Everyone should have their eyes glued to their TVs this weekend as the MLS regular-season comes to a close with clubs still vying for playoff spots and the Supporters’ Shield. This weekend’s results hold major implications as to whether or not RSL will win the Supporters’ Shield or the Western Conference and who the Claret-and-Cobalt will face in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Real Salt Lake will be bystanders this weekend as the Claret-and-Cobalt finished its regular-season with Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Chivas USA. Wednesday’s win clinched a top-two West seed for RSL, meaning the Claret-and-Cobalt will play away in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Nov. 2 or Nov. 3 before returning home to Rio Tinto Stadium for the West Semi second leg on Nov. 6 or Nov. 7. Real Salt Lake could still play any of the West playoff teams of Portland, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC or Colorado Rapids in the West Semifinals.
RSL currently sits in first-place in the Supporters’ Shield race and Western Conference with a total of 56 points, 16 wins and 57 goals scored.
With so much at stake this weekend, here is a list of all the key matches that affect RSL and who you should be rooting for:
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
The Claret-and-Cobalt will need Sporting Kansas City to lose or draw at PPL Park in order for RSL’s Supporters’ Shield hopes to stay alive. Sporting Kansas City currently sits in second-place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 55 points, one point behind the New York Red Bulls. If Kansas City draws Philadelphia and ends up tied with RSL on points and wins, the Claret-and-Cobalt would place ahead based on the goals for tiebreaker, granted Kansas City doesn’t score 12 goals. The Philadelphia Union is facing a must-win situation in order to keep their postseason aspiration alive. This one’s easy: root for the Union.
Chivas USA vs. Portland Timbers – 8:30 p.m. MT on MLS Live
The Portland Timbers are the only team that can push RSL out of first-place in the Western Conference. A win for the Timbers at the StubHub Center would guarantee Caleb Porter’s squad first-place in the Western Conference and put an end to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s chance at the Supporters’ Shield. Portland currently has a total of 54 points, meaning a draw against Chivas USA would be enough to keep RSL first in the Western Conference. A Chivas USA win or draw might seem unlikely with their current record of 6-19-8, but everyone loves to root for the underdog. Let’s hope the Goats can end the season on a higher note and produce a result at home.
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire – 3:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. Real Salt Lake sits atop the league table narrowly leading New York by the goals for tiebreaker with 57 goals to New York’s 53. Any result by New York against Chicago will officially end the Claret-and-Cobalt’s run for the Supporters’ Shield. Chicago enters the match desperate for a win in order to keep its own playoff hopes alive. Pull for Mike Magee to keep his scoring form and work some magic at Red Bull Arena.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Colorado Rapids – 6:00 p.m. MT on MLS Live
This match won’t affect RSL’s standing in the Western Conference but it can affect who RSL will face in the Western Conference Semifinals. Colorado will need a draw or a win in order to officially clinch a playoff berth. If RSL finishes in first-place it will take on the winner of the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. If RSL finishes in second-place, it will face the third-place team in the West. If Colorado does earn a result at Vancouver, its playoff placement won’t be determined until after the final MLS regular-season game between Seattle and LA. Colorado would need a win and for LA and Seattle to draw in order to clinch third-place which would most likely mean a Rocky Mountain Cup semifinal series, assuming RSL finishes in second-place. A RSL vs. Colorado playoff game would be the first of its kind. Who to root for? Follow your heart.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
The final match of the MLS regular-season will definitely be an entertaining one with the former MLS champions taking on Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders FC. Seattle is suffering an epic blowout to end its regular-season, losing its last four matches by a combined margin of 12-2. Despite Seattle’s recent run of poor form, they have already clinched a playoff berth. This match will determine whether or not Seattle or LA will avoid the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. LA and Seattle will want to grab as many points as possible to put as much room between them and the red line. Who to root against? Both.
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 on Saturday faces perhaps their most bitter nemesis (rivalries not withstanding) in the form of LA Galaxy; one of the more potent sides in MLS, Real Salt Lake will have a difficult job maintaining approach and style without sacrificing defensive solidity.
Returning to the diamond
It's easy to imagine that facing off against LA Galaxy will require a more dynamic midfield than facing Houston required — which isn't a knock on the trio of Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales last week, nor on Houston particularly. But certainly we can agree that, when in form, LA Galaxy are a treacherous side to face, and containing them will require special attention. Stymying Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan is not particularly an easy task.
