We’ve been a bit focused on the Western Conference Championship series around these parts, but there’s a big battle going on in the East, too – and it starts today.
Fourth-seeded Houston Dynamo will host second-seeded Sporting Kansas City today in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series at 12:30 p.m. MT at BBVA Compass Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on NBC.
RSL fans should be rooting for Houston to take the series, as a RSL-Dynamo MLS Cup would be played at Rio Tinto Stadium while a Claret-and-Cobalt-Kansas City MLS Cup would be played on the road at Sporting Park.
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’s Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes got a big boost on Wednesday night, with West rivals Seattle losing to Vancouver, Colorado falling at San Jose and Supporters’ Shield foe Kansas City drawing at Houston to keep the Claret-and-Cobalt in the thick of both races.
Vancouver did RSL a major solid by beating Seattle 4-1, with 18-year-old forward Kekuta Manneh notching a hat trick to help the ‘Caps stun the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The result keeps RSL in first in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which now has only one game in hand on the Claret-and-Cobalt. The Sounders will make up that match on Sunday, when they’ll take on Cascadia rival Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 10, 2013
While San Jose’s win over Colorado prevented RSL from securing a sixth-straight playoff berth on Wednesday night, the result was still pretty good for Jason Kreis and Co. The Rapids loss keeps Colorado – which is four points behind RSL – off of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s back, making the prospect of securing an all-important top-three seed in the West that much easier.
RSL would’ve preferred a Houston win over Kansas City, but Wednesday’s scoreless draw between the two sides at BBVA Compass Stadium isn’t all bad. Hard-charging Sporting is now dead even with RSL, with both sides posting a 15-10-7 record through 32 games.
Here’s how the big picture looks for RSL following Wednesday’s games:
- RSL needs two points from its two remaining matches (i.e., one win or two draws) to clinch a playoff spot. A San Jose loss or tie or a Colorado loss in either of those clubs' two remaining matches would also lock up a playoff berth for the Claret-and-Cobalt. RSL’s next chance to clinch a playoff berth will come on Oct. 19, when a win at Portland would secure a postseason spot for the club.
- With 52 points through 32 games, the Claret-and-Cobalt sits in first-place in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which has a game in hand on the Utah side.
- RSL is tied with Sporting Kansas City for second-place in the Supporters’ Shield standings, one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the top spot. RSL, SKC and New York have all played 32 games, while Seattle and Portland – which are two and three points behind New York, respectively – have both played 31 games.
- Real Salt Lake is tied for third with Kansas City in the points per game standings. New York leads the league with 1.66 points per game, Seattle is in second with 1.65 and RSL and SKC are in third with 1.63.
- Pending results in Sunday’s Portland-Seattle contest and LA’s home game against Montreal on Oct. 16, RSL could potentially clinch a top-two seed in the West with a win at Portland on Oct. 19.
It’s setting up to be a wild last month. Buckle up.
Because it's really what was on everybody's minds after the match, let's talk about the formation shift Jason Kreis rolled out and its effectiveness for this team.
To start, it was a fairly European 4-2-1-3 — or as some might term it, a 4-2-3-1 — but whatever way you describe it, there were two deeper midfielders, Ned Grabavoy and Kyle Beckerman; an attacking midfielder sitting essentially in the attacking half, Javier Morales; a central striker, Alvaro Saborio; and two wide players in attacking positions, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata. The difference between the two formational descriptions rests on the roles of Garcia and Plata. Neither played exactly like a traditional winger, nor did they play exclusively like strikers in wide positions. In reality, the formation is somewhere betwixt the two.
Now, this may be because they weren't entirely effective in their positions. Jason Kreis was critical of the two in his post-match press conference, saying of the formation's future for RSL: "…If we’re going to continue forward ... we’ve got to get those players moving more. I don’t like them standing on their outside backs and getting themselves marked." Now, this doesn't necessarily mean either deserve blame for this, as it was a new approach for the squad and one that requires a great deal of understanding for proper execution. It did present some promise.
What, exactly, does the future hold for Real Salt Lake's formational approach? In the short-term, it's hard to see us moving away from the diamond, on which we have built our core. It's an excellent fit for many reasons — from Javier Morales's consistent mobility to the ability of deeper midfielders to impact play with dynamic runs, there's a lot to be positive about. The diamond may not be here long-term — two, three years down the road, say — but it's hard to see a distinct shift now.
Still, the tactical flexibility afforded by the change in approach is indisputable. If we are able to sufficiently gain an understand in another system, and we're able to utilize it effectively in the attack — not just in defense — we'll be better able to counteract the stale defensive outlays teams send out to put a stopper on us. Should we be able to effectively shift to a three-forward setup, we can instantly widen play in a significant way; should we shift back, we could attack down the middle more effectively. Both systems afford defensive width, and both systems allow for quality play in transition, so we don't lose any particular advantage as a result.
