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.
Everyone should have their eyes glued to their TVs this weekend as the MLS regular-season comes to a close with clubs still vying for playoff spots and the Supporters’ Shield. This weekend’s results hold major implications as to whether or not RSL will win the Supporters’ Shield or the Western Conference and who the Claret-and-Cobalt will face in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Real Salt Lake will be bystanders this weekend as the Claret-and-Cobalt finished its regular-season with Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Chivas USA. Wednesday’s win clinched a top-two West seed for RSL, meaning the Claret-and-Cobalt will play away in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Nov. 2 or Nov. 3 before returning home to Rio Tinto Stadium for the West Semi second leg on Nov. 6 or Nov. 7. Real Salt Lake could still play any of the West playoff teams of Portland, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC or Colorado Rapids in the West Semifinals.
RSL currently sits in first-place in the Supporters’ Shield race and Western Conference with a total of 56 points, 16 wins and 57 goals scored.
With so much at stake this weekend, here is a list of all the key matches that affect RSL and who you should be rooting for:
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
The Claret-and-Cobalt will need Sporting Kansas City to lose or draw at PPL Park in order for RSL’s Supporters’ Shield hopes to stay alive. Sporting Kansas City currently sits in second-place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 55 points, one point behind the New York Red Bulls. If Kansas City draws Philadelphia and ends up tied with RSL on points and wins, the Claret-and-Cobalt would place ahead based on the goals for tiebreaker, granted Kansas City doesn’t score 12 goals. The Philadelphia Union is facing a must-win situation in order to keep their postseason aspiration alive. This one’s easy: root for the Union.
Chivas USA vs. Portland Timbers – 8:30 p.m. MT on MLS Live
The Portland Timbers are the only team that can push RSL out of first-place in the Western Conference. A win for the Timbers at the StubHub Center would guarantee Caleb Porter’s squad first-place in the Western Conference and put an end to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s chance at the Supporters’ Shield. Portland currently has a total of 54 points, meaning a draw against Chivas USA would be enough to keep RSL first in the Western Conference. A Chivas USA win or draw might seem unlikely with their current record of 6-19-8, but everyone loves to root for the underdog. Let’s hope the Goats can end the season on a higher note and produce a result at home.
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire – 3:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. Real Salt Lake sits atop the league table narrowly leading New York by the goals for tiebreaker with 57 goals to New York’s 53. Any result by New York against Chicago will officially end the Claret-and-Cobalt’s run for the Supporters’ Shield. Chicago enters the match desperate for a win in order to keep its own playoff hopes alive. Pull for Mike Magee to keep his scoring form and work some magic at Red Bull Arena.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Colorado Rapids – 6:00 p.m. MT on MLS Live
This match won’t affect RSL’s standing in the Western Conference but it can affect who RSL will face in the Western Conference Semifinals. Colorado will need a draw or a win in order to officially clinch a playoff berth. If RSL finishes in first-place it will take on the winner of the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. If RSL finishes in second-place, it will face the third-place team in the West. If Colorado does earn a result at Vancouver, its playoff placement won’t be determined until after the final MLS regular-season game between Seattle and LA. Colorado would need a win and for LA and Seattle to draw in order to clinch third-place which would most likely mean a Rocky Mountain Cup semifinal series, assuming RSL finishes in second-place. A RSL vs. Colorado playoff game would be the first of its kind. Who to root for? Follow your heart.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
The final match of the MLS regular-season will definitely be an entertaining one with the former MLS champions taking on Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders FC. Seattle is suffering an epic blowout to end its regular-season, losing its last four matches by a combined margin of 12-2. Despite Seattle’s recent run of poor form, they have already clinched a playoff berth. This match will determine whether or not Seattle or LA will avoid the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. LA and Seattle will want to grab as many points as possible to put as much room between them and the red line. Who to root against? Both.
Real Salt Lake closed the regular season with a victory on Wednesday night, beating Chivas USA 2-1 to head into the MLS Cup Playoffs with a 16-10-8 regular season record.
Here are a few interesting numbers from RSL’s regular season campaign:
Real Salt Lake finished the regular season with 57 goals, the highest total in club history and the most in MLS ahead of this weekend’s final round of regular season matches. New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy are the only squads with even a mildly realistic chance of catching the Claret-and-Cobalt, with New York currently on 53 goals and LA on 52 goals.
RSL closed the 2013 regular season with 56 points, one shy of the club record of 57 set last season. The Claret-and-Cobalt is currently in first-place in both the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings, though the team needs some help this weekend to hold those spots. In order to win the Shield, Sporting KC will have to lose/draw at Philadelphia on Saturday, Portland will have to lose/draw at Chivas USA on Saturday and New York will have to lose to Chicago on Sunday. For RSL to win the West, Portland would have to lose/draw at Chivas USA on Saturday.
Real Salt Lake finished the 2013 season with a 6-7-4 away record, tying the club record for most away points in a season initially set in 2012.
RSL was one of – if not the – deepest teams in MLS this year, with 27 players seeing first-team MLS minutes, including a club record 26 players starting at least one game. RSL’s depth was put to good use in the huge amount of games missed by regulars due to injury, international call-ups and suspensions.
A league-leading six RSL players – Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morlaes, Robbie Findley, Ned Grabavoy, Olmes Garcia and Luis Gil – scored five or more league goals this year. Thirteen Claret-and-Cobalt players scored at least one regular season goal this year, with 15 total players pitching in goals when including U.S. Open Cup play.
RSL hit the 15-win and 50-point plateaus for the fourth-consecutive year this season, becoming the first club in MLS history to accomplish said feat. The LA Galaxy have since joined RSL in the exclusive club.
Real Salt Lake will play its final game of the 2013 MLS regular season on Wednesday night, hosting Chivas USA at 7:00 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s contest:
RSL battling for outside shot at Supporters’ Shield; Playoff seeding on the line
A ton is on the line for Real Salt Lake in the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races this week. Everything starts on Wednesday, with RSL needing a win to stay alive in the chase for the Shield and a result to have hope of winning the West.
RSL gunning for season sweep of Chivas USA
Real Salt Lake will be looking to complete a season sweep of Chivas USA on Wednesday, having already beaten the Southern California side 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 20 and downing the Goats 4-1 at the StubHub Center on May 19.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has only swept Chivas USA once before, going 2-0-0 against its expansion brethren in the 2011 season.
Saborio, Morales look to continue success v. Goats
Real Salt Lake stars Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales have both had a great deal of success against Chivas USA, with Saborio notching four goals and two assists in eight career regular season games against the Goats and Morales scoring one goal and registering five assists in 12 regular season games against the Southern California side. They’ll look to continue that success in Wednesday’s important contest.
It's been an exciting couple of days for Major League Soccer - my Twitter feed has been replete with words like "NYC", "Queens", "Yankees", "$400 million", "oil baron", and other words synonymous with big money. But for a moment, I'd like to talk about a subject that might be the soccer opposite of the New York expansion news: Ned Grabavoy. Real Salt Lake fans know better than most what Grabavoy's game is all about: Honest, hard work on both sides of the ball. He's rarely in the headlines. He's rarely in the spotlight. He's rarely up for Goal of the Week. What you get from "Grabs" is a solid, consistent effort, tidy possession, and hard tackles.
But this week the media is all abuzz with Grabavoy news, thanks to his two goals that led to RSL's lighting-up of Chivas USA on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. Don't get me wrong - it's a remarkable story to be sure. To put it in perspective, Grabavoy is in his 10th year in MLS and he has scored 10 goals. In other words, a ten-year veteran added 20% to his career goal total in 90 minutes. That's headline-worthy stuff, but I don't want to let the goals overshadow the rest of his game, because Sunday night Grabavoy was very, very good.
Take a look at Ned's passing chalkboard against Chivas. Ignore the completion percentage (more on that later) and ask yourself where most of his passes came from. The answer is, everywhere! This is what a box-to-box midfielder does - he covers all the length and width he can, helping in possession when his team has the ball and looking to win the ball back when his team doesn't. Speaking of winning the ball, Grabavoy was extraordinarily effective at that versus Chivas: His five tackles won were second-most on the team, just one behind Chris Wingert. Most of us probably would have expected that honor to belong to one of the other fullbacks or maybe Kyle Beckerman. But on Sunday, it was Grabavoy who did most of the midfield ball-winning for RSL.
Grabavoy also had RSL's best pass completion rate with 36 of 43 (83.7 percent) passes completed. That's no easy task on this team - Beckerman has lead MLS in this category for the last 2.5 seasons. Normally 84% isn't a great number, so why was it the best mark in this game? Well, the answer has everything to do with how Chivas chose to play defense. Their always-entertaining coach "Chelis" Sola elected to compress all his players into the smallest possible area in order to disrupt RSL's passing game. Honestly, it worked well; with the playable area of the field so small, every time an RSL player received a pass there he had a Chivas player nipping at his heels before he could line up a good pass. That led to a lot of incomplete passes. However, we also saw the downside of Chivas' defensive scheme: It left a lot of room behind the defense for attackers to use to run onto through balls, something Salt Lake players did with success all night (including Grabavoy, obviously).
It's a remarkable night when any RSL player nets a brace, but I would be remiss if I let Ned Grabavoy's goals overshadow his excellent overall performance on both sides of the ball.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
Four goals for Real Salt Lake in the most open match of the season speaks well of the performance on the night, but the 4-1 scoreline over Chivas USA ignores the task facing the defense on Sunday night — as well as a tactical shift that changed the game in the second half.
Wide open: Defense steps up
The first half and much of the second half against Chivas USA last night saw Real Salt Lake playing in perhaps the most open match they've seen all season. Chances were flying back and forth, and by and large, RSL had the better of the opportunities. But some points of frustration will inevitably emerge the very back-and-forth nature of the match and the fact that it took going up 3-1 for a win to look genuinely secure.