But it's equally important in attack: There was plenty of potency unfulfilled last week, and this isn't the sort of match to leave that on the table. Deploying with a more familiar formation for the squad could provide both attack and defense the best platform for success.
Defending the transition
It's a simple thing but difficult to execute: LA Galaxy will be quite good at picking up the ball in key areas and hitting us in our transitional states. We know this. With attacking players who can essentially turn the game on its head at any given moment — Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan the two obvious options — we have to be smart with the ball. We can't go losing it in the deeper parts of midfield on a silly pass, and we surely can't afford to lose the ball with a silly pass from a defender.
But surely we will give up the ball at times. Some of the world's greatest tactical managers, notably Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, among others, had a method for mitigating the risk of a lost ball: Immediately after the ball is lost, put intense pressure on the opposition for somewhere between three (Wenger) and six seconds (Pep) in an attempt to win the ball back immediately. Once that time period has passed, if the ball is not forthcoming, retreat to a more stable defensive outlay and defend the attack. That sort of approach wouldn't go amiss for Real Salt Lake.
Maintain control of possession
There are some sides against which losing the possession battle is fine, or at least doesn't present any great trouble. LA Galaxy are not one of those sides. That's not to say that they don't present trouble when they lose that particular battle: On April 27, RSL lost 2-0 but had a 63-37 possession advantage. So, yes, it's not everything. Or most things. But it's something we can control, and if we're smart without the ball as well as with it, we'll be in a good position.
In addition to the high-profile coaching matchup detailed here earlier on Thursday, Real Salt Lake’s game at the LA Galaxy on Saturday night will pit the two hottest players in MLS against each other in RSL’s Alvaro Saborio and LA’s Landon Donovan.
The two stars have absolutely torn up the league recently, with Saborio notching six goals and one assist in his last five MLS games and Donovan registering four goals and three helpers over the same span.
Saborio has decent numbers against LA, tallying one goal and two assists in six career regular season games against the Southern California side.
As he has against so many MLS teams, Donovan has run rampant in his career against RSL, scoring nine goals and adding eight assists in 17 career regular season matches against the Claret-and-Cobalt.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis and goalkeeper Nick Rimando both spoke earlier this week about the prospect of stopping Donovan, who, in addition to his recent MLS exploits, was perhaps the best player in July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“He’s just somebody you’ve got to be aware of at all times, depending on where he’s playing in their tactical setup” Kreis told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s been playing more as a second forward than as a wide midfielder. That makes him, I think, a little bit easier for us to pick up actually and know where he is at all times because he’ll tend to stay more in central positions.”
“He’s always been Landon, you know?” Rimando told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. “I think that time away really gave him back his legs and his mentality, and he really found his passion back for soccer. He was in a zone [during Gold Cup] and it’s continued. It was good to see it on the American side, but bad to see it when we have to face him.”
Real Salt Lake’s match at LA on Saturday will pit two of the top head coaches in Major League Soccer against each other in RSL’s Jason Kreis and the Galaxy’s Bruce Arena.
Kreis and Arena have crossed paths numerous times over the last 20 years, beginning in the early 1990’s, when Kreis – and RSL GM Garth Lagerwey – and the Duke Blue Devils would regularly butt heads with Arena’s Virginia Cavaliers in fiercely-fought ACC contests.
The battles continued in MLS, with Kreis bagging five goals and compiling a 4-6-0 record with Dallas and RSL in 10 matches against Arena’s D.C. United and New York Red Bulls squads.
It was against Arena and those same Red Bulls against which Kreis made his coaching debut, with RSL coming back for a miracle 3-3 draw on May 5, 2007 at Rice-Eccles Stadium marking the first – but far from only – time the coaches two squads would play to a memorable finish.
Historically, Kreis and Arena are two of the most successful coaches in MLS. Arena is a U.S. soccer legend, winning four MLS Cups, three Supporters’ Shields, six conference titles and three Coach of the Year awards. He’s second in league history to Seattle’s Sigi Schmid with 154 wins and 488 points and his winning percentage of .599 is the best all-time mark in MLS.
Kreis, who, at age 40, is 21 years younger than the 61-year-old Arena, stacks up rather nicely against his older counterpart, currently sitting in fourth-place amongst active coaches with 85 wins, 309 points and a .541 winning percentage. The two are the only coaches in MLS to lead their teams to 50 point, 15 win seasons in each of the last three years.
As a young coach, Kreis still has a good deal of growing to do, something he readily admitted on the Ford Postgame Show following last Saturday’s 1-0 home win over the Houston Dynamo and their successful head man Dominic Kinnear.
You can check out Kreis’s comments at the 2:45 mark of the above video or read them below:
“I’m still learning, I’m still learning for sure,” Kreis told RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth. “I think that I feel a lot more confident during the match about what I’m seeing and the ability to change things during the match. That’s probably been the latest thing that I’ve felt really, really confident [about], seeing where the spaces are to exploit, what our opponent’s doing against us and causing us trouble with and how to tinker with that a little bit during the match. That’s probably the latest thing that’s come and I think that there’s still a lot more for me to learn and I’m excited about it.”
We’ll see if Kreis can get one over on Arena on Saturday night at StubHub Center. The two are even against each other this year, with Arena and the Galaxy beating RSL 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 27 before Kreis and the Claret-and-Cobalt down LA 3-1 at home on June 8. Saturday’s match kicks at 8:30 p.m. MT and will be broadcast live on ABC 4.
Two late goals from forward Olmes Garcia powered Real Salt Lake to a 3-1 win over LA in the sides last meeting on June 8 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Garcia's first goal - an 84th minute "header" that put the Claret-and-Cobalt up 2-1 - was followed by one of RSL's best celebrations of the year, with Garcia running to the sideline to salsa with fellow RSL attacker Joao Plata.
Check out full highlights from the June 8 home win above.
I know, I know, some of you might not like it, but both Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando chose Landon Donovan when asked by MLSsoccer.com at Tuesday's All-Star practice which fellow All-Star they'd like to take back to their team.
True to RSL's "Team is the Star" mentality, neither Beckerman nor Rimando opted to kick anyone off of the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Real Salt Lake extended its unbeaten streak to five games across all competitions on Saturday night, beating the LA Galaxy 3-1 in front of a solid crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Forward Olmes Garcia scored two goals in 29 minutes of action on Saturday to lead RSL to victory. The 20-year-old Colombian attacker now has four goals in 401 MLS minutes, giving him 0.9 goals per 90 minutes, the best rate in the league for anyone with more than one goal. Garcia has also hit the woodwork an astonishing four times this season.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Khari Stephenson on Saturday became the 10th Claret-and-Cobalt player to score a goal in league play this year. RSL only had 10 scorers in league play in all of 2012.
Saturday’s win moved RSL to 5-1-1 in its last seven MLS matches, tied with Seattle for the best record in the league in that span. The Claret-and-Cobalt leads the league with 16 league points since the start of May.
RSL has scored 17 goals in its last seven MLS matches, the most in the league in that span. RSL is tied for first in the league with the Portland Timbers with 24 goals this season. The Claret-and-Cobalt has 20 goals in its last eight games across all competitions and has scored three goals in each of its last three matches across all comps.
RSL maestro Javier Morales had two assists on Saturday night. Javi now has five helpers this season, tied for second in MLS and just one behind Philadelphia forward Sebastien Le Toux for tops in the league. Morales now has five goals and seven assists in 13 career regular season matches against LA.
Garcia's brace on Saturday was the 43rd multi-goal performance in RSL's 311 game history across all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 36-3-4 when someone finds the net multiple times.
Real Salt Lake has a good history against the LA Galaxy, posting a 9-9-5 regular season mark against its Western Conference rival.
We've put together four of the Claret-and-Cobalt's "Signature Moments" against LA ahead of Saturday's 7:30 kick between the sides at Rio Tinto Stadium. Check 'em out below.
March 10, 2012 - RSL opens the 2012 season with a 3-1 win at the defending champion Galaxy.
Nov. 6, 2011 - It's not a happy memory, but no catalog of RSL-LA meetings would be complete without mentioning the Galaxy's 3-1 victory over the Claret-and-Cobalt in the 2011 Western Conference Final.
March 26, 2011 - RSL MF Andy Williams scores in the second minute - one of the quickest goals in club history - as RSL thrashes LA in the 2011 MLS home opener.
Nov. 22, 2009 - RSL's proudest moment: Beating LA in penalty kicks to lift the 2009 MLS Cup.
Nice video from the good folks over at MLSsoccer.com previewing Saturday's RSL-LA slugfest.