Facing a do-or-die scenario, RSL kept things tight until the death: The game-winning goal from Alvaro Saborio (how many times has that phrase been uttered, I wonder?) was the result of hard work from the whole side. That, in itself, wasn't entirely interesting from a tactical perspective, but like so many low-scoring battles, there was so much more to it than that.
No Kyle? No problem
Despite not seeing Kyle Beckerman or Yordany Alvarez, RSL never looked too troubled through the center of the pitch. Ned Grabavoy stepped up to the plate, serving up some good positioning and defensive awareness to scupper attacks through the middle.
Neither Beckerman's absence through yellow card suspension nor Alvarez's through continued troubles with the ever-tricky immigration process ensuing from his refugee status ended up troubling RSL too greatly. Against a bigger, more physically oriented side — the sort seen week-in, week-out in MLS — RSL may have been troubled, but Grabavoy's aerial abilities weren't much tested.
Grabavoy constantly kept RSL ticking, distributing short passes reliably – he was 40/41 passing on Tuesday – and picking up five interceptions.
Shifting sands of defense
Once again, Tauro rolled forward with a fascinating approach to their defending. Perhaps more defensively minded than they might be against lesser opponents, Gonzalo Soto's side ostensibly came out with three center backs and two wing backs, with one of the center backs generally pushing a bit higher in possession — but never beyond the ad hoc line created by the wing backs.
It is an odd system to face for a club like RSL that plays in a league whose sides all basically ape the indelibly British 4-4-2, with wingers and two forwards, one more creative and one more bruising. Although RSL certainly saw a little trouble defensively, that was more down to individual abilities and good combinations from Tauro players.
The heart of Tauro's system on Tuesday night rested in their coping with attacks; a relatively high line at times — one that was at times composed of two outright central defenders and three defensive midfielders (two quite wide), and at other times saw three center backs bound up tightly to prevent runs into channels from Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales.
It was, all told, a fantastic tactical performance that nearly denied RSL the win they so badly needed. But when they were pushed further and further back, gaps emerged. It was those gaps that saw RSL making its best chances of the night, but when Saborio received the ball on the right side of the penalty area in much the same manner as those chances, it came down to an individual mistake from Vladimir Villareal, Tauro's 19-year-old goalkeeper, who had been strong nearly all night.
Lacking in attack
It was in part down to a strong tactical outlay from Tauro and in part down to an odd reluctance to attack from deep, but RSL was found lacking in attack throughout the proceedings — save the last ten or so minutes, during which things took a positive turn and, in the end, produced a positive result.
Perhaps it was reluctance on the part of Wingert and Beltran to get forward — prompting the midfield to move with it — or perhaps it was an imbalance in the midfield's workings. It is difficult to exactly pinpoint where things went wrong, or perhaps it is that many smaller things went slightly wrong, provoking a confluence of concerns that saw RSL struggle.
With Morales struggling to distribute from the edge of the box, where he ostensibly does his finest work, and Espindola blocked from his runs in channels between defenders, the attack was weakened. Further, the full backs and central midfielders couldn't push as far forward, owing to the presence of wing backs, or, if you will, wide defensive midfielders.
Again, part of that was because Tauro were fantastic tactically, and part was just a slightly wary approach from the midfield.
A CONCACAF Champions League tie is once again upon Jason Kreis's RSL, and a trip off to the canal-laden land of Panama sees the Claret-and-Cobalt taking on Tauro FC. A win for the MLS side leaves them in the running for the top spot in — and the only one to escape from — Group 2, while anything less could well see angst-furrowed brows along the sidelines.
Tauro sat back and defended during RSL's 2-0 win over the Panamanian champs at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 21. They'll need be more positive if they want to thwart RSL's plans on Tuesday and potentially move forward out of the group.
RSL will be doing it all on Tuesday without the services of their captain, Kyle Beckerman, who will miss the match due to a red card suspension picked up in that Aug. 21 win.
When last RSL met Tauro FC, they entered proceedings with a slightly unusual defensive — and offensive — twist, serving up a defensive line that at times held anywhere from three to five players, with overlaps in zones and midfield confusion erupting.
The unpredictability was brought into effect by midfielders dropping deeper and playing just in front of the defense, and in its wake, it disrupted any fluency the Panamanians tried to construct in the midfield. RSL, as a result, bossed the match without much issue — save, of course, creating goals from the run of play, which has been a spot of bother in recent weeks.
Whether those question marks will pop back into the picture may depend largely on Tauro's form and their ability to adjust formation properly and not haphazardly. It doesn't look encouraging for the Panamanians: They've notched only one win from five across all competitions since losing in Utah. Still, they've showed some goal scoring ability during those times, and RSL will need to be as defensively strong as ever.
Who will play holding mid?
After Kyle Beckerman's ejection in the home match with Tauro, RSL is left a little shorthanded in the middle of the park. With the club's captain absent, a replacement for one of the key positions will be essential — but just who that replacement will be throws out a question or two.
Under most circumstances, one might expect Yordany Alvarez to deputize; this season, he's done so with understanding and nous, save some shaky moments. Those shaky moments may be enough to push Jason Kreis toward someone with a bit more consistency in the form of Ned Grabavoy, who has been vaunted as the man for the job.
Grabavoy — more a link-up player than a defensive midfielder — has featured as holding mid a remarkable 12 times since joining the club, with RSL posting a 5-3-4 record when he plays in Beckerman's usual spot. He would offer more emphasis on attack than someone like Alvarez, who serves more as a hard-tackling, ball-winning midfielder. Of course, a side can't attack without first winning the ball — that simple fact may play into Kreis's decision.
Whoever lands at holding mid, the impetus will undoubtedly be on attack: A draw would inch RSL ever closer to a group stage exit, and a loss would certainly seal their fate. Kreis will certainly play all his cards looking for all three points.
Real Salt Lake fans: There’s a big, big game down in Panama tonight.
RSL’s CONCACAF Champions League Group 2 opponents Tauro FC and CS Herediano are set to faceoff at 6 p.m. MT in Panama City. The match has huge CCL implications for RSL, which is currently in second-place in the Group and needs to use its remaining two matches to vault into first to qualify for the Knockout Stage.
Costa Rican champs Herediano are in the Group 2 driver’s seat, sitting in first place with a 1-0-0 record, three points ahead of Panamanian club Tauro (0-1-0) and tied on points with RSL (1-1-0), which has played one more game than both Central American sides.
A Tauro result would be huge for RSL. The Panamanian champs – which will be underdogs against higher-quality Herediano, despite the Costa Rican club's recent coaching change – could help the Claret-and-Cobalt in a big way if they pick up a point, allowing RSL a little more wiggle room than they currently have. An upset win would be an even bigger result, as it would move all three teams into a tie for first, giving RSL complete control of its own CCL destiny.
You can watch the game live on CONCACAF.com. Be sure to pull for Tauro.
Update: Unfortunately, Tauro couldn't quite pick up a result on Thursday night, losing to Herediano 1-0. Full Group 2 standings are below:
|Real Salt Lake||3||1||1||0||1||2||1|
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.