Should Real Salt Lake continue down this road? It would seem a good one to at least venture down a little further. We have wide attacking players who can make a significant impact, and we have a collection of midfielders who will fight for every ball and cover as much ground as anyone in the league. It's a good fit — but it has to work in a sustainable, long-term sense. And given we haven't seen it work fully yet, there remain questions aplenty
Real Salt Lake won its second match in four days on Saturday, getting a penalty kick goal from Alvaro Saborio to beat the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saborio’s goal on Saturday was his sixth in four games since returning from international duty ahead of RSL’s July 27 match at New York. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading scorer, Saborio now has nine goals and two assists in 11 league games and 11 goals and four assists in 13 games across all competitions this year. Saborio’s nine league goals are tied for fifth in MLS; the four players with more goals than him have played between nine and 13 more league games than he has. The Costa Rican international leads the league amongst players with more than one strike with 0.88 goals per 90 minutes. He is now 15-for-16 on penalty kicks in all competitions with RSL and has scored on nine of his 15 shots on goal this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 34-6-8 in all comps when Saborio scores.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis departed from his usual diamond 4-4-2 formation on Saturday, starting the match in a 4-2-1-3 setup with Saborio, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata playing up top. It was only the third time this year that Kreis began a match in a formation other than the diamond 4-4-2. RSL is a perfect 3-0-0 in those matches, beating Toronto 1-0 on June 29 and dominating Dallas 3-0 on July 13.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned the 106th clean sheet of his sterling MLS career on Saturday. The veteran ‘keeper – who has seven shutouts this year – is now only six clean sheets shy of Kevin Hartman’s all-time MLS shutout record.
With Saturday’s win, Real Salt Lake moved to 3-1-1 this year in the final matches of three-game in eight day stretches. Real Salt Lake will play three games in eight days two more times during the season – once beginning with the Aug. 17 match against the LA Galaxy, and again in late September to early October.
Six players age 25 or younger saw the field for the Claret-and-Cobalt on Saturday. Four of the six – forward Olmes Garcia (20), forward Joao Plata (21), midfielder Luis Gil (19) and defender Carlos Salcedo (19) – are 21 or younger.
Real Salt Lake has zero losses when outside backs Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert start together, as well as zero losses in games in which defender Carlos Salcedo appears. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 10-0-1 across all competitions when both Beltran and Wingert start and 9-0-2 in all comps when Salcedo plays.
RSL is in sole possession of first-place in MLS in points, points per game, wins, goals scored, goals per game, goal differential, road goals and road goal differential.
Real Salt Lake will return to MLS action on Saturday, when it will take on the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Houston, we have a problem
Historically, RSL has fared poorly against the Houston Dynamo, posting a 3-9-5 record against the Orange. The Claret-and-Cobalt has won just once in its last 12 league matches against the Dynamo, last beating the Texas side on May 13, 2010.
Some good news: The Claret-and-Cobalt has done well against Houston at home, posting a 3-1-4 record against the Dynamo in the Beehive State.
Morales and Saborio dynamite against the Dynamo
Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio both have strong career numbers against Houston, with Morales notching two goals and four assists in nine career league games against the Dynamo and Saborio scoring two goals and registering one assist in four career games.
Saborio has been particularly hot lately, scoring five goals and assisting once in three games in all competitions since returning to RSL from international duty ahead of the July 27 loss at New York.
Rimando v. Hall
Saturday’s contest will be a battle between two of the top goalkeepers in the league, with RSL’s Nick Rimando and Houston’s Tally Hall facing off in between the pipes. RSL’s “Wall of the Wasatch,” Rimando has the best save percentage in MLS this year, stopping 78 percent of shots fired at the net. Hall isn’t far behind, tied for third with a save percentage of 74 percent. With both sides attacking well, Rimando v. Hall could be the deciding matchup in the game.
Kreis v. Kinnear
Saturday’s match will also pit two of the top coaches in MLS against each other in Jason Kreis and Dominic Kinnear. The two young American coaches most often discussed for future USMNT and other high-profile jobs, Kinnear and Kreis rank third and fourth, respectively, in terms of active MLS coaches in wins, trailing only Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena. Kinnear has a record of 123-82-98 in MLS play, while the younger Kreis has an 85-57-52 mark in league action.
Real Salt Lake and Houston have combined for eight red card in 14 matches dating back to 2007. Mercifully, no reds have been shown in this series since 2009, when five ejections occurred in three matches between the clubs.
