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.
Two similar sides faced off at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday when Real Salt Lake defeated Chivas USA 1-0, with a crowded midfield dominating the match's narrative.
Yordany Alvarez, in for Kyle Beckerman and his dislocated rib, had a fine night as a defensive midfielder, breaking up play — evidenced by his five interceptions — but also making a delible impact on the match with efficient passing. His only unsuccessful passes (he went 42/51 on the night) were either long or at the edge of the Chivas box.
Where Alvarez controlled the defensive portion of the midfield, Javier Morales controlled the attacking end. His goal made the biggest impact on the match, but with four key passes, he had some real success as a distributor. Of course, it's hard to look past that goal — a fine effort he started off with a 60-yard run into the area.
Considering the midfield glut present throughout the match, the successes of these two is of real note.
It goes rather without saying that there were some areas in which Real Salt Lake looked less than optimal. Chief among those was failing to deal with the high amounts of pressure being put on the midfield.
The players who started on the side of the diamond fared with the pressure differently: Luis Gil wasn't heavily involved (13/15 in passing), while Ned Grabavoy completed only just over half of his passes (19/37) through the match. It would seem to be down to the opposition and the high pressure, but it's also worth noting that Chivas USA had a hard go of things in their midfield as well, completing only two-thirds of their passes in the middle third. Of course, 75 percent of Chivas's passes came in the middle third.
It was a match described most readily by a crowded midfield — when two remarkably similar dominant-midfield sides are up against each other, perhaps that's inevitable.
After all the talk of Chivas USA deploying in a 3-5-2 or something approaching it, we were left with something that looked more akin to a more defensive diamond 4-4-2 — imagine Real Salt Lake's approach with Kyle Beckerman more readily dropping into a center back role rather than pushing forward. It's a matter of semantics, and not an entirely important one, but it's worth discussing.
RSL kicked off its three-game home stand in style on Saturday night, beating Western Conference foe Chivas USA 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s penalty kick save on Chivas USA midfielder Edgar Mejia in the 36th minute of Saturday’s game moved the veteran ‘keeper to 18-for-59 (30.5 percent) on regular season penalty kicks in his career – the best mark in league history.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio assisted on midfielder Javier Morales’ goal on Saturday night, the first time that the Costa Rican international registered a helper on a Morales goal in regular season play.
Saturday’s win continued RSL’s recent dominance over Chivas USA, moving the Claret-and-Cobalt to 7-2-1 in regular season play against the Rojiblancos since the start of the 2009 season.
RSL forward Olmes Garcia made his first career MLS start on Saturday night, registering an assist and hitting the crossbar twice in 63 minutes of action. The 20-year-old Garcia signed a five-year contract with RSL in February.
RSL has zero losses in three home games this year, with Saturday’s result moving the Utah side to 2-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2013. The Claret-and-Cobalt will play six of its next nine league matches in Sandy, starting with this Saturday’s contest against Western Conference rival L.A. Galaxy.
Essentially all sides in MLS (18, if we're to be precise) generally play with a four-man defense, and it's very much the accepted tactical outlay across world football. As such, modern attacking formations are based heavily on attempting to exploit the vulnerabilities and spaces between the two central defenders and the full backs. Chivas USA, as has been oft-discussed this season, has been playing with a three-man back line under Chelis, which presents some interesting options for Real Salt Lake.
The midfield attack
It becomes a rather simple equation — though not an entirely accurate one — when we talk about the three central defenders facing two strikers: 3v2 would seem to give an advantage to the defense, but not because of pure numbers. It simply allows for more defensive flexibility in covering an attacking midfielder — a Javier Morales, say — when he's playing centrally. In this case, you'd have both strikers covered and a third attacking player, and your wide midfielders are covering the flanks.
This is where it gets a bit tricky: If Javier Morales makes his diagonal runs toward touch on either flank, he opens up different sorts of space that the 3-5-2 might not accommodate readily. If the third central defender pulls off with him toward the channels on either side, a run is opened up for a deeper-lying midfielder. If the defender stays, he's forced to decide between covering for a wider central defender, who might peel off to cover Morales, or to simply cover dangerous spaces at the back. Whatever the defense does to attempt to cover the danger Morales provides, options should open up for midfielders.
The strikers might be more efficiently covered, doubling the importance of midfield attack. Any disruption that can be offered — while avoiding too much opportunity for Chivas USA to counter — will play into RSL's hands. A quick turn could see the defense presented with three, four or even five attacking options. Imagine, for example: Saborio, Findley, Gil, Morales and Grabavoy all moving toward goal, and rather narrowly at that. Quick runs past the defenders could see Findley perfectly poised to cause significant trouble.
The wide areas
Chivas USA are likely to control the wide areas with either wing-backs or wide midfielders patrolling the flanks. If Real Salt Lake surrenders them, as so often we do out of tactical necessity, our fullbacks will need to be actively communicating with the midfielders to handle any danger on the flanks. Obviously enough, this will require a bit more communication across the board, as it would be rather disastrous to allow free runs in the middle from a creative side.
RSL walked all over Chivas USA the last time the sides met, getting a hat trick from forward Alvaro Saborio - who played only 74 minutes - to beat the Goats 4-0 at the Home Depot Center on Sept. 29, 2012.
Check out highlights of that match above. RSL hosts Chivas USA at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake youngsters Carlos Salcedo and Lalo Fernandez both spent time in the Chivas Guadalajara academy earlier in their careers, with Salcedo playing there in 2009 and Fernandez at the academy from 2008-2010.
The pair of Guadalajara natives talked about their time in the Chivas academy ahead of Saturday's home match against Guadalajara's sister club Chivas USA. Check out the above video to see the roommates and RSL-Arizona Academy grads dish on life with Guadalajara and their tight connection with Chivas USA midfielder Giovani Casillas.