If defense wins championships, then Real Salt Lake has reason to be optimistic in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Currently the hottest defensive team remaining in the postseason, RSL has a difficult task ahead in overtaking the LA Galaxy for a spot in the Western Conference Championship series. However, with four straight shutouts and a 403-minute shutout streak, it’s no wonder the team is confident heading into the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series on Sunday at the StubHub.
RSL has not allowed a goal in the last four matches, including a scoreless draw against Galaxy in the first leg on Saturday. No Western Conference team has allowed fewer than four goals in the last four matches, with the Galaxy letting in six goals and going winless at 0-2-2 in that stretch.
That defensive prowess should come as no surprise. Salt Lake’s back six – including goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defenders Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert and holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman – have played together since Schuler joined the league in 2010.
That group has contributed to RSL earning three different shutout streaks of at least 285 minutes this season. The current run of 403 minutes is second only to the 433-minute run that Vancouver Whitecaps FC went on to close out the regular season and into the Knockout Round match against FC Dallas.
In addition, the team has proven a tough beat in postseason play.
Rimando has allowed just five goals in his last eight playoff appearances, including four shutouts and two 120-minute matches, making for a 0.58 goals against average dating back to the 2012 season. His 13 career playoff shutouts rank second on the all-time MLS list, just two behind Kevin Hartman in the top spot and even with Zach Thornton.
This season, he posted a league-best mark with a 1.04 goals against average to go with a 13-4-7 record and seven shutouts.
Kickoff in Sunday’s match is scheduled for 5:30 pm MT from the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. The match will be televised live on ESPN2 with local radio coverage on ESPN 700 and La Gran D 102.3 FM (Spanish).
Real Salt Lake is a veteran-laden team with loads of playoff experience. That much is known.
But just how much more experienced in the rigors of the MLS Cup Playoffs than any other team in MLS was on display in the first legs of the Western Conference Semifinal Series that were played over the weekend.
After play in the first legs, Nick Rimando’s 32 career postseason matches was more than the 11 starters from FC Dallas (30), the Columbus Crew (30) and the New England Revolution (29), even after Dallas had played two playoff games this year.
Of the eight Conference Semifinalists, no team comes close to touching the 171 total playoff games from Real Salt Lake’s starting 11 against the Galaxy. LA was the nearest competition with 130 career playoff matches, followed by D.C. United with 94 and Seattle Sounders FC with 87.
Real Salt Lake’s back six alone – Rimando, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Kyle Beckmeran – combine for 127 career postseason matches. That is significantly more than any other team’s starting 11 outside of the Galaxy.
Below is the full chart of the playoff experience for the starting lineups from the Western Conference semifinal first leg matches.
Real Salt Lake – 171
LA Galaxy – 130
D.C. United – 94
Seattle Sounders FC – 87
New York Red Bulls – 78
FC Dallas – 30
Columbus Crew – 30
New England Revolution – 29
After a scoreless draw on Saturday in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, Real Salt Lake is in a good position heading into the second leg against the LA Galaxy on Sunday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
On the surface, that may not make sense. The Galaxy is a good team at home, going 12-1-4 at the StubHub Center this season. And while Real Salt Lake’s 4-7-6 road record doesn’t jump off the page as outstanding, it does provide some reason for optimism entering the second match of the two-leg playoff series because of the institution of the away goals tie-breaker. In the event that the series ends in a draw, the first tie-breaker will go to the team that scored the most goals in their road match in the series. If both teams scored the same amount on the road, the match extends to a 30-minute overtime, then a shootout.
In 10 of RSL’s 17 road matches this season, the team got the result it needed to at least force overtime in the series. In eight of them, they got the result to win outright, as two of the road draws finished scoreless.
Simplified, RSL will advance with a win or a draw in which goals are scored in the match. It will go to 30 minutes of extra time if it ends in a scoreless draw. If LA wins the match, the Galaxy will advance, regardless of the scoreline.
Want more reason for optimism?
