Real Salt Lake will be missing more than a handful of players as they travel to take on FC Dallas. Dealing with absence after absence will be the highest priority on Jason Kreis’s mind — how, exactly, does one go without ten-plus players, anyhow?
Managing expectations and approach
Let’s be clear about things: Real Salt Lake is likely to be missing upwards of 10 players on Saturday. It makes things very difficult. It could well be the case that to fill the seven-man bench, there will be two goalkeepers on there — it’s no certainty, but there should be no surprises if that’s the case.
As such, this match is a very difficult one for Jason Kreis’s crew. Our loyal leader will need to have his side prepared for what could be a tough match. At this early point in the season, the goal should be to avoid a blowout loss, to understand expectations, and to simply work hard on and off the ball. Anything more than that will, I suspect, be a bonus.
Given that Jason Kreis is hardly a madman, even if he is obsessive about winning, it’s hard to see him upset with a loss — excepting perhaps some anger directed at MLS for scheduling a match during World Cup qualifiers.
Coping with changes
Continuity’s a funny thing. We’re not likely to have, well, any. Or at least not much. Of the players who started last match, only a handful are likely to start again: Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Lovel Palmer (albeit on the opposite side), Luis Gil and Robbie Findley. That’s right: Only five players who played one week ago are likely to start. Should Khari Stephenson be deemed start-ready, that number will be boosted to slightly more than half of the starting lineup at six.
Dealing with those changes is going to be difficult, but Kreis should focus his side on playing a more reserved style, wherein they look to control possession with safe, unadventurous passing. It’s not promising to be a pretty match — but should they get pegged back, the physical presence of Devon Sandoval, likely in for Alvaro Saborio, combined with the kinetic potential of Robbie Findley could see RSL playing prototypical “Plan B” football.
Solidifying the defense
Jason Kreis will surely be looking to solidify his defensive line ahead of Saturday’s match, but given the seemingly imminent return of one Nat Borchers (who will undoubtedly take the captain’s armband for the day, should he start), the task may not be so mammoth.
Of course, an untested midfield grouping, owing to the absence of several players, is likely to see that backline tested. With Palmer on the right and Schuler on the left, expecting much attacking thrust from the defensive group is unreasonable; but that may play into RSL’s hands. Indeed, three of the four that started in defense last week are expected to be starting again. I suppose it could be worse.
With the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums around the country, U.S. Soccer has more options than ever when it comes to hosting important matches on American soil. Today's announcement from U.S. Soccer that Rio Tinto Stadium will host the USA vs. Honduras in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying match - on top of another U.S. Men's National Team appearance during the Gold Cup - solidifies the notion that Sandy is one of the most coveted destinations for our national team.
So why does U.S. Soccer smile so brightly upon Utah, which is the country's smallest soccer market? Quite simply, it's about one thing: Home field advantage.
Historically, the Salt Lake area has shown some of the most pro-U.S. crowds anywhere - this is key when it comes to putting opponents at a disadvantage. We all hear the stories of the kinds of partisan crowds the U.S. faces when they go on the road in CONCACAF, and the crowd at Rio Tinto is the closest we in the U.S. come to paying back the favor. "When we ask the question 'where is the biggest support for us throughout the country?,' Salt Lake always comes up in that discussion," said U.S. men's head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "It has been proven in the past that this is another venue where we can rock the boat."
The results bear out Klinsmann's sentiments. The U.S. National Teams - all ages and genders - are a combined 4-0-0 in Salt Lake City, including two victories for the men in two previous World Cup Qualifiers. They beat Costa Rica 3-0 in 2005 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and El Salvador 2-1 at Rio Tinto in 2009.
On top of the crowd support, the 4400-foot altitude tends to work in the U.S.'s favor, and it should again in June when they face a Honduras team that plays its home games at 250 feet above sea level. If the U.S. can get an early lead and force Honduras to chase the ball, the visitors will be at the mercy of Sandy's thin air.
