Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back on Saturday from Tuesday’s crushing 1-0 defeat to D.C. United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, hosting Western Conference foe FC Dallas at 7:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes on the line
Real Salt Lake is currently in the thick of the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races, one point behind New York in the battle for the Shield and in first in the West by virtue of holding the goals scored tiebreaker over Seattle.
With Seattle holding two games in hand on both the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York, Saturday’s game is vitally important for Real Salt Lake to keep pace in the chase for the Shield and the West. A win over Dallas would keep RSL in first in the West and potentially vault the team past New York, which hosts New England on Saturday. A loss or a tie and the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference title become increasingly unlikely for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
One factor working in RSL’s favor: Seattle could lose key players Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans to the U.S. national team for the Sounders’ Oct. 9 game against Vancouver and Oct. 13 clash at Portland.
Dallas enters Saturday’s match with its playoff hopes hanging by a thread. FCD is currently in eighth-place in the West, five points behind Colorado for the fifth and final playoff spot. The Texas side has just four games remaining in the regular season and will likely need to win at least three of them to have any hope of qualifying for the postseason.
Make no mistake about it: RSL will be facing a desperate Dallas side on Saturday. Expect a lot of scratching and clawing from the Hoops.
RSL magician Javier Morales and Dallas playmaker David Ferreira have both had a good deal of success against each other’s side, with Morales scoring three goals and notching six assists in 10 career regular season games against Dallas and Ferreira registering two goals and three assists in seven career regular season games against the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Kreis matches up against former side
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis spent nine seasons playing in Dallas, scoring 91 goals for the then Dallas Burn from 1996-2004. Kreis – who is still FCD’s all-time leading scorer – is 7-8-3 in all competitions when coaching against Dallas.
Real Salt Lake made club history on Saturday night, getting goals from Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and Olmes Garcia to beat FC Dallas 3-0 at FC Dallas Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saturday’s win was Real Salt Lake’s 100th in MLS regular season play. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 100-103-69 all-time in regular season action.
Saturday’s victory was Real Salt Lake’s 11th-straight match in all competitions without a loss. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 9-0-2 in that span. RSL hasn’t lost since May 11, when it dropped a 3-2 result at the Montreal Impact.
Real Salt Lake’s 3-0 victory over FC Dallas marked the club’s first-ever win on Texas soil. The Utah side now has a 1-18-3 record across all competitions in the Lone Star State.
24-year-old goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made his first MLS appearance on Saturday night, replacing injured ‘keeper Josh Saunders in the 51st minute. Attinella made three saves during his 39-minute stint, including a parrying block of a point-blank header by Dallas forward Ramon Nunez in the 88th minute.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia scored his fifth goal of the MLS season in the 90th minute of Saturday’s match. Garcia’s five goals in 547 minutes this year give him a rate of one goal per 109 minutes played – the next-best scoring rate by a member of the Claret-and-Cobalt is Alvaro Saborio’s one goal per every 164 minutes.
Including the victory over FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake now has a record of 4-4-1 on the road this year, with a road goal differential of +5. The only other teams with a positive road goal differential are Portland and Sporting KC, which are both at +2.
Real Salt Lake has now scored 32 goals in MLS play this season, tied with Philadelphia for the league lead. The club has scored two or more goals in 12 of its last 14 matches across all competitions.
With his blast into the top-right corner of the goal on Saturday, Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy has now put 28.6 percent of his scoring chances in the back of the net. Grabavoy has already exceeded his career high in goals scored, having scored four goals thus far in 2013.
Going to Texas and notching a win on our belt is no easy feat, but a 3-0 win over FC Dallas while deploying an untested formation? It's the stuff of dreams for Real Salt Lake, and we can point to tactics if we're looking for a cause.
At least on paper, it looked like was rolling out a 4-2-3-1, and parts of it made a good deal of sense. Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez played in wide attacking roles on either side of Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley operated as the lone forward. The attacking midfielders, on paper, seemed a fantastic use of personnel, while Findley's operating up top on his lonesome seemed a strange decision.
