A Champions League match is always an exciting thing: It affords an opportunity to see tactical approaches MLS coaches simply don't use. On Tuesday, Tauro rolled in with a defensively minded 3-5-2 lineup designed to win a point, but Real Salt Lake's tactical mindset was exactly what was needed for a refreshing win.
Building from possession
A consummate midfield performance allowed Real Salt Lake to really build attacks from effective spells of possession. The match was marked by strong efforts from Will Johnson (39/44 in passing), who was spread across the midfield; Ned Grabavoy (41/49 in passing, three key passes), who built on the right side and connected play expertly; Javier Morales (45/60, four key passes), who displayed that killer mentality and expert dribbling ability he's known for; and Kyle Beckerman (49/54), who, before his red, shunted a number of balls out left for Kenny Mansally, opening play and forcing the issue.
It was perhaps a little surprising that we lacked a real midfield presence on the left side of midfield. Will Johnson continued to play just in front of Kyle, closing down play, while Ned's positioning was almost entirely right-sided. It was a slightly lop-sided approach, but some balance was afforded in the bursting runs of defender Kenny Mansally, who filled the left side quite ably.
It was through sustained spells of possession that we kept the match on our side, but it was one good break that really set it alight. Paulo's evocative run into the box, showing the full height of his close control, and Saborio's instinctive finishing was exactly what we expect from the striker. The second goal came from possession, but it was a superb strike from distance, the box filling with players, that sealed matters for the evening.
Despite crafting chance after chance from midfield possession, the two that found the back of the net were found in other ways. It's a funny game, isn't it?
Compact without the ball
In the world stage, Barcelona stands above others when possession football is the goal. It is often said that their former manager, Pep Guardiola, enforced a strategic approach in which the side, when losing possession, would attempt to regain it within six seconds, and if they did not, they would form a very compact wall of players — often all 10 outfielders in an 18-yard bunch across the pitch — and contain play until they won the ball back through less grueling means.
We're no Barcelona. That much is obvious. But last night, we saw our side playing with that same mindset. Once we didn't immediately win the ball back — which did happen quite frequently — we simply dropped into wall just inside our half. This allowed us to prevent long balls from finding their targets through a concerted offside-line effort while keeping passing lanes awfully clogged.
Jason Kreis has often said that the goal is to be compact without the ball and expansive with, but last night, we saw that really ticking over. It's a tried-and-true strategy, and against a Tauro side that tried to hit us with midfield guile and craft, it was exactly what we needed. There's no better way to shut down a creative player than to afford them no space.
An affected red
Kyle Beckerman's red, thankfully, didn't change last night's result. The card, unlucky but perhaps deserved, gave Tauro the perfect opportunity to capitalize. It was a test for our defensive strength, but we passed with rather flying colors. They still had nary a real chance, which, all things considered, is a bit surprising. Some after-the-card stats — and keep in mind, these are all in about a 15-minute timespan:
- 25/46 passing, about 54% accuracy (361/428, about 84%, before the card).
- To contrast, Tauro was 107/127 passing after the red card, but only had one shot.
- 6/8 tackles won (13/16 before)
- 10 clearances (17 before)
- Four fouls, none in particularly dangerous positions (14 fouls before, none of which were in incredibly dangerous positions)
Goals change games. That's the saying. But as we saw, cards do, too. It was through a cohesive midfield performance that we made it out with only a few minor scratches.
Remember CONCACAF Champions League 360, the fantastic series that documented RSL’s run through the Knockout Stage of the 2010-2011 CCL?
Well we’re doing that again, this time documenting RSL’s run through the entire 2012-2013 CCL. We have a new name (we’re calling this edition of the series “Chasing the Crown: RSL in the CCL”) and a new videographer (in-house man Nick Lamping takes over from MLSsoccer.com’s Scott Riddell), but we’re all very confident that the series will be just as good as it was the first time around.
We’ll publish a pair of episodes documenting RSL’s trip last week to Costa Rican champions C.S. Herediano, giving you an inside look at the team from the moment we took off for Costa Rica, through the 1-0 loss and back to the moment we landed in Salt Lake. We'll post more episodes for each of the three remaining Group Stage matches and - if RSL makes it - the Knockout Stage, too.