Of the World Cup Qualifiers we've hosted here in Utah, this one is shaping up to be the most crucial to the U.S. Honduras currently sits at the top of the table in the hexagonal, having just beaten the U.S. in Honduras, and they are one of the favorites to qualify for next year's World Cup. Depending on what happens between now and then, the match at Rio Tinto could be a make-or-break game for the U.S. if they want to qualify for Brazil 2014.
If the past is any indication, if you're the U.S. and you're facing a must-win game, then this really is the place.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
Real Salt Lake has learned that star forward Alvaro Saborio's injury is not serious and that it shouldn't keep him out of Friday's U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier.
Saborio, who has all three of RSL's goals this year, bruised his knee while training with the Costa Rican national team ahead of Friday's game. Costa Rican media outlet Deportes Repretel reported on Wednesday that Saborio was doubtful to start on Friday's match due to the injury.
Friday's qualifier will kickoff at 8 p.m. MT from Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. and will be broadcast live on ESPN. RSL players Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are in the U.S. squad for the match.
Beltran, Beckerman, Rimando, Saborio and Abdoulie Mansally (Gambia) will all miss Saturday's RSL at FC Dallas match while on international duty. Both the U.S. and Costa Rica will play a second Hexagonal match on March 26, with the Stars-and-Stripes taking on Mexico at Estadio Azteca and Costa Rica hosting Jamaica.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio suffered a slight knee injury while training with Costa Rica and is doubtful to start Friday's World Cup qualifier at the U.S., according to a report from Costa Rican outlet Deportes Repretel.
RSL has been in touch with the Costa Rican federation regarding Saborio's injury and is monitoring the situation closely.
Costa Rica will take on the U.S. in a Hexagonal match at Dick's Sporting Goods Park outside Denver on Friday night (8 p.m. MT; ESPN). The Costa Rican captain, Saborio has one goal and one assist in four appearances - all starts - against the Stars-and-Stripes. Costa Rica has a 3-0-1 record in those games.
Saborio's RSL teammates Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are all in the U.S. squad for Friday's game.
Los Ticos will host Jamaica in another Hex match on March 26.
Real Salt Lake hasn’t ever won at FC Dallas, but it does have plenty of ties to the club.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis, Assistants Jeff Cassar and Miles Joseph, General Manager Garth Lagerwey and Color Commentator Brian Dunseth all played in Big D, with Kreis and Lagerwey on the 1997 team that won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the club’s only major trophy to date.
Kreis in particular was very successful in Dallas, scoring 91 goals in 247 appearances for the then-Burn before moving to Real Salt Lake ahead of the 2005 season. Cassar had 33 appearances across two stints in Dallas, Lagerwey had 10 and Joseph and Dunseth both had nine.
Despite his obvious ties to the organization, Kreis indicated after training on Tuesday that the RSL-FC Dallas matchup no longer resonates with him like it used to. He’s clearly all Real Salt Lake, all the time.
RSL will take on FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium at 6:30 p.m. MT on Saturday. The match will be televised on ABC4 and Univision and will be broadcast on the radio on ESPN700 AM and 102.3 La Gran D FM/1600 AM.
It was interesting to watch RSL wheel and deal this offseason – GM Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Jason Kreis jettisoned a few high-priced players and in return tried to create competition at every position.
By all indications they did a very good job at building that depth, to the point that RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth called the Claret-and-Cobalt the deepest team in MLS. Thanks to injuries and family matters, RSL’s bench has been tested plenty already this season, and while the results haven't been perfect, they haven't been bad either. The depth will get its biggest test of the young season on Saturday at Dallas, thanks to national team call-ups hitting RSL hard as World Cup qualifying hits full stride this weekend.
Tony Beltran, Nick Rimando, and Kyle Beckerman have been called on by Jurgen Klinsmann to represent the Stars-and-Stripes. They'll be facing off on Friday against their RSL teammate and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio. Finally, Abdoulie Mansally is making the long trip back to Africa to join his native Gambia.
