For the second year in a row, the LA Galaxy will take on the Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup.
LA and Houston won their respective Conference Finals on Sunday, with both teams hanging on to big first leg leads to advance to Cup on Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. Both sides won 4-2 on aggregate, with Houston tying DC 1-1 at RFK Stadium in the afternoon before LA lost 2-1 to knockout Seattle – which, of course, bounced RSL in the Western Conference Semifinals – in the evening.
Interestingly, LA’s win over Sounders FC marks the first time that the team that knocked RSL out of the playoffs won’t compete in MLS Cup. The three previous teams that had eliminated the Claret-and-Cobalt from the postseason – New York in 2008, Dallas in 2010 and LA last year – all went on to qualify for Cup, with LA winning the whole thing last season.
MLS Cup will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN and RDS.
Some big playoff news last night, as LA defeated San Jose 3-1 to advance to the Western Conference Final and Houston held on against Sporting Kansas City to move on to the Eastern Conference Final.
Whichever team advances from tonight’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg between RSL and Seattle will travel to LA to take on the Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Final on Sunday night. If RSL advances, the Claret-and-Cobalt would host the Galaxy in the Conference Final’s second leg on Sunday, Nov. 18.
Houston advancing in the East keeps RSL’s dream of hosting the MLS Cup Final on Dec. 1 alive. The fifth-seeded Dynamo was the only Eastern Conference Semifinalist that finished with fewer regular season points than RSL and – as such – they’re the only side that would have to travel to Rio Tinto Stadium for MLS Cup.
Obviously, there’s a ton of work to be done for RSL to get to that point. First up: Tonight’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg against Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium. Winner of the match goes through. Kick’s at 8 p.m. MT and a very, very limited number of tickets are still available. We’ll see you out here.
RSL played an absolutely insane Reserve match down at America First Field on Wednesday morning, tying the Houston Dynamo Reserves 5-5 – yeah, you read that right, there were 10 total goals – in the club’s Reserve League finale.
A couple of quick observations from the match:
Big game for the front line
Starting forwards Emiliano Bonfigli and Justin Braun both had huge games against the Dynamo, with Bonfigli notching a hat trick and Braun registering three assists on Wednesday morning.
Bonfigli scored in the 11th, 60th and 69th minutes. His second goal was his finest, with the Argentine striker running onto a through ball in the right side of the area before catching Houston goalie Tyler Deric off his line with a fantastic chip from 15 yards.
Braun didn’t have any goals, but he was just as impressive as Bonfigli. The Salt Lake City native was strong in possession, good off the ball and – most importantly – lethal with the final pass, assisting on David Viana’s 25th minute goal, Bonfigli’s 60th minute strike and Sebastian Velasquez’s 69th minute score.
While they won’t be displacing red-hot regulars Alvaro Saborio or Fabian Espindola in the First XI in the near future, it was good to see Braun and Bonfigli perform so well on Wednesday morning. It'd be huge for RSL if either of those two could contribute - even a little bit - down the stretch.
RSL newcomer David Viana also had a strong game on Wednesday, scoring a goal and looking active in the midfield before coming off in the 77th minute.
“In the first half I thought David did a very good job,” RSL Reserves Coach Jeff Cassar said after the game. “He’s dynamic, got great feet, good vision; I think that he started to run out of gas a little bit in the second half after he’s been traveling a lot and stuff like that. It was just a solid performance for him and one to build on for sure.”
The Portuguese youth international passed well, was good – and very calm – when on the ball and decent off of it, too. He’s still learning RSL’s system and his defense is still coming along, but he’s clearly a talented player. He might not play much of a role for RSL this season, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on in the future.
It's always a frustrating night when an expected tactical approach from the opponent is abandoned in favor of something more, say, negative. Last night's match against Houston saw RSL facing up to a side abandoning their controlled style, making an already difficult job even more so.
Passing and Possession
Coming into the match, Kreis and company might have been expecting to face a Houston Dynamo team that tried to play in their possession-oriented style, but what they instead saw was a team reticent to pressure outside their own half. As a result, RSL was allowed huge swathes of possession, with the Dynamo rather content to sit back, clog the lanes, and watch their opponent pass the ball around the back line.