The first episode drops today. Don’t miss it.
Update: The video went live a couple of hours ago. Check it out here.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Yeah, 10-man RSL’s 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League loss at C.S. Herediano on Tuesday night was rough. But just in case any of you are currently on the ledge, remember, the result is far from the end of the world.
Sure, RSL missed a valuable opportunity – one of just four, in fact – to pick up points in the reformatted CCL Group Stage, leaving the club firmly behind the eight-ball in Group 2.
But it’s not that bad: RSL basically still controls its own fate. If the team wins its final three Group 2 games – one against Herediano at Rio Tinto Stadium and a home-and-home series with Panamanian club Tauro FC – they should finish first in the group and be through to the Knockout Round.
“All-in-all it’s not the worst result,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said after the game. “We can definitely bounce back from this.”
The only thing that would stop RSL from advancing to the Knockout Stage if the team wins all three of its remaining group games would be losing a tiebreaker with Herediano. The CCL’s first tiebreaker is, of course, goal difference.
Thankfully, the Claret-and-Cobalt is in pretty good shape there. Despite playing both down a man and with a patchwork backline after starting center backs Nat Borchers (ejection in the 58th) and Jamison Olave (injury in the 63rd) went off early in the second half, RSL managed to keep the score at 1-0 on Tuesday night.
That will hopefully be important come Oct. 23, when RSL takes on Herediano at Rio Tinto Stadium in what could essentially be a Knockout Stage play-in game in the Group 2 finale.
“We feel that if we take care of business in our next two matches against Tauro, if we can have success in those matches; losing 1-0 is not the worst place to be,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said at his postgame press conference. “Herediano comes to our place in October, and only being down a goal, it would essentially become a head-to-head competition. We don’t think we’re in the worst spot in the world – we certainly don’t like where we are – but we’re not in the worst spot in the world.”
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Well, it’s finally here: Gameday. We’re less than 12 hours away from RSL beginning CONCACAF Champions League play with the Group 2 opener at Costa Rican champion C.S. Herediano.
Kickoff’s at 8 p.m. MT at the Estadio Nacional. You can watch the match live on Fox Soccer Channel and CONCACAF.com and listen in on ESPN700 AM and 102.6 La Gran D.
It’s an absolutely gorgeous day here in San Jose. The sun’s out, the weather’s warm, there’s a nice little breeze and it’s not even that humid. The players don’t have much on their schedule leading up to tonight’s match. Other than a quick meeting and a few team meals, they’re free to do whatever they want – just as long as it’s not strenuous.
I’m going to go ahead and predict a 1-0 RSL win, with the goal coming from the Claret-and-Cobalt’s calescent Costa Rican, Alvaro Saborio.
Feel free to leave a prediction of your own below. Whoever picks correctly wins a virtual pat on the back from yours truly.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - We're getting closer and closer to RSL's Champions League opener. Just under 30 hours away now.
RSL photographer Ray Taggart took some cool shots - including the above photo - at today's training session. We've compiled the best into a gallery. Check it out here.
While you're at it, check out RealSaltLake.com's written report from today's practice. It's chock-full of info.
We'll be back with more later in the day.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Good morning from beautiful - if slightly overcast - Costa Rica. Just one more day until RSL starts CCL play.
The team is scheduled to train at the Estadio Nacional this morning, the same stadium that the game will be held in tomorrow night. Built in 2011, the Estadio Nacional seats 35,000 and has a natural grass surface. RSL forward Alvaro Saborio is very familiar with the venue, having scored the first goal in the stadium's history in a friendly match between Costa Rica and China on March 26, 2011. Estadio Nacional is not C.S. Herediano's usual home venue - that'd be Estadio Eladio Rosabel Cordero, a 8,000-seater with a turf field located about 10 miles north of San Jose - but the team will play all of its home CONCACAF Champions League matches there.