No other MLS team was hit as hard as RSL, and when combined with the current spate of injuries, RSL could be down as many as 11 players going to Dallas. So while national team call-ups are a great reward and a source of pride to players, the timing is going to leave their club in a bit of a lurch.
These call-ups are peppered around the field and cause concern in almost every positional group, but RSL's depth should help mitigate some of the risks. RSL probably has the best backup goalkeeper in the league with Josh Saunders; Nat Borchers played in the last reserve match - and looked good, I might add - and if he can start it will help Claret-and-Cobalt cover for Tony Beltran; Lovel Palmer has done well at outside back; and Yordany Alvarez is a more than capable replacement for Beckerman.
The biggest question is who is going to fill in for Saborio. Rookie forward Devon Sandoval is physically able to stand in for him, and the pairing of Findley and Plata is a possibility, but so far nobody has been able to step up and take the scoring load from Sabo. Someone is going to have to do it if RSL hopes to get its first win in Texas.
Here's my guess at RSL's starting lineup for Saturday based on the assumptions I've made above (L to R):
Saunders; Palmer, Borchers, Watson-Siriboe, Schuler; Alvarez; Gil, Grabavoy; Velasquez; Findley, Plata
Bench: Attinella, Maund, Martinez, Grossman, Stertzer, Sandoval, Garcia
The injuries and call-ups haven't created an ideal situation for RSL by any means, but considering the circumstances, that's not a bad lineup. And that's exactly what Kreis and Lagerwey were after during those long winter months.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
It's not often that a Real Salt Lake goal is the direct result of a tactical decision, but Jason Kreis's move to a 3-4-3 late in the second half of Saturday's 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids falls into that category.
Changing shape: 3-4-3
When he pulled Lovel Palmer from the match and dropped in Devon Sandoval, Jason Kreis pushed Real Salt Lake into a near-desperate 3-4-3 formation, and he did it with some success. With Chris Schuler as a slightly withdrawn left back, Tony Beltran as an adventurous right back, and Kwame Watson-Siriboe in the middle, there was always a certain risk involved, and for a moment it did seem as if Colorado would find a goal. If not for a fine performance from Nick Rimando, they would have.
The midfield was where the more interesting movement took place; with a largely right-sided attack, owing to Beltran's runs on that side of the pitch, swathes of the midfield were left rather empty. With Luis Gil on the right flank and Sebastian Velasquez on the left, Ned Grabavoy and Kyle Beckerman were left largely to patrol the midfield; the former was inevitably pushed higher up the pitch than the latter. Devon Sandoval and Alvaro Saborio formed a double-target front line, while Joao Plata played in a slightly withdrawn forward role.
Through Beltran's runs down the right, Luis Gil was given a greater opportunity to influence the match, and it's telling that it was through his hard work on the edge of the box that the goal arose. Joao Plata's awareness again proved crucial as well, and it's increasingly hard to fault Saborio's finishing prowess. Subtly important and easy to ignore, though, was the run by Sandoval, which drew one of two defenders away from Saborio, opening the shooting opportunity, which Saborio took with immaculate poise.
Unsurprisingly, Kyle Beckerman domineered the midfield, leaving Colorado with scant few opportunities to control possession; of course, given their long-ball counterattacking strategy (incredibly effective as it was), this was perhaps no surprise. Beckerman — nor any other RSL midfielder — wasn't forced into tackles or even interceptions, leaving the player free to spray passes across the pitch. With 83 of 101 passes successful, it's clear who controlled the affair. Sebastian Velasquez, too, had a fantastic night in the pass, completing 68 of 77 passes and maintaining possession.
It's hard to tactically account for errors when a player like Jamison Olave isn't in the side to plow through everyone. With this in mind, several Real Salt Lake players will rather be kicking themselves after allowing Colorado Rapids a number of chances simply from mistakes on the ball. Chris Schuler was guilty during the conceded goal, but errors fell in most areas and weren't confined to a single player. Whether this is down to nervousness or concentration or some third factor is difficult to say with any definitive voice. Whatever the case, Jason Kreis and company will be looking for those to be erased moving forward.
With the