Every member of the RSL family will have their sights set on Portland this weekend, with the Claret-and-Cobalt set to take on the Timbers in a huge match at JELD-WEN Field at 8:30 p.m. on CW30 on Saturday night.
While Portland is the center of the Real Salt Lake – and, frankly, MLS – universe this weekend, there are plenty of other matches around the league that will affect RSL’s place in the standings. We’ve listed those matches below, along with some info on who you should be pulling for.
Sporting Kansas City v. D.C. United – 6:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
This might be a tad difficult in the wake of D.C.’s win over RSL in the Open Cup Final on Oct. 1, but Claret-and-Cobalt fans should be rooting for United to pull the upset at Sporting Park on Friday night. Kansas City and RSL have identical records, with the Claret-and-Cobalt leading SKC in the Supporters’ Shield standings by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker. A little breathing room couldn’t hurt, however – pull for Ben Olsen’s squad.
FC Dallas v. Seattle Sounders FC – 12:30 p.m. MT on NBC
All those games in hand didn’t go exactly to plan for Seattle, which has lost its last three matches by a combined margin of 10-2. Despite the recent run of poor for, the Sounders are still just one point behind RSL in the standings, sitting in fourth-place in the Western Conference. Pull for Dallas – which announced on Friday that Head Coach Schellas Hyndman won’t return to his post in 2014 – in this nationally televised contest in Frisco.
Colorado Rapids v. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 4:00 p.m. MT on Altitude
Pretty simple calculus in this one. Do what you do so well, RSL fans: Root against the Rapids. A Colorado loss or tie would lock up a playoff spot for RSL. Pull for the ‘Caps to get a result on the road.
Houston Dynamo v. New York Red Bulls – 2:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference race, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. New York currently sits atop the league table with 53 points, ahead of Portland by virtue of the wins tiebreaker. If RSL is to have any hope of lifting the Supporters’ Shield this season, the Red Bulls will have to lose or tie one of their final two matches. Both are tough – New York finishes the season at home against what will be a desperate Chicago side – but Houston is a notoriously difficult place to play. Pull for the Dynamo to take all three at BBVA Compass Stadium.
LA Galaxy v. San Jose Earthquakes – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
With San Jose effectively unable to pass the Claret-and-Cobalt in the West standings, pull for the Quakes to topple the Galaxy at the StubHub Center on Sunday. LA is inching up on RSL – just one point behind heading into the weekend – and it would be good for the Utah side if Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Co. dropped points to their California rival.
Make sure to tune-in to all of these matches this weekend. All five will be available to watch in Utah, with four on national TV and the fifth – Colorado v. Vancouver – on the Altitude network.
Best of all is that none of the above games conflict with the main event: RSL at Portland. 8:30 p.m. MT. CW30 and MLSsoccer.com as the Stream of the Week.
Real Salt Lake was able to earn a hard-fought point on Saturday, drawing FC Dallas 1-1 despite going down a man in the 17th minute.
Here are some interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Rio Tinto Stadium was sold-out on Saturday night, with 20,488 fans filling the RioT to capacity for the seventh time this season. The sellout was the third consecutive full house at the Sandy facility.
With Saturday’s draw, Real Salt Lake maintains the lead in the Western Conference with a total of 52 points, one point ahead of second-place Seattle Sounders FC.
The Claret-and-Cobalt remains competitive in the Supporters’ Shield race, currently sitting in second-place, one point behind the league-leading New York Red Bulls.
Real Salt Lake is currently looking to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the sixth-straight year. The Claret-and-Cobalt could clinch its berth in the postseason before it plays its next game on Oct. 19 at Portland, as a San Jose loss or tie against Colorado on Wednesday would put RSL in the playoffs.
Should San Jose beat Colorado on Wednesday, RSL would clinch a postseason berth with a win at Portland on Oct. 19. The Claret-and-Cobalt would effectively clinch a spot in the postseason with a tie at Portland through tiebreakers held over San Jose.
A sixth-consecutive postseason qualification which would tie RSL for the second longest such streak in MLS history with the New York Red Bulls (Six years; 2003-2008), trailing only the New England Revolution (Eight years; 2002-2009). RSL’s current streak of five consecutive MLS Cup Playoff berths is the longest active run of postseason qualification in the league.
RSL was shown its sixth red card of the season on Saturday, when defender Abdoulie Mansally was ejected in the 17th minute for a late tackle on Dallas’ Jackson. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 1-2-3 in the six league games it’s gotten a red card in this year.
Forward Alvaro Saborio scored his 11th goal of the 2013 season in the 60th minute, working his way around three defenders to strike a half-volley inside the left post from 12 yards out. Despite playing in just 14 league games, Saborio is now in a three-way tie for fifth place in the MLS Budweiser Golden Boot standings.
In the 2013 MLS regular season, Real Salt Lake has a 9-2-4 record at home. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 73-31-38 all-time at home.
Saturday's match against FC Dallas pits a team desperate for a win and a chance at making the playoffs, the Texas side, and a team with one last chance to push for a chance at the Supporters' Shield, the Utah side. The difference becomes rather moot: Both are going to be fighting tooth and nail for a chance.
Jason Kreis told reporters after Tuesday's loss that he had to consider recent results when concocting the group that will take us into the playoffs. That won't be an easy task. Some have been very, very good; others have been poor at best. But when some of those excellent players are young and inconsistent, and some of those poor players are veterans and generally more consistent than not, you've got to wonder if the world has simply gone topsy-turvy for a month.
But it remains the case that we have a deep squad, and we have little reason to not use it now. We may as well throw all of the noodles at the wall to see what sticks, and Jason Kreis undoubtedly recognizes that. So who might he play on Saturday?
Chris Schuler will certainly get another run out, and maybe he'll be partnered by Brandon McDonald again. Both players showed well a week ago, and the calm with which they steadied the back line was admirable. Abdoulie Mansally might get a run on the left, and Lovel Palmer might get a run on the right. (I'd wager one or the other and not both.) Robbie Findley might be back in contention after a knee problem seemed to have kept him out of Tuesday. Finally, Luis Gil will almost assuredly be back in the lineup after having an emergency appendectomy on Sunday. (I mean, really — can't these kids keep their appendixes (appendices?) under control for a day?)
Speed demons, and how to slay them
The immediate options are thus: 1) Run an offside trap, or 2) Play a deeper defensive line to halt opportunities.
If we're playing a less experienced defensive setup, the offside trap seems an unwise gambit. A deeper defensive line, though, would create greater gaps between the defense and the midfield, which brings with it its own set of tactical issues.
But at this point in the season, the only direction in which we can really travel is upward, and only if we string together a great run of results. Our playoff spot is very nearly secured, and a proactive approach is necessary if we're to aim for a Supporters' Shield surprise.
It's a risky thing, but when you need a win, you really have to play for a win, consequences be damned. Let's move the defenders forward, be prepared for Dallas to break with pace, and let the match be its inevitably open self.
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.