A little more on C.S. Herediano: The bartender at the hotel told me last night that Herediano is - and I quote - "so-so." He was pretty adamant that they're not at the same level as other Costa Rican clubs L.D. Alajuelense and Saprissa, which RSL beat in the semifinals of the 2010-2011 CCL. Of course, he also told me that he's a proud Saprissa fan, so he may have been a bit biased.
That's the kind of cutting-edge analysis you'll only find it at The Sovereign, folks.
We'll be back with much more written and video content later today. Make sure to stay tuned for all of the latest.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Less than 48 hours until RSL starts its CONCACAF Champions League run at Costa Rican club C.S. Herediano. Don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty pumped, you guys.
As you can see from the dateline, I'm coming at you from Costa Rica. It took us a little while to get down here - our flight took off from Salt Lake at 10:30 a.m. - but we did travel in style, flying on a chartered plane with all the amenities. Big thanks to RSL's owners for springing for that.
The entire squad is safe and sound, resting ahead of tomorrow morning's training session and Tuesday's Group 2 opener. A total of 20 players made the trip, giving head coach Jason Kreis a little bit of flexibility for the 18-man roster that will dress on Tuesday.
That's all for now. Big day tomorrow. We'll have tons of content coming out on both the website proper and here at The Sovereign. Be sure to check it all out.
Only three days left until RSL opens CCL play at C.S. Herediano. Excited yet?
With Vancouver out of the way after last night's 2-1 win, we can now turn all of our attention to C.S. Herediano, which RSL will take on in the Group 2 opener at Costa Rica's National Stadium on Tuesday.
We're keeping things light today, linking to RealSaltLake.com's official guide to C.S. Herediano. Check out the article - it contains almost everything you'll need to know about the Costa Rican champs ahead of Tuesday's big game.
Only six days away from RSL at C.S. Herediano in the CONCACAF Champions League.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the logistics of RSL’s group and the tournament itself. Quick programming note before we dive in, though. I had the pleasure of recording a pre-CCL podcast with James Edward of the Deseret News, Michael Black of MLSsoccer.com and Jeremy Horton of Goal.com today. That will go live some time tomorrow. Be sure to give it a listen.
On to the good stuff:
CONCACAF made big changes to the CCL this winter, eliminating the old Preliminary Round – in which 16 teams would face off in a home-and-home series – and putting all 24 of the qualifying sides directly into the Group Stage. The teams have been organized into eight groups of three squads each. Every team will play four games in the Group Stage – a home-and-home series against the other two teams in the group – with only the top team advancing to the quarterfinals.
The new format is a big change from what RSL experienced during the 2010-2011 Group Stage. That tournament had four groups of four teams each in the Group Stage. Every team played six Group Stage games and the top two teams from each group – RSL won theirs – advanced to the quarterfinals.
The changes to the format mean that every Group Stage game carries an added importance, as the mathematical odds of moving into the Knockout Stage are lower when only one out of three teams advances than when two out of four teams advance.
Group 2 info
Real Salt Lake is in Group 2 with Costa Rican champions C.S. Herediano and Panamanian champs Tauro F.C. It’s one of the tougher groups in the tournament, but RSL certainly has a good chance of advancing into the Knockout Stage.
Both Herediano and Tauro are still in preseason and have experienced roster turnover during their summer break. Chances are neither squad will be completely comfortable with their new roster when they face RSL for the first time in the Group Stage – and they definitely won’t be in midseason form. Here’s to hoping the Claret-and-Cobalt can take advantage.
We're only one week away from RSL's 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League opener at Costa Rican champions C.S. Herediano.
Frankly, those of us here in the RSL offices are going to have a hard time waiting for next Tuesday's 8 p.m. MT kickoff. We're really excited about RSL's impending run through the CCL and we're guessing you are too - which is why we'll be posting CCL-themed content everyday from now until the Group 2 opener.
We'll publish a lot more information on Herediano and the new CCL format later in the week. For now, we'll let you take a walk down memory lane with the fabolous Champions League 360 videos produced by MLSsoccer.com during RSL's run through the Knockout Stage and to the Final of the 2010-11 CCL. You can watch the first episode above. Links to every video in the fantastic series are below: