interview above.
Real Salt Lake got the Western Conference Championship series off to a good start on Sunday night, toppling the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s win:
Sunday’s game was the first Sunday home game in Real Salt Lake’s nine-year history. Despite the unique nature of a Sunday home game in Utah and the short turnaround following last Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg win over LA, RSL fans came out in full force on Sunday night, with 17,333 raucous supporters filling Rio Tinto Stadium to near capacity.
With Sunday’s victory, RSL broke Portland’s 10-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. The Timbers’ last loss prior to Sunday also came against the Claret-and-Cobalt, with RSL topping the Cascadia side by an identical 4-2 score line on Aug. 30 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Sunday’s win extended RSL’s unbeaten streak over Portland to nine games in all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 6-1-3 all-time against the Timbers, posting a 3-0-2 record against the Oregon side in MLS and Open Cup play in 2013. Of the Timbers seven defeats in all competitions in 2013, three of them have been against RSL.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler scored in the 35th minute of Sunday’s win, heading home a Javier Morales corner kick to tie the game 1-1. It was the second goal in as many games for Schuler, who volleyed home a Morales set piece in extra time of Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg win over LA. Prior to Thursday’s match, the 26-year-old Schuler had two goals in his entire career.
RSL’s four goal output on Sunday night gave the Claret-and-Cobalt 13 goals in five meetings against Portland in all competitions this year. That’s good for 2.6 goals per game – or 1.62 goals per game higher than Portland’s 0.97 regular season goals against average.
RSL maestro Javier Morales had a goal and two assists last night, giving him three goals and three assists in four games against the Timbers this season. Morales has one goal and three assist for RSL this postseason. He is one of nine different RSL players to score against Portland this year and one of seven different RSL players to notch an assist over the Timbers this season.
Portland has been fantastic at home this season, posting a 14-1-5 mark at JELD-WEN Field in regular season, playoff and Open Cup action. The Timbers’ lone home loss came all the way back on March 9, when they fell to Montreal in just their second home game of the season. While Portland has been dominant at home, RSL has acquitted itself nicely at JELD-WEN Field. The Claret-and-Cobalt went 0-0-2 in Portland this season and were the only team to take two positive results out of Oregon this season. RSL is 1-1-2 all-time at Portland.
ABC 4's Real Sports Live has done a fantastic job of covering Real Salt Lake's run through the playoffs, going live with extended coverage from StubHub Center last week after the first leg of RSL's Western Conference Semifinal series against LA and again following Sunday night's West Championship first leg against Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Check out video of Real Sports Live's postgame coverage of Sunday's win over Portland below. The show airs every Sunday night at 10:35 p.m. MT on ABC 4.
Highlights and postgame reaction from Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth:
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis interview with Brian Dunseth:
RSL defender Chris Schuler interview with Bill Riley:
We’ve been a bit focused on the Western Conference Championship series around these parts, but there’s a big battle going on in the East, too – and it starts today.
Fourth-seeded Houston Dynamo will host second-seeded Sporting Kansas City today in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series at 12:30 p.m. MT at BBVA Compass Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on NBC.
RSL fans should be rooting for Houston to take the series, as a RSL-Dynamo MLS Cup would be played at Rio Tinto Stadium while a Claret-and-Cobalt-Kansas City MLS Cup would be played on the road at Sporting Park.
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis was asked in his press conference following Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal win over LA what the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd needs to bring in Sunday's Western Conference Championship first leg against Portland.
Here's what he had to say:
“I think for me it’s pretty simple. We need to be here early – there needs to be that really raucous singing of the song “Believe” at the beginning of the match. I thought that was spectacular today how noisy it was. And just to carry that energy and to continue to believe. We tell our players all the time that no matter what happens in the game, we continue to work hard, we continue to stay together and we continue to believe. If you do those three things, something in the end will happen right.”
Listen to the man. Get your tickets now.
Seriously, no one wants another LA-Houston MLS Cup.
RSL can nip that potential matchup in the bud by advancing past the Galaxy in Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal second leg. Get out to Rio Tinto Stadium early, wear red and be loud.
Real Salt Lake will be without one of its most prominent players in Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal second leg, as midfielder Ned Grabavoy will miss the match due to a left hamstring strain picked up in Sunday's 1-0 first leg loss at LA.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis told media on Wednesday that Grabavoy will not play due to the injury. The veteran midfielder left Sunday's match in the 61st minute after picking up the knock earlier in the match.
Grabavoy had a career year in the 2013 regular season, scoring five goals and tallying five assists in 32 appearances - 29 of which were starts - for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Look for Sebastian Velasquez to be a candidate to replace Grabavoy in the starting lineup on Thursday.