Real Salt Lake is a veteran-laden team with loads of playoff experience. That much is known.
But just how much more experienced in the rigors of the MLS Cup Playoffs than any other team in MLS was on display in the first legs of the Western Conference Semifinal Series that were played over the weekend.
After play in the first legs, Nick Rimando’s 32 career postseason matches was more than the 11 starters from FC Dallas (30), the Columbus Crew (30) and the New England Revolution (29), even after Dallas had played two playoff games this year.
Of the eight Conference Semifinalists, no team comes close to touching the 171 total playoff games from Real Salt Lake’s starting 11 against the Galaxy. LA was the nearest competition with 130 career playoff matches, followed by D.C. United with 94 and Seattle Sounders FC with 87.
Real Salt Lake’s back six alone – Rimando, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Kyle Beckmeran – combine for 127 career postseason matches. That is significantly more than any other team’s starting 11 outside of the Galaxy.
Below is the full chart of the playoff experience for the starting lineups from the Western Conference semifinal first leg matches.
Real Salt Lake – 171
LA Galaxy – 130
D.C. United – 94
Seattle Sounders FC – 87
New York Red Bulls – 78
FC Dallas – 30
Columbus Crew – 30
New England Revolution – 29
The last time Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew met, RSL punished the Crew 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 24, 2013. But now the tables are turned and RSL will be facing the Ohio club on its home turf at Crew Stadium.
RSL’s romp last year saw a brace from Captain Kyle Beckerman - his first multi-goal game since April 2008 - and goals from forward Devon Sandoval and midfielder Luis Gil. Sandoval and forward Olmes Garcia started up top together which is likely to be the case tomorrow as well. Get pumped for tomorrow’s match by reliving all the action from last summer’s goal-fest.
Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back after suffering its first defeat of the 2014 season last week against Seattle. RSL travels to Columbus on Wednesday to face the Crew at 5:30 p.m. MT at Crew Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s clash:
How will RSL react after suffering its first loss of the season?
With Real Salt Lake ending its 12-game unbeaten run last Saturday with a disheartening 4-0 loss at Seattle, many will be looking to see how the team responds after its first non-result. With only three days between Seattle and Columbus, the Claret-and-Cobalt hasn’t had much time to dwell on the defeat. With the focus now on the Crew, RSL will have an opportunity to showcase its character in the way the team comes out on Wednesday night.
How will RSL’s toughest stretch of games – three in eight days – affect Wednesday’s lineup?
Real Salt Lake is currently facing its toughest stretch of games this year, playing a total of three matches in eight days. The Claret-and-Cobalt face Columbus only three days after playing a tough road match in Seattle. RSL will have another quick turnaround after Wednesday, hosting Western Conference rival Portland Timbers on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Head Coach Jeff Cassar will have to choose whether or not to rest some tired legs in Columbus ahead of what always tends to be a heated and physical affair between RSL and Portland.
RSL currently facing a lack of options at midfield and forward
With Captain Kyle Beckerman, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and forward Alvaro Saborio’s absences continually looming over RSL, it couldn’t have been a worse time for the injury bug to bite. RSL forward Joao Plata, who has scored six goals and notched three assists in nine appearances this year, reinjured his hamstring against FC Dallas a little more than a week ago. The dynamic and speedy Ecuadorian did not travel to Seattle and is still doubtful for Wednesday’s match at Columbus. Cassar’s only option could be the up top pairing of Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia – the same duo that started against Seattle.
Will RSL be able to find the back of the net?
With a scoreless draw against FC Dallas and getting shutout at Seattle, Real Salt Lake has now gone 219 minutes without finding the back of the net. With the news of RSL forward Alvaro Saborio’s broken foot (which will keep him out 3-4 months) and the ongoing recovery of Plata, RSL’s forward depth will be tested for longer than originally planned for. Wednesday’s match against the Crew couldn’t be a better time for Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia to gain a little confidence and find the back of the net for the Claret-and-Cobalt for the first time this year.
Real Salt Lake put the hurt on Columbus on Saturday night, scoring three second half goals to beat the Crew 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s contest:
Real Salt Lake’s four goals on Saturday night gave the team 48 regular season goals this year, breaking the club record of 46 regular season goals set in 2012. The Claret-and-Cobalt still has seven regular season matches remaining this year – plenty of time to add to its new record.