Salt Lake is riding a 252-minute shutout streak against the Galaxy in the playoffs that includes the scoreless draw on Saturday, a 2-0 extra time win in the second leg of the West Semifinals in 2013 and 42 scoreless minutes in the first leg of that series. Defensively, RSL has been masterful of late too, with a 503-minute shutout streak that dates back to Oct. 5.
That bodes well for a team that can turn the tides of the series with one away goal.
Time will tell, though, as the second leg approaches on Sunday and RSL looks to take the next step toward a return trip to the MLS Cup Final.
Real Salt Lake Academy defender McKay Eves is among 22 players selected to represent the U.S. U-16 Boys’ National Team for a camp running from Nov. 13-21 in France.
The 15-year-old San Diego native is in his first year with RSL’s Arizona Academy team, based in Casa Grande, Arizona. He scored his first goal for the club on Oct. 26 in a 4-0 win over Nomads SC and has started all 10 matches for the U-16s this season, who are in fourth in the division at 4-3-3.
The 22-man roster will start camp in Clairefontaine, France, near Paris, on Nov. 13 with a match scheduled against France’s U-16s on Nov. 20. There is also a possibility that another match will be scheduled against a French club team, with details to be announced at a later date.
The group will be overseen by U.S. Soccer technical advisor Clint Peay, who formerly served as the U.S. U-17 National Team assistant coach. The roster is made mostly of players born in 1999, giving the younger players in the U-17 cycle an opportunity to train together and play in international competition.
Eves has previously been called into the U-17 National Team camp, but has not appeared in a match at that level.
The full roster includes 18 current Development Academy players, with 21 of the 22 players on the roster having been a part of the Academy system.
Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Alex Budnik (Sockers FC; Arlington Heights, Ill.), Eric Lopez (LA Galaxy; Westminster, Calif.)
DEFENDERS (8): Jose Alfaro Jr. (Fuerza Monarca; West Chicago, Ill.), Andrew Aprahamian (Philadelphia Union; Malvern, Pa.), Jordi Avila (Kendall SC; Hialeah Gardens, Fla.), McKay Eves (Real Salt Lake AZ; San Diego, Calif.), Kyle Gruno (Leicester City; Saddle River, N.J.), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union; Drexel Hill, Pa.), Daniel Villegas (Chivas USA; Los Angeles, Calif.), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids; Colorado Springs, Colo.)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Raul Aguilera Jr. (Orlando City; Sanford, Fla.), Jose Carranza (D.C. United; Manassas, Va.), Christopher Goslin (Georgia United; Locust Grove, Ga.), Nicholas Taitague (Richmond United; Midlothian, Va.), Juan Pablo Torres (Georgia United; Lilburn, Ga.)
FORWARDS (7): Andrew Carleton (Georgia United; Powder Springs, Ga.), Lucas Del Rosario (Capital Area RailHawks – CASL; Durham, N.C.), Jonathan Gonzalez (Monterrey; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Jeanpaul Marin (New York Red Bulls; Rego Park, N.Y.), Marty Raygoza (FC Golden State; South El Monte, Calif.), Adolfo Trujillo (De Anza Force; Livermore, Calif.), Hanif Wright (Unattached; Los Angeles, Calif.)
Cassar’s playoff debut
After seven years under Jason Kreis, Jeff Cassar took the reins at Real Salt Lake this year with tremendous success in the club’s opening 12 matches. After a 6-0-6 unbeaten run to start the year, Cassar proved his merits and led RSL to its seventh consecutive playoff berth and fifth straight season with at least 15 wins and 50 points.
On the opposing bench, Bruce Arena is the all-time winningest coach in MLS postseason history and has four MLS Cup titles to his credit. The three-time MLS Coach of the Year led the Galaxy to a sixth straight playoff berth in 2014 and also has five straight seasons with 15 wins and 50 points.