It didn't quite work out that way. Velasquez and Gil struggled to get heavily involved, and perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the role that was problematic for the pair. Both thrive when they have passing options closer to them, and that simply wasn't the case. To connect well, Ned Grabavoy and Yordany Alvarez both had to push higher up the pitch, and Morales would have to swing to either side.
While both youngsters are capable of picking up the ball and running at players, it's not exactly a trait that fits the system — we thrive moving the ball from the inside-out while high up the pitch, then back in again to create danger — Saturday was a case of moving the ball outside deeper, then attempting to bring it back in again. This allowed defending wide players to stop the movement before any momentum could be had.
It was perhaps telling that Javier Morales had one of his finer games of the last three years, and his goal and assist (or, if you're including second assists, then he had two) were a mark of his work. Perhaps this came from the wider players occupying defenders more, giving Morales more time and space on the ball.
On a surface level, it would appear the formation worked, but it's difficult to say to what extent. A single win — or loss — doesn't speak to a formation's worth. But it is encouraging that Jason Kreis, typically a stalwart of the diamond 4-4-2, has significantly experimented with other formations this season. The tactical flexibility this affords should keep opponents guessing a bit more and less able to deploy a stymying tactical plan.
A discussion of the match wouldn't be complete without a note on Jason Kreis's key substitutions, as they really shifted the match in RSL's favor. By stepping back into the 4-4-2 and bringing Joao Plata on for Velasquez, the defense was forced to adapt; Plata's ability to run at players has wide impact.
And Olmes Garcia on for Robbie Findley really sounded the death knells for Dallas — with Findley having tired the defense for 70 minutes, Garcia came on and was handed an exhausted defense. With Dallas looking to recover a bit, they wanted to push players forward: Garcia didn't allow that. He picked up the ball in key positions and ran at defenders, he closed down superbly, and by and large, he was a player that impacted the game in a significant way.
Missing a handful of top players, Real Salt Lake travels this Saturday to FC Dallas, where they've never found a win. Absences won't make it impossible, but expecting it to get easier as a result would be a bit of madness.
A whole host of players will be rather notably absent for this one: Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, and Nick Rimando will all be busy in Salt Lake City (funny thing, fate), and Lovel Palmer is out through suspension after his dubious red card against Philadelphia. That doesn't exactly make the occasion easier, particularly with Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler out with injury. Shifting players around will be a tricky task.
The key position that might throw things off: right back. Beltran's absence is conspicuous, and Palmer's hurts in light of that. Perhaps Jason Kreis will opt to move Chris Wingert to the right side, deploying Abdoulie Mansally on the left — that would seem the most reasonable of options. But Carlos Salcedo and Enzo Martinez have both played significant minutes for the reserves at right back, and perhaps this is an opportunity to test things a bit.
Strike pairs and absences
We've played more pairs of strikers than one would expect, but Robbie Findley and Joao Plata may just get the nod with Saborio's international duty cutting into things — but not significantly more than usual, as the Costa Rican has played fewer than half the available matches this season. The debate rages on about RSL's best pairing: Plata and Findley are not just the speed demon options, but something more intricate that requires the entirety of the midfield be ticking over.
Throwing an Olmes Garcia into the mix obviates that a bit, as he'll run at players and pick up possession all over the pitch, creating dangerous moments along the way. At this point, he's less a system player than he is a fantastic one, though it should be noted that is essentially the goal with him — to exist outside of the system, or at least to stretch and bend it, perhaps nearly to the point of breaking. That sort of disruption is essential in finding the best on-the-field solutions.
Devon Sandoval offers something altogether different, and that's an approximation of our playing style with Saborio in the side. He's clearly a different player, but his playing style is as close as we can come without the veteran striker in the side. As he develops into a stronger, more efficient player, perhaps the best pairing will involve Sandoval.
But for now, Garcia and Plata paired together — especially considering the absences in the side — might make the most sense. Garcia's raw skill and desire to control play from the flanks lessens the impact of Beltran's absence at right back, and it affords an opportunity to combine with Abdoulie Mansally up the left side, should he make the starting lineup.
Demons in Dallas
This is less a tactical adjustment as, say, one that's rather intuitive. We must be acutely focused on the task at hand, and with the numerous replacements to be featured, that's not going to be the easiest of feats. With Dallas struggling after a strong start, having now only two wins from their last 10 matches (having won six of their first 9), the opportunity might just be there for the taking.
Real Salt Lake's struggles in Texas continued on Saturday with a 2-0 loss at FC Dallas, but it was hardly the state that was their downfall: Rather, it was the state of the squad, and naturally, the state of the attack.
Ringing in the changes
With a bit of surprise, Real Salt Lake didn't have many issues that occurred directly as a result of the changes in lineup. None of the individual pieces were particularly woeful, and indeed, most showed reasonably well for themselves. That is, of course, not to say that their first-choice counterparts wouldn't have been better options — particularly when it came to overall creativity.
Ned Grabavoy led the attack in the midfield, grabbing four key passes; Yordany Alvarez was largely effective as a defensive midfielder despite his late red card, leading the team in passing (56/66) and generally breaking up play. Both goals came from other areas of the pitch — one a long ball over the top, the other a long ball sent wide — leaving Alvarez relatively blameless, excepting his dismissal that made a comeback more difficult for Real Salt Lake.
Of the players who stepped in from the start without having seen action this season, Cole Grossman looked acceptable in the midfield, Nat Borchers looked magnificent in defense, and Josh Saunders, barring his big error, was a solid goalkeeper.
Speed without strength
Jason Kreis opted for a speedier front line than Real Salt Lake has seen in some time, and the acceleration of Joao Plata combined with the top speed of Robbie Findley created some interesting opportunities in front of goal. Indeed, it was Plata's quickness that created the first RSL shot of the match as he burst past a line of defenders. Still, without the hold-up play of Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake lacked an efficient out when pressured, and this led to some dangerous moments in which FC Dallas looked likely to score.
It hammers home an important point: Alvaro Saborio is an important part of the tactical makeup of Real Salt Lake — or at least a player who can hold the ball in congested areas, deflecting attention from other areas of the pitch. With two speedy strikers and a relatively compact midfield sticking further back on the pitch, the defending side can place effective pressure on the midfield without having to cover forwards with multiple players. How many times have we seen Saborio with three players at his heels, only for him to make a pass back to an open midfield? It's illustrative of his influence, and when it's not there, Real Salt Lake quite naturally struggles in attack.
If there's one thing to be said about this Real Salt Lake side early on, it's that when they've conceded, they've had a response. Once again, after conceding a goal, RSL out-passed (77/97 to 45/61; 27/38 to 10/17 in the attacking half) their opponents. But with this late pressure, RSL's efforts backfired a bit, as they conceded another goal, and though the manner of it was hardly a tactical flaw, the three other shots FC Dallas took were not. Should this mentality continue, dividends will certainly be paid. Of greater concern should be the situations in which they concede.
A makeshift Real Salt Lake lineup couldn’t quite get a result at FC Dallas on Saturday night, conceding twice in the final 20 minutes to fall 2-0 to FCD.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Saturday’s result moved RSL to 0-19-3 in Texas. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 0-11-2 across all competitions at Dallas.
Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers made his first appearance of the season on Saturday night, starting and playing 90 minutes. Borchers had missed RSL’s first three games while rehabbing from offseason quad surgery.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia entered Saturday’s match in the 77th minute. It was the MLS debut for the 20-year-old Garcia, who signed with RSL in February.
Garcia nearly scored a goal with the first touch of his MLS career, snapping a diving header off the near post in the 78th minute.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler had nine interceptions on Saturday night. Schuler leads the league with 38 interceptions this year, 14 more than second-place Aurelien Collin of Sporting Kansas City.
Real Salt Lake will be missing more than a handful of players as they travel to take on FC Dallas. Dealing with absence after absence will be the highest priority on Jason Kreis’s mind — how, exactly, does one go without ten-plus players, anyhow?
Managing expectations and approach
Let’s be clear about things: Real Salt Lake is likely to be missing upwards of 10 players on Saturday. It makes things very difficult. It could well be the case that to fill the seven-man bench, there will be two goalkeepers on there — it’s no certainty, but there should be no surprises if that’s the case.
As such, this match is a very difficult one for Jason Kreis’s crew. Our loyal leader will need to have his side prepared for what could be a tough match. At this early point in the season, the goal should be to avoid a blowout loss, to understand expectations, and to simply work hard on and off the ball. Anything more than that will, I suspect, be a bonus.
Given that Jason Kreis is hardly a madman, even if he is obsessive about winning, it’s hard to see him upset with a loss — excepting perhaps some anger directed at MLS for scheduling a match during World Cup qualifiers.
Coping with changes
Continuity’s a funny thing. We’re not likely to have, well, any. Or at least not much. Of the players who started last match, only a handful are likely to start again: Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Lovel Palmer (albeit on the opposite side), Luis Gil and Robbie Findley. That’s right: Only five players who played one week ago are likely to start. Should Khari Stephenson be deemed start-ready, that number will be boosted to slightly more than half of the starting lineup at six.
Dealing with those changes is going to be difficult, but Kreis should focus his side on playing a more reserved style, wherein they look to control possession with safe, unadventurous passing. It’s not promising to be a pretty match — but should they get pegged back, the physical presence of Devon Sandoval, likely in for Alvaro Saborio, combined with the kinetic potential of Robbie Findley could see RSL playing prototypical “Plan B” football.
Solidifying the defense
Jason Kreis will surely be looking to solidify his defensive line ahead of Saturday’s match, but given the seemingly imminent return of one Nat Borchers (who will undoubtedly take the captain’s armband for the day, should he start), the task may not be so mammoth.
Of course, an untested midfield grouping, owing to the absence of several players, is likely to see that backline tested. With Palmer on the right and Schuler on the left, expecting much attacking thrust from the defensive group is unreasonable; but that may play into RSL’s hands. Indeed, three of the four that started in defense last week are expected to be starting again. I suppose it could be worse.
Real Salt Lake hasn’t ever won at FC Dallas, but it does have plenty of ties to the club.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis, Assistants Jeff Cassar and Miles Joseph, General Manager Garth Lagerwey and Color Commentator Brian Dunseth all played in Big D, with Kreis and Lagerwey on the 1997 team that won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the club’s only major trophy to date.
Kreis in particular was very successful in Dallas, scoring 91 goals in 247 appearances for the then-Burn before moving to Real Salt Lake ahead of the 2005 season. Cassar had 33 appearances across two stints in Dallas, Lagerwey had 10 and Joseph and Dunseth both had nine.
Despite his obvious ties to the organization, Kreis indicated after training on Tuesday that the RSL-FC Dallas matchup no longer resonates with him like it used to. He’s clearly all Real Salt Lake, all the time.
RSL will take on FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium at 6:30 p.m. MT on Saturday. The match will be televised on ABC4 and Univision and will be broadcast on the radio on ESPN700 AM and 102.3 La Gran D FM/1600 AM.
It was interesting to watch RSL wheel and deal this offseason – GM Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Jason Kreis jettisoned a few high-priced players and in return tried to create competition at every position.
By all indications they did a very good job at building that depth, to the point that RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth called the Claret-and-Cobalt the deepest team in MLS. Thanks to injuries and family matters, RSL’s bench has been tested plenty already this season, and while the results haven't been perfect, they haven't been bad either. The depth will get its biggest test of the young season on Saturday at Dallas, thanks to national team call-ups hitting RSL hard as World Cup qualifying hits full stride this weekend.
Tony Beltran, Nick Rimando, and Kyle Beckerman have been called on by Jurgen Klinsmann to represent the Stars-and-Stripes. They'll be facing off on Friday against their RSL teammate and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio. Finally, Abdoulie Mansally is making the long trip back to Africa to join his native Gambia.
