Real Salt Lake faces an absolute must-win on Tuesday night, when it will take on C.S. Herediano in a decisive CONCACAF Champions League Group 2 match. Of course, few things lead to a loss of tactical cohesion quite like these must-win games. RSL will have to stay supremely focused in several areas if it's to get the result it needs at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday.
Posturing: Defensive or offensive
In order to progress, Jason Kreis's side must win by either a 1-0 scoreline or by two clear goals. It's one of those tough scenarios that requires some intense concentration from all involved. It raises questions about the approach to the match.
As a first option, RSL could score a goal then opt for a more defensive posture, as a single goal by Herediano brings the necessary scoreline to 3-1 — it could be a big ask against a defensively resolute side. With Jamison Olave a doubt, a usually solid partnership of Nat Borchers of Chris Schuler could be tested significantly.
As a second option, RSL could go in guns blazing, secure in the knowledge that regardless, they'll need at least a goal to go forward — and there are few better ways to get a goal than to simply go for it.
Defender Nat Borchers — unsurprisingly — would choose the first option: "We're going to have some patience, just make sure everything's switched on defensively, and the goals are going to come."
Missing puzzle pieces
With Alvaro Saborio out through yellow card accumulation, and Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave in doubt for Tuesday, Jason Kreis will certainly be wringing his hands over the decisions he'll soon be forced to make.
Saborio's absence is perhaps the biggest: RSL's leading goalscorer — this season, in CONCACAF Champions League, and overall — is certain to be missed, as there are no other real hold-up players on the team. Justin Braun will be hoping to fill that role, but until his on-ball ability reaches a higher level, he may struggle for minutes.
Fabian Espindola's potential absence, compounded with Saborio's, would be doubly concerning: Already, Paulo Jr. is likely to start, but having him in as the available-first-choice striker would necessitate a potential shift in approach. With both Saborio and Espindola absent, RSL would be forced into either changing shape, continuing with Emiliano Bonfigli, or giving Justin Braun a chance.
An absence to Olave would be the easiest to solve: Chris Schuler has shown well since returning from his foot injury, and I suspect if called upon, he'd continue that fine form.
Approach play from the midfield
With some shift in personnel inevitable, the key will likely be in the play of Will Johnson and, should he be deemed fit, Ned Grabavoy. Both would need to get forward at will, burst into the box, and connect with Javier Morales.
This would abdicate some responsibility on the forwards, leaving less need to swing long balls in and providing more work for Herediano's defensive line. As they'll be secure with a draw, RSL will need to apply significant pressure there.
Real Salt Lake’s attention will be turned to Costa Rica for Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League Group 2 match between C.S. Herediano and Panamanian side Tauro FC.
The game has major implications for Group 2. For tiebreaking reasons we’ll get into further on Wednesday, second-place RSL will be hoping that visiting Tauro – which has already been eliminated from contention for the Quarters and will play its last CCL match Tuesday night – will either pick up a result or lose by just one goal at first-place Herediano, which takes on RSL in what will be the decisive Group 2 finale at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 23.
Kickoff for Tuesday’s match is at 8 p.m. MT at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. You can check out a live stream of the game over at CONCACAF.com.
Update: Herediano beat Tauro 2-1 on Tuesday. RSL will have to beat Herediano either 1-0 or by two goals in the Group 2 finale at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 23 to win the group and advance to the CCL Quarterfinals. Click here for a full breakdown of RSL's CCL situation.
Fully updated Group 2 standings are below:
|Real Salt Lake||3||2||1||0||3||1||2||6|
RSL kept its CONCACAF Champions League hopes alive on Tuesday night, getting a last-minute penalty kick goal from forward Alvaro Saborio to win 1-0 at Tauro FC.
Here are some interesting numbers from the Claret-and-Cobalt’s victory in Panama City.
The minute referee Mauricio Morales whistled for RSL’s penalty, calling Tauro goalie Vladimir Villareal for a foul on Saborio inside the box. It was the second straight RSL game in which a decisive penalty kick was called in the 93rd minute after RSL goalie Nick Rimando was whistled for a PK – which was then converted – in the 93rd minute of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 1-0 loss at Houston on Sept. 6.
The number of goals Saborio has scored in 91 games across all competitions for Real Salt Lake, the most in team history.
Saborio’s record from the penalty spot in his RSL career. The Costa Rican international had a bit of a scare on his spot kick on Tuesday night, as Villareal got both hands on the ball before deflecting it into the back of the net.
The number of yellow cards Saborio has picked up in the CCL Group Stage after getting cautioned in the second half of Tuesday's match. That total means that Saborio will be suspended for RSL's all-important Group 2 finale against first-place C.S. Herediano at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 23.
The number of days RSL went between road victories before winning at Estadio Rommel Fernandez on Tuesday night. The Claret-and-Cobalt carried a seven-game road winless streak across all competitions into Tuesday’s match, with its last road win being the 3-0 victory on June 16 at Chivas USA.
The number of minutes RSL defender Jamison Olave played on Tuesday night. It was Olave’s first competitive action since he injured his hamstring during RSL’s CCL loss at C.S. Herediano on July 31.
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy’s pass completion percentage from Tuesday night. Grabavoy – who filled in for the suspended Kyle Beckerman at defensive midfielder against Tauro – completed 40 of 41 passes and added five pass interceptions.
The number of minutes Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez played off the bench on Tuesday night. It was his first game action since coming off the bench in RSL’s loss at San Jose on July 14.
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.