Real Salt Lake has been in mixed form in MLS play, but with a tremendous US Open Cup win on Wednesday, there's a sense that the dip could recover well. The tactical pieces are there — but as so often this season, injuries and fitness could throw a bit of a wrench into the best-laid plans.
Real Salt Lake has been unwavering this season in the desire to play essentially the same style from match to match. Remarkably, this is the case despite several formation shifts, forced personnel changes, and indeed, an understanding that controlling the pace of the match constantly is not always possible or wise.
As a result, we've seen RSL surrender possession at times; this often comes in the form of allowing the opposition to simply pass the ball around the back line while they probe for an opening. Our general strategy — short build-up play and balls sent to either flank to release pressure and stretch play — remains the same regardless. I don't know that Jason Kreis is setting his side out to surrender some attacking control in exchange for another sort, but the ability of our side to adapt to changes in the pace of the game has been an important factor in our successes.
Defending from the front
If one thing can be said about Wednesday's win over Portland Timbers, it's that Real Salt Lake displayed an encouraging ability to defend from the front lines. With Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley both dropping deep to defend when not in possession, Real Salt Lake pushed Portland attackers into wide positions, where they were ineffectual at best.
Houston Dynamo won't quite present the same challenge, but that mentality is one that we've pushed forward with through the season. It's paid dividends. Indeed, it's been the case almost to the point that Findley has been deployed as something approaching a winger who will burst forward during counters. This is more than him simply stretching play: He's been important from wide positions and has helped create goals from those positions.
Jason Kreis's side has been in a bit of a minutes crunch this season, and for some, pushing them to play both Saturday and Wednesday stretched their fitness thin. As such, players like Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman are both in positions where playing again Saturday is probably too soon. A bit of a rest for the two of them, who are rarely afforded them, will be essential in the long-term, but in the short term, we have to wonder about replacements.
On Wednesday, Ned Grabavoy played at the top of the diamond, and he was fairly effective doing so. Last Saturday, he played in the side of the diamond. This Saturday, he might play at the base of the diamond. The remarkable part is that he can play those three distinct positions effectively.
HOUSTON - The Real Salt Lake U-16 Academy team dropped its second group game in Finals Week to the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at the Houston Amateur Sports Park on Tuesday night.
Real Salt Lake is not eliminated with the loss, but the team has lost control of the group. For Real Salt Lake to advance to the championship game on Saturday, they need to beat Texans SC, and the Dynamo need to lose or draw with Albertson SC. Both games will be played on Thursday night.
The Houston Dynamo earned a foul just 58 seconds into the match, and converted the free-kick moments later when it was perfectly placed in the upper right corner.
RSL shook off the early deficit and started to attack, but the movements lacked purpose and at times were a little sloppy before another stroke of luck happened. For the second consecutive game, officials stopped the match due to a lightning storm that passed over the field. The 77 minute delay allowed RSL coaches to reorganize the team and it showed once the game was back up and running.
RSL earned a penalty in the 29th minute when Damian German was taken down in the box. Moises Rodriguez stepped up and hit the post on the ensuing spot-kick.
After the halftime break the Dynamo looked to extend their lead and had their second shot of the game in the 41st minute that went wide right. RSL then earned a free-kick seven minutes later from a dangerous spot in front of the net. Bofo Saucedo stepped up and sent in a curling shot that was saved by the Dynamo goalkeeper.
Because RSL had to push players forward to equalize, the defense at times became exposed. There were two nerve-racking moments in the second half that could have been called for penalties against RSL. The first was in the 55th minute and the second in the 64th. Both times the ref was uninterested in the pleas coming from the Dynamo bench.
As the game continued RSL had chances but could not get a clean look on the net. Three different headers were saved by the Dynamo goalkeeper and the next best chance on goal - a free-kick from Brooks Lennon - was saved again in the closing minutes.
RSL sent players forward in stoppage time, but it was not enough as the Dynamo outlasted them.
Next game for RSL will be against Texans SC on Thursday night. Kickoff at 5:30 p.m. MT.
The Houston Dynamo beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday evening to extend their home unbeaten run to 35 games across all competitions. The win moved the Dynamo past RSL and into sole possession of the MLS record for home unbeaten streaks.
RSL's 34-game home unbeaten run across all competitions ran from 2009 to 2011. The Claret-and-Cobalt is still tied with Houston for the home unbeaten record across MLS play at 29 games.
Real Salt Lake is 1-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year. Head Coach Jason Kreis and the boys will look to extend that home unbeaten streak to three games on Saturday, when they'll take on Western Conference upstart Chivas USA in Sandy.