A fortress at Rio Tinto Stadium
Real Salt Lake finished 11-1-5 at home in the 2014 regular season, the lone defeat coming on June 7 against the Portland Timbers. Since then, RSL’s record at Rio Tinto Stadium is 8-0-2. That includes six straight victories in which RSL has outscored the opposition 16-3.
That success has proven to hold in the playoffs, too. Since ousting Chivas USA in the Western Conference semifinals in 2008, RSL has gone 5-2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the postseason and 4-0-0 when the first leg is at home. RSL went on to win every series in which they hosted the first match.
Since announcing his retirement in August, LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan has been showered with gifts at every stadium stop along the way. However, Salt Lake and LA had already played all three of their matches by that point, so Rio Tinto Stadium was one of the few stadiums that didn’t host a Donovan send-off.
On Saturday, there will be opportunities to wish Donovan well in his retirement and show appreciation for his accomplishments in MLS and with U.S. Soccer. However, once the match kicks off, those moments will be long gone and the fans will undoubtedly treat it like any other match between RSL and the LA Galaxy.
One of the wrinkles of the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs is that this year, for the first time, the first tie-breaker in the aggregate-goals series will be road goals. In previous years, matches would go straight to extra time, but this year if the series is tied, the team that scored the most goals on the road will advance. If the two teams are still tied, then the match will go to extra time and a shootout, if necessary.
This increased emphasis on road scoring is designed to encourage more attacking soccer. It is the same mechanism used in CONCACAF Champions League’s Knockout Round so RSL has plenty of experience in that type of series, having reached the Champions League final in 2010-2011.
With its regular season wrapped up on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake sat back on Saturday and watched the rest of the Western Conference battle for playoff positioning in a day full of excitement.
First, Seattle Sounders FC topped the LA Galaxy 2-0 at CenturyLink Field to claim the Supporters’ Shield and knock the Galaxy into the No. 2 seed. Then the Portland Timbers went on the road to top FC Dallas 2-0 at Toyota Stadium, putting RSL in the No. 3 seed, FC Dallas at No. 4 and, temporarily, the Timbers at No. 5. Then to close out the day, Vancouver Whitecaps FC sealed the fifth seed with a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at BC Place.
What this all means for RSL is a playoff clash with the LA Galaxy for the fourth time in the last six postseasons.
Here is a quick run-down of the previous three match-ups, starting in the 2009 MLS Cup Final.
Salt Lake and LA met for the MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (then called Qwest Field). With an MLS Cup record crowd of 46,011 in attendance, the two teams played toe-to-toe for 120 minutes without a victor determined. Mike Magee scored in the 41st minute to give the Galaxy a first-half lead, but RSL answered in the 64th minute with a goal from Robbie Findley.
In the shootout, both teams made their first two attempts and missed their third. Landon Donovan skied his effort in the fourth round and Ned Grabavoy converted his. However, Salt Lake could not find a match-winner until the seventh round. Nick Rimando saved Edson Buddle’s shot, his second save of the shootout, and Robbie Russell converted his to give the MLS Cup to Real Salt Lake.
After ousting Sounders FC 3-2 in the Western Conference semifinal, RSL went on the road to the Western Conference final to face the LA Galaxy, who won the Supporters’ Shield and topped the New York Red Bulls 3-1 in the semis.
With just one game determining the Conference champions, LA jumped out to an early lead with Donovan converting a penalty in the 23rd minute. Alvaro Saborio responded with a goal of his own in the 25th minute, but LA would storm back with two second-half goals from Magee and Robbie Keane to send the Galaxy to the MLS Cup Final, where it bested the Houston Dynamo 1-0.
Last year, the two teams met in the Western Conference semifinal over a two-legged series. It opened at the StubHub Center where Sean Franklin netted the only goal in the 48th minute. Going back to Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL evened the series on a 35th minute goal from Sebastian Velasquez, sending the series to extra time. There, Chris Schuler scored in the 103rd minute and RSL held on to advance to the Conference final.
With that deep-seeded rivalry in place, the matchup this year is bound to be dramatic.