As a result, RSL's defensive passing measures are stellar: Neither Kwame Watson-Siriboe nor Nat Borchers put a pass wrong all night, with 95/95 passing between the two of them. That bears repeating: 95 for 95. No, it didn't cause RSL to win the match, and no, it didn't cause anyone to score a goal, but these things should be applauded.
In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that most of RSL's players completed more passes in this single game than they have in any other game this season. Houston were entirely content letting play just sort of pass them by, which, given their predilection for control, was almost a shocker.
How do you solve a problem like Javier?
Javier Morales, generally the key to unlocking tight defenses plaguing RSL, needs to be on-song when those passing lanes are clogged — or, at the very least, other midfielders need to step up. But when two of four starting midfielders are absent, the weight bears down a little more on Javier's shoulders, and it's not always going to work out perfectly.
So without a massively creative midfield, RSL was always likely to struggle — but one of the options that can start to correct that is more thrust from the full backs. This doesn't always play out as a "swing crosses in" sort of thing, but the amount of space created when wide options are present is a difference-maker. Opposing full backs are pulled out, midfielders get a little extra space, and those vital runs are ever-so-slightly easier.
With only one veritable full back on the pitch in Tony Beltran and the opposite flank filled by a center back only just returning from a 117-day layoff, attacking up the flanks was a bit harder. Beltran got forward well on occasion but showed a bit of reluctance to step too far, perhaps as he was wary of a counterattacking threat, and Chris Schuler's attacking effort was metered to put forward a 90-minute effort.
As such, without huge amounts of midfield creativity, and without much attack from the flanks, RSL found it difficult to get past the two banks of Houston players and through on goal. That may well have come down to one major factor: Absences.
Absences and what they meant
Without Kyle Beckerman's deep-lying playmaking abilities and Chris Wingert's flank work, RSL was found a bit lacking in two vital areas. Throw in absences to Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson, and you're out finishing and a bit of drive. It's not as if RSL was particularly lacking drive, but the other three absences made a difference — maybe one of a scant few percentage points, but sometimes, that's all that's needed to push on.
Despite putting in a very solid road effort, the Claret-and-Cobalt fell 1-0 at the Houston Dynamo on Thursday night. Here are a few interesting numbers from RSL’s defeat at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Real Salt Lake’s all-time record when playing the Dynamo in Houston. All eight of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s losses in the Bayou City have come by one goal. RSL is now 0-18-3 all-time in the state of Texas.
The minute that Houston midfielder Colin Clark pounded home his penalty kick – Houston’s second of the game – to give the Dynamo the 1-0 win. It was the second-straight RSL at Houston match that saw the Dynamo score a game-winning goal in second half stoppage time – midfielder Alex Dixon hit a 93rd minute strike to give Houston a 3-2 win over the Claret-and-Cobalt on Aug. 20 of last year.
RSL goalie Nick Rimando’s career mark against PK's in the MLS regular season. Rimando – who will fly back to Salt Lake with the team before joining the U.S. national squad in Columbus ahead of their Sept. 11 World Cup Qualifier against Jamaica – was 1-for-2 on PK’s last night, heroically saving Brad Davis’ effort in the 75th minute before losing out against Clark. Rimando’s 29.8 percent save percentage against PK’s is the best in MLS history.
The number of saves made by Rimando and Houston ‘keeper Tally Hall, both of whom had excellent games. Rimando and Hall both made a pair of incredible stops late in the second half, with Rimando blocking Davis’ PK in the 75th before stoning Dynamo forward Will Bruin’s free header from inside the six in the 82nd and Hall keeping out RSL defender Nat Borchers’s header in the 79th before stopping a 1-v-1 chance from midfielder Ned Grabavoy in the 89th.
Days between games for RSL defender Chris Schuler. Schuler returned to the field for a full 90 on Thursday night nearly four months after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot. The big defender last played on May 12, putting in 70 minutes off the bench in RSL’s 1-0 win at Seattle.