With Real Salt Lake opening their season against LA Galaxy tomorrow, we're facing once again one of the difficult sides in MLS to play against. With some attentive play and effective possession, we can neutralize the threat and create options for ourselves at the same time.
Narrow at the back
LA Galaxy are not, I think, a side that will hit you with incredible crosses consistently; they are, however, a side that can always spot any gaps and spaces between the center backs and the full backs. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan both excel at stepping into the channels, though the way in which they operate differs somewhat.
If we are to prevent those deadly two from capitalizing on any space, we have to remain somewhat narrow at the back. This should not be entirely too problematic, though. It was something we could pinpoint in several preseason matches: the full backs tuck in when defending and push out wide in attack. Exaggerating this a bit could help our chances.
Soak up pressure
It's difficult to say how LA Galaxy will come out of the gates, but with the first match in front of their home crowd, they'll likely see some attacking impetus behind them. If we can adjust our game to soak up some of the inevitable pressure that comes our way, we can avoid getting caught out when a fast Galaxy side comes streaking at us.
This doesn't mean surrendering possession by any stretch, but it does mean we'll want to shape our approach to regaining it. We can't have defenders pushing too far, as we'll get caught — this is something we saw in previous matches against the Galaxy.
This approach does, however, require more than a modicum of attentiveness and preparedness from the midfield: This necessitates moving as a unit and understanding where pockets of space have and will emerge. This also means we must watch any runs further inside our area — if we let someone like Robbie Keane move into a more open position, we won't fare well.
Hit them on the counter
We should be a fine counterattacking side but too often we lose sight of that. While the focus is and should continue to be on effective play through possession, we have the right tools for effective play on the break. With Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata, we have quick forwards who can find themselves in great positions; in Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy, we have midfielders who can hit anybody with a pass; in Luis Gil and Javier Morales, we have attacking players who can really create opportunities.
By soaking up pressure when we don't have possession, too, we encourage Galaxy to push further into our half in an attempt to break our stance and find space to create. While there is some inherent risk in this, it allows us to take advantage of the plentiful options at our disposal.
Real Salt Lake will open its tenth season on Saturday night, taking on longtime rival LA Galaxy at 8:30 p.m. MT on ABC 4 at StubHub Center.
Saturday’s match is chock full of interesting storylines. Here are a few to be on the lookout for:
New RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar set for his first match in charge
Though he’s been with the Claret-and-Cobalt since 2007, Saturday’s match will have a different feel for new RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar. Cassar, who took over the head job in December following Jason Kreis’ departure, plans to run the same system as his predecessor, but there will inevitably be some differences between the two. We’ll get our first real glimpse at those differences tomorrow – it’ll be very interesting to see how RSL’s new boss handles in-game adjustments and player selection, not to mention what his demeanor will be like on the sideline.
Landon Donovan aims for all-time scoring record
Galaxy star Landon Donovan can make MLS history on Saturday night, needing only one more goal to pass Jeff Cunningham and set a new league record with 135 career regular season goals. The record will be a well-deserved honor for Donovan when he achieves it, though we certainly hope that he’ll wait until after LA’s first two matches – the Galaxy play both of their first two MLS games against RSL, with the second coming at the Claret-and-Cobalt’s home opener on March 22 – to make his mark in history.
Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando continue climbing up the record books
Real Salt Lake stalwarts Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando will continue their climb up the MLS record books in 2014, with both players set to achieve more career milestones this year.
RSL’s captain, Beckerman will crack the top-10 in MLS history in games played this season. Currently on 325 games played, he needs 17 appearances to become fifth in league history in appearances, and he should set himself up for a run at the top-three in 2015. He’ll also continue his rise up the games started list, tying Tyrone Marshall for eighth all-time in MLS history with his next start. He’ll likely end 2014 in fifth in this category, as well. Look for Becks to crack the top-five in MLS history in career minutes played this season, too.
Rimando is slightly ahead of Beckerman in the aforementioned categories. Currently in fourth in league history with 346 games played, Rimando should pass Jeff Cunningham (365) for third-all time and get within touching distance of Steve Ralston (378) for second. Rimando could become the all-time leader in games played early in the 2016 season, when he could conceivably catch current leader Kevin Hartman (416). Rimando should pass Ralston for second all-time in both games started and minutes played this season.
Of course, the biggest record in play for any RSL player this year is the all-time shutout mark. Rimando is second in MLS history with 108 clean sheets, just four behind Hartman for the all-time record. Here’s hoping that deficit will be three after this weekend.
Morales and Donovan look to continue success against each other
RSL’s Javier Morales and LA’s Landon Donovan have torched each other’s teams in their MLS careers. Morales has put up five goals and eight assists in 14 career regular season games against the Galaxy. Those numbers are wildly impressive, but Donovan has done Javi one better, registering nine goals and nine assists with LA in 18 career regular season games against RSL. Donovan’s nine goals are the second-most against RSL of any player in MLS history, while his nine assists are most in league history against the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Saborio looks to continue hot run of form
RSL forward Alvaro Saborio looks to be hitting his stride at just the right time, scoring four goals in his last three games in all competitions. Saborio scored three goals in RSL’s final two preseason matches, notching a brace in RSL’s 3-1 win over FC Tucson on February 26 and scoring the lone goal in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 1-1 tie against Chivas USA last Saturday. He continued his goal streak this week for the Costa Rican national team, playing 45 minutes and notching a goal in Los Ticos’ 2-0 friendly win over Paraguay. Let’s hope Sabo – who has the best goals per 90 minutes rate of any player with more than 75 career MLS regular season appearances – stays hot on Saturday.
RSL and LA set for rematch of 2013 Western Conference Semifinal series
Yeah, let’s not forget about this. Good times.
You know by now that Real Salt Lake will be kicking off its 2014 MLS campaign on Saturday at LA Galaxy.
What you might not know is that the Galaxy have another, bigger game on tap a few days after Saturday’s opener. LA will begin its CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal series against Club Tijuana next Wednesday, hosting Los Xolos at StubHub Center in the series’ first leg. The Galaxy won’t play in MLS that following weekend, taking a bye ahead of the March 18 return leg at Tijuana.
Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and co. will surely approach Saturday’s opener with an eye on their upcoming CCL matchup. How – or if – that affects how they run out this weekend against the Claret-and-Cobalt remains to be seen, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on ahead of Saturday’s opener.
In the latest sign that the season is just around the corner, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) released on Tuesday the referee assignments for MLS’s opening weekend.
Real Salt Lake drew Silviu Petrescu for its March 8 opener at LA. Petrescu is an experienced official who was named the 2012 MLS Referee of the Year. He was the man in the middle for several RSL games in 2013, most notably officiating RSL’s 4-3 loss at New York on July 27. Petrescu was very quick to the whistle in that match, calling an astounding 46 total fouls – including a season-high 28 on RSL – and showing seven yellow cards.
Rounding out Petrescu’s March 8 crew are linesmen Daniel Belleau and Phil Briere and fourth official Mathieu Bourdeau.
Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman is currently in New York City as a part of MLS's annual media and marketing tour, making the rounds at a variety of media outlets with other notable players from around the league ahead of the season opening on March 8.
Kyle stopped by Fox Sports 1 earlier on Tuesday, appearing with LA's Omar Gonzalez and Kansas City's Matt Besler on Crowd Goes Wild. Kyle talked a bit about his personal life, changes he's seen in his 15 years in MLS and the U.S. national team's chances at this summer's World Cup. Give the entire segment a watch above.
We’re five days away from MLS Cup 2013 between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park.
Start Cup week off right with our favorite RSL Rewind, taking you back to RSL’s MLS Cup 2009 win over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Five days, people. Five days.
Today’s date should stand out in the minds of Real Salt Lake fans as it marks the fourth anniversary of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s momentous 2009 MLS Cup win. On November 22, 2009, Real Salt Lake defeated LA Galaxy 5-4 on penalty kicks in front of 46,011 fans at Qwest Field in Seattle to win the club’s first title.
The game ended deadlocked at 1-1 after extra time, with goals from LA Galaxy forward Mike Magee in the 41st minute and an RSL equalizer in the 64th minute from forward Robbie Findley. The match then advanced to penalty kicks. LA Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who now wears Claret-and-Cobalt, made two saves on RSL’s Kyle Beckerman and Andy Williams. LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan sent his kick high over the bar while RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando made two saves on LA’s Jovan Kirovski and Edson Buddle, the latter of which set up RSL’s Robbie Russell to score the game-winning penalty kick.
Sunday’s second leg match against Portland Timbers will provide Real Salt Lake with another opportunity to advance to MLS Cup. Several veterans remain from the 2009 Cup winning team, with Beckerman, Rimando, Findley, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Tony Beltran and injured defender Chris Wingert all a part of the team that lifted the trophy in 2009.
That experience and leadership will definitely come into play as the RSL family heads into one of the most intense environments in MLS on Sunday for the Western Conference Championship second leg – Portland's JELD-WEN Field.
LA Galaxy trends toward a less creative midfield, and even from the flanks this is largely the case. This provides a platform for three or four attacking players to showcase their abilities in tonight's Western Conference Semifinal second leg, and when your primary attacking pair is Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, there's plenty of that. But with the opponent in a more defensive midfield, RSL will have an opportunity to utilize their creative midfield to attempt a breakthrough.
Javier Morales will look toward finding the gaps between the midfield and the defense, which inevitably pushes back the LA Galaxy midfield a bit too as they attempt to cover his movement. This opens up space in other places, which proves vital. He'll also be important for set pieces, but our reluctancy to capitalize on set pieces won't help us there. He may instead look to go directly at goal with free kicks, and who could blame him? He's scored some screamers.
Sebastian Velasquez is likely to step into Ned Grabavoy's spot on the left, and this will give him room to make diagonal runs to and away from the flanks. He'll need to capitalize in spaces vacated by Morales as he embarks on runs with and without the ball.
Luis Gil will be tasked with a bit more defensive work than usual in Grabavoy's absence, but he too will need to embark on runs. With Tony Beltran to his right, he'll be involved in plenty of interchanges with the fullback as they look to move the ball forward from the right.
Kyle Beckerman will need to be as aware as ever but eminently willing to capitalize on opportunities to break forward. His passing is never in question, and that'll be vital tonight.
Tony Beltran, as above, will need to work with Luis Gil on the right flank to move the ball forward, but he'll also need to make those overlapping runs on the right side to be effective. But beyond that, he'll have to be ready to burst back in defense. He showed incredibly well against Landon Donovan last weekend, and he'll almost surely have to do so again.
Chris Schuler will, with any luck, not be forced into so many last-ditch tackles and clearances. Instead, we'll be hoping for some balance from Schuler as he steps forward to make an interception before splaying the ball to a full back.
Alvaro Saborio pushes the side forward in important ways, but his biggest role will be in helping the midfield transition into the attack. It's a role that is masked by his goalscoring contributions (which are equally important and follow as a result of this play) — his distributive properties may not lead to high-percentage passing, but he is a chance creator.
His mystery partner remains in question. Robbie Findley offers speed, which is an obviously important factor, but he also offers a willingness to track back and at pace. Joao Plata, on the other hand, offers more finesse in attack but less counterattacking opportunity. In most factors, they end up at about sixes. Olmes Garcia offers a more mysterious option, but it's hard to see him starting, as he hasn't made the bench for the last few matches.
Seriously, no one wants another LA-Houston MLS Cup.
RSL can nip that potential matchup in the bud by advancing past the Galaxy in Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal second leg. Get out to Rio Tinto Stadium early, wear red and be loud.