April 12, 2008
Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman’s two-goal performance on Saturday night was his first multi-goal game since he bagged two goals against D.C. United on April 12, 2008. Beckerman’s brace was the 45th multi-goal game by a RSL player in club history. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 37-4-4 all-time when a player scores multiple goals in a match.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned his 107th career regular season shutout on Saturday night. Rimando is now just five clean-sheets shy of tying Kevin Hartman for the all-time MLS shutout record. The veteran ‘keeper has eight shutouts this year; 71 of his 107 career regular season clean-sheets have come in a RSL uniform.
Rimando also moved into third-place in MLS history in minutes played on Saturday night. The “Wall of the Wasatch” has now played 30,753 minutes in 340 career regular season matches, all of which have been starts. He trails only Hartman (37,260) and the retired Steve Ralston (33,142) on the all-time MLS minutes played chart. Rimando is now tied for fifth on the all-time MLS appearances list with former D.C. man Jaime Moreno and is one start away from moving into a tie for third-place on the all-time starts list with Vancouver goalie Joe Cannon.
Real Salt Lake has now scored nine goals in its last three games in league action. That’s an absurd total – one that’s good for an average of three goals per game.
A 4-0 win over Columbus Crew for Real Salt Lake will surely have everyone in good spirits, and with good reason: Never did RSL look like anything other than the far better side. There is no exaggeration when Jason Kreis called it his side's "most complete performance" of the year.
Columbus's biggest threats on the night were surely Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain. Neither were particularly threatening to RSL's dominance on the night, with Higuain's impact frustrated to the point that he opted to get sent off instead of continuing in the match. Throughout, Columbus Crew took only a single on-target shot and but three off-target shots. There will be plenty of talk about the attack, and rightly so, but just as vital as the speed with which we re-won possession.
Patience is a virtue, I think
That first goal for Real Salt Lake was one which seemed it would never come. Columbus Crew were resolute in their defending and more than content to let us keep the ball, and but for a deflection, they would have gone into the half having not conceded. What the first half saw, then, was two sides demonstrating immense patience: RSL continued their attack without panicking, and Crew continued their defense without wavering.
And by and large, there was something nice about that — perhaps because Real Salt Lake had breached the defense once, it was made more palatable. But once the Crew decided that, should they desire any result at all, they'd have to be at least slightly more adventurous. The second goal came perhaps as a result, more or less, of that: It was not so much that they had pushed too far forward, but that they failed to track any sort of run. It was as static as the Crew could have looked.
For a team playing — again — its third game in an eight-day stretch, it was encouraging to see those who played full matches in the two preceding matches — Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales, with Chris Wingert close behind — making constant attacking runs. The players who came in looked not just fresh, but eager to be involved. That sort of attitude is difficult to teach and is surely a testament to the squad that has been built.
That movement led to dangerous opportunities throughout the first half, and when the second half rolled around, it led to a further three goals for the home side. Running out winners has rarely been so literal a phrase. A special word should be reserved for Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval, who formed a strong, solid partnership, with both players making those essential runs.
Rimando to Beltran; Beltran to Findley; Findley to Velasquez; Velasquez to Beckerman; Beckerman to Velasquez; Velasquez to Wingert; Wingert to Grabavoy; Grabavoy to Morales; Morales to Gil; Gil to Grabavoy; Grabavoy to Morales; Morales to Velasquez; Velasquez to Grabavoy; Grabavoy to Gil.
Gil to goal.
Real Salt Lake’s third goal in its 4-0 romp over Columbus on Saturday night was an absolute beauty. Finishing off a 14-pass sequence that began with ‘keeper Nick Rimando and went through nine of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 11 players, the move was a master-class in attacking soccer, featuring quick, one-two passing, heady dribbling and an excellent finish from Luis Gil.
Check out the entire 36-second sequence above.
With one of the Eastern Conference's playoff somewhat-hopefuls coming to town in the form of Columbus Crew, the impetus is on Real Salt Lake to continue improving in all areas.
Momentum may or may not be a myth, but if we're talking about what Real Salt Lake should do to ensure victory, it certainly is something to consider. But this isn't the sort of momentum maintained in a frictionless system; instead, RSL must continue applying force to keep on the right path. Things have slowed in recent weeks, and maintaining speed is of the essence as the race for the Supporters Shield heats up once again.