No other MLS team was hit as hard as RSL, and when combined with the current spate of injuries, RSL could be down as many as 11 players going to Dallas. So while national team call-ups are a great reward and a source of pride to players, the timing is going to leave their club in a bit of a lurch.
These call-ups are peppered around the field and cause concern in almost every positional group, but RSL's depth should help mitigate some of the risks. RSL probably has the best backup goalkeeper in the league with Josh Saunders; Nat Borchers played in the last reserve match - and looked good, I might add - and if he can start it will help Claret-and-Cobalt cover for Tony Beltran; Lovel Palmer has done well at outside back; and Yordany Alvarez is a more than capable replacement for Beckerman.
The biggest question is who is going to fill in for Saborio. Rookie forward Devon Sandoval is physically able to stand in for him, and the pairing of Findley and Plata is a possibility, but so far nobody has been able to step up and take the scoring load from Sabo. Someone is going to have to do it if RSL hopes to get its first win in Texas.
Here's my guess at RSL's starting lineup for Saturday based on the assumptions I've made above (L to R):
Saunders; Palmer, Borchers, Watson-Siriboe, Schuler; Alvarez; Gil, Grabavoy; Velasquez; Findley, Plata
Bench: Attinella, Maund, Martinez, Grossman, Stertzer, Sandoval, Garcia
The injuries and call-ups haven't created an ideal situation for RSL by any means, but considering the circumstances, that's not a bad lineup. And that's exactly what Kreis and Lagerwey were after during those long winter months.
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.
As painful as Saturday's loss to FC Dallas was, it provided an interesting tactical matchup that ended almost predictably: Real Salt Lake attacked dutifully and nobly, while FC Dallas was rather content to sit back, soak up the pressure, and hit on the break.
Formations: Soaking Up the Pressure
As one might expect from a side that changes formation nearly every week, FC Dallas adapted to a possession-dominating side by sitting deep and allowing attacks to fly in. Of their 38 clearances through the match — one every 2.3 minutes — of which 17 were effective.
That approach saw RSL allowed somewhat in the attacking third, but with much of the action coming on the flanks. Of the home side's 498 passes and 84 percent pass accuracy, 154 were in the final third with 64 percent accuracy — a surprisingly typical final third passing rate. Before this weekend, only 24.63 percent of RSL's passes came in the final third (the lowest in the league), though the club holds the third spot in pass accuracy in the final third — 63 percent. Sound familiar?
Despite the eased pressure in the attacking half, FC Dallas kept RSL from working in the penalty box, by and large. Only six passes were attempted there, of which one was successful. However, 10 shots were found from inside the box — three headed shots, one of which was a goal — but with little real success.
The Ferreira Factor
David Ferreira's return from a long injury layoff — suffered on April 4, 2011, from which he returned on July 4, 2012 — has been remarkable and inspiring. He's grabbed two goals and six assists from ten matches — and one of each came against us on Saturday. That, too, might be inspiring if it hadn't sent us to our third straight defeat.
But all that came in spite of FC Dallas's lack of attacking play. He found two key passes, both of which were long balls from around the midfield stripe, and an assist on the counter to put us 1-0. That he ended us in stoppage time owed partly to his free role on the pitch, as he had plenty of room to work — especially with our defense pushing into the final third late on.
RSL and Rotation
With Tuesday's match looming, some rotation was necessary, but we're always looking to win at home. A strong squad was the statement perhaps needed — for fans and for the league — but it backfired in spectacular fashion. We'll be marching on to Tuesday with some rested players: Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola, both likely to start in the Champions League, each played a half, Will Johnson was kept out, and Kyle Beckerman played just 15 minutes at the end of the match.
Those four are almost assured to start against Tauro, while a 90 minute effort from Javier Morales may put slight question marks over the likelihood that he starts. Despite Grabavoy, Beltran, Wingert and Watson-Siriboe going 90, those four are all likely to start as well.
It's a quick turnaround, but without intensive travel involved, Real Salt Lake could be in pole position to gain some footing in the CONCACAF Champions League — it is, after all, the competition for which the club has kept their core group of players together, and a loss here would be a bitter, bitter blow to all that.