The defense deserves real recognition for the manner in which they dealt with the Chivas attack, with Nick Rimando particularly earning plaudits for two reaction saves in the second half. But Chris Wingert, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, and Tony Beltran all stepped up to the challenge well and compensated for a more attacking mentality from RSL.
Findley on: Dynamic changes
When Robbie Findley came into the match, Chivas USA had just started to pick their heads up and respond to the challenge in front of them. With Plata and Sandoval both looking a bit tired, the home side was controlling play more readily and unafraid to push players forward in search of an equalizer. Findley's arrival on the scene saw him pushing ahead of a high line defense, with through balls and passes over the top being played into him.
With Findley screaming past the defense, they attempted to adapt and were forced back into their earlier look that had seen them concede two goals. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that he changed the dynamic of the match. Now, that's not to say that he shouldn't have scored once, twice or maybe even three times, but when his impact is so palpable otherwise, a little forgiveness is in order.
Wingert up: Interception machine
When Chris Schuler earlier this season picked up 8 interceptions, I batted my eyes a bit with surprise. But after turning to the chalkboards last night, I could scarcely believe my eyes: Chris Wingert, who I'd already thought had a very good match, made 17 interceptions. That means that every five minutes or so, Wingert stepped into the line of a pass and regained possession for RSL. That's no small feat.
Those moments can be somewhat attributed to a poor Chivas side, but it's one thing to be poor and another to be made to look so. Had Wingert played more passively and not stepped into passing lanes, it would have been an entirely different game. Given Chivas had 18 shots — though only six on-target — allowing more opportunities would have been, at best, regrettable.
Real Salt Lake closed out its three-game road trip strongly on Sunday night, getting a brace from midfielder Ned Grabavoy and a goal each from forwards Joao Plata and Robbie Findley to down Chivas USA 4-1 at the Home Depot Center.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s game:
Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy scored two goals on Sunday night, giving him the first multi-goal game of his MLS career. The goals snapped a long goalless streak for Grabavoy, who hadn’t scored since Oct. 29, 2011, when he found the back of the net in RSL’s 3-0 win over Seattle in the first leg of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinal. Grabavoy’s last regular season goal prior to Sunday’s brace came on Oct. 16, 2010, when he tallied in RSL’s 2-0 win over FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium. Grabavoy now has 10 regular season goals in his career.
Real Salt Lake is an impressive 8-2-1 against Chivas USA since the start of the 2009 season. RSL has outscored the Rojiblancos 21-5 during that span.
Real Salt Lake is 5-0-0 in both its last five games at Chivas USA and in its last five games at the Home Depot Center, which serves as the home of both Chivas and the LA Galaxy. RSL’s streak at Chivas dates back to the start of the 2010 season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt outscoring the Goats 14-2 during its 5-0-0 run. RSL’s perfect run at the Home Depot Center began in the 2012 season opener and consists of three wins at Chivas and two wins at the Galaxy.
Forward Joao Plata scored his first goal in a RSL uniform on Sunday night, slotting home past Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to give RSL a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute of the Utah side’s win. Along with his one goal, Plata is tied for the league lead with four assists this season.
Nine Real Salt Lake players have scored goals in MLS play this year. That’s just one less than the 10 players who scored MLS goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2012.
March 26, 2011
Grabavoy’s fourth minute goal was the quickest goal scored by RSL since March 26, 2011, when former midfielder and current Head Scout Andy Williams scored in the second minute of RSL’s 4-1 home win over the LA Galaxy.
Sept. 29, 2012
Prior to Sunday’s match, the last time RSL scored at least four goals in a game was on Sept. 29, 2012, when forward Alvaro Saborio notched a hat trick to power the Claret-and-Cobalt to a 4-0 victory at Chivas USA.
Real Salt Lake has now scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS games dating back to the team’s 2-0 home win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on May 4. The last time RSL scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS matches was in May 2010, when the Claret-and-Cobalt tallied at least twice in five-straight league games. It should be noted that RSL has been without injured leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the entirety of its current streak.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler did not play on Sunday night, bringing the total number of RSL players who have played in all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s MLS matches to zero. Prior to Sunday night, Schuler had played every possible MLS minute for RSL.
Real Salt Lake is set to close its three-game road trip this Sunday, when it will take on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center.
RSL has played Chivas USA once this year, getting a goal from midfielder Javier Morales and a penalty kick save from goalkeeper Nick Rimando to beat the Southern California side 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 20. Check out the highlights from that match above and make sure to tune in to CW30 at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night for this weekend's match.
Part I of MLSsoccer.com's "Inside the Mind of Chelis" series dropped earlier today. Despite his earlier comments to the contrary, the bombastic Chivas USA head coach said some very nice things about Real Salt Lake, Rio Tinto Stadium and the Claret-and-Cobalt faithful in the video.
Give the entire piece a watch; It's a truly fascinating look into one of the most unique coaches in all of MLS.