The 2014 Western Conference Semifinal series starts on Saturday, Nov. 1, at Rio Tinto Stadium. For ticket information, visit http://bit.ly/12D6VER.
RSL needs a win in order for a chance to finish third in the west
Real Salt Lake slipped into fourth-place in the Western Conference this weekend after the Claret-and-Cobalt played Portland Timbers to a 0-0 draw on Friday and FC Dallas defeated Colorado Rapids 1-0 on Saturday. The Texas club now sits in third-place with one more point than RSL (54) and a 16-11-6 record. In order for the Claret-and-Cobalt to earn a third-place finish and avoid the Knockout Round, RSL will have to record a win on Wednesday and have FC Dallas draw or lose to Portland on Saturday. If both clubs end the season even on points, the Hoops have the advantage in the first tiebreaker with two more wins than RSL with only one match remaining in the regular season.
RSL 0-2-0 against Chivas USA in 2014
Real Salt Lake will be looking for its first win against Chivas USA this year, with the Claret-and-Cobalt losing in both of the clubs’ previous encounters. In their first meeting of the year on June 28 at StubHub Center, RSL went down to ten men in the ninth minute after midfielder Luke Mulholland saw straight red for a tackle on midfielder Martin Rivero, and could not overcome a 35th minute goal scored by forward Erick Torres. RSL suffered a similar fate when it faced the Red-and-White in California again on Oct. 5, falling 1-0 as the visitors for a second time. Chivas USA’s success against the Claret-and-Cobalt this year has been surprising as the SoCal club has struggled mightily, going 8-18-6 in 2014 and is currently tied for last place in the Western Conference with Colorado Rapids.
RSL has found some success at home against the Goats, going 6-3-3 against the Red-and-White in Utah. RSL is also currently riding a two-game win streak at home against the SoCal club.
Regular season finale
Wednesday’s clash with Chivas USA will be the Claret-and-Cobalt’s final regular season match of 2014, with the club looking to improve its final record at home. Real Salt Lake has gone 10-1-5 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year, recording just one loss to the Portland Timbers on June 7, and is one victory away from tying its all-time best of 11 home wins. With a win on Wednesday, RSL will break its all-time single-season points at home record with 38, surpassing the 2010 record of 37. Real Salt Lake is also four tallies away from breaking its single-season home goals record of 34 which was notched in 2009.
Final match v. Chivas USA
Real Salt Lake will likely play its fellow 2005 expansion team, Chivas USA, for the last time on Wednesday night, as the SoCal club seems destined to suspend operations in 2015. It has been reported that Chivas USA will remain closed for two years while it takes the time to find new owners and fully rebrand. The Goats have struggled mightily in recent years, and will now miss the playoffs for a fifth-straight season.
Real Salt Lake has gone 12-12-4 all-time against Chivas USA in the regular season, posting a 6-3-3 home record and 6-9-1 road record. The two clubs met once in the playoffs in 2008, with RSL winning the first leg 1-0 at home and drawing 2-2 on the road to advance to the Western Conference Championship, where it ultimately fell to New York Red Bulls.
The latest episode of the Emmy-Nominated MLS Insider series profiled Nick Rimando this week after the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper broke the all-time MLS record with his 113th career shutout against D.C. United on August 9. The feature dives into the highs and lows of Rimando’s storied career, from winning MLS Cup with D.C. United in 2004 to finding himself traded twice in two weeks prior to the 2007 season. His teammates, Head Coach Jeff Cassar and General Manager Garth Lagerway all talked about Rimando’s role with the club while Rimando and his wife discussed the behind-the-scenes story of how he landed with the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Real Salt Lake defenders Aaron Maund, Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert and midfielder Luke Mulholland are all profiled in the most recent issue of Salt Lake City’s Downtown Magazine. The four city-dwellers reflect on what it’s like living in downtown SLC and share some of their favorite things to do off the pitch.
Check out their profiles and pictures here: http://issuu.com/amcintyre/docs/downtownalliance2014/37