Getting players like Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando back into the side will be of the utmost importance, but it ought be remembered that we've also struggled with them in there. Should we hope to get back to our best, those two — as well as everyone else out there, but especially those two — will have to ensure that they remain defensively aware.
Without a doubt, this has been the biggest sticking point for Real Salt Lake in the last month. Too often we have done tremendously to find a lead, only to surrender it at first asking, often on a set piece or a cross into the box. Our physical attributes are not particularly problematic, and the ability of our defenders is difficult to question. But it must be remembered that defensive awareness starts at the front and trickles to the back.
This is particularly poignant when we're talking about the midfield; while we've surely improved in the attack over last year, we sometimes lack some important qualities that players like Will Johnson brought to the field. We lack the workhorse in the middle, and while Ned Grabavoy somewhat fills that role, more important has been his attacking thrust. But similarly, I've been quick to criticize players like Luis Gil for not getting far enough into the attack — it's clearly a difficult problem to solve. Whatever we find as our best solution it will involve preventing long unprotected passes from deep in the midfield — those will hurt us over and over.
Higuain v. Morales
The two Argentines are notably among the most ruthlessly efficient playmakers in MLS, and Saturday is a perfect opportunity to see them square off. Both have similar histories, and both are doing quite the providers for their team — but the two aren't exactly the same player. It's difficult to bear those statistics out without watching the match — which renders it all the more interesting. Both are near the top of the league in key passes and assists, and both chip in with a fair few goals for their side — Morales with 6, Higuain with 9.
Real Salt Lake continues MLS regular season play with its third match in seven games to take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Columbus has RSL’s number
Salt Lake has posted only a 3-3-1 mark all-time at home against the Crew, with a 4-10-1 overall record, its worst against any MLS opponent. The Utah side has dropped 5 of the last 6 regular-season matches against Columbus, but does boast 2009 MLS Cup Playoff and 2011 CONCACAF Champions League knockout series wins over the Crew. The Black & Gold is 3-0-0 in its last three against the Claret-and-Cobalt, including a pair of shut-out victories, as well as a 2-0 win at the RioT in Columbus’s most recent visit on July 30, 2011.
The Crew bring its best for the best
Columbus is sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference with 29 points, but the Ohio side is no pushover. Riding a two game winning streak, the Crew has made the most of its opportunities against the league’s top teams, beating the Montreal Impact, Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls, all of whom were in first place when facing the Black & Gold. With Real sitting atop the MLS table with 42 points, coach Jason Kreis’s side will be facing a pesky opponent.
Returns for RSL
Captain Kyle Beckerman served his suspension for yellow card accumulation and GK Nick Rimando sat out due to a stomach virus during Wednesday’s fixture against the Portland Timbers, but the Utah side still managed to get a 3-3 result on the road. For Saturday’s meeting against the Crew, the midfielder is available for selection and the goalkeeper can return to his spot in net. Expect the RSL stalwarts to add leadership and organization to an already veteran squad.
Scoring without Sabo
Nursing a right calf strain, the Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading scorer Alvaro Saborio didn’t see the field in Wednesday’s match and sat out of training on Friday. The RSL boss ruled him out for Saturday’s game, but the Utah side is used to production from its entire squad. Including four Open Cup games, the 48 RSL goals in the last 20 fixtures have been scored from 17 different sources - by 16 different players - surpassing the club’s total number of goalscorers for the entirety of 2012. The latest man to newly contribute to the attack was MF Cole Grossman, whose equalizer at Portland was the former Duke standout’s second-ever MLS goal and his first with RSL.
Clash of the Argentines
All RSL fans know about Argentine playmaker Javier Morales, but Columbus has some South American flair of its own with Federico Higuain. The Crew DP is the engine for his team’s attack, tallying six assists and nine goals in MLS play. The same could be said for Morales, who is tied for fourth in the league in assists with eight. The winner of this clash of Argentines will have a major impact on the game’s result.
Grossman to face his old team
The midfielder’s now-famous return to the field last Wednesday against Portland came just before he’ll face his old team. The former Duke Blue Devil was selected by Columbus in the second round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, appearing in 12 league games and scoring one goal with the Black & Gold. With Grossman healthy and confident due to his game-tying goal, the 24-year-old could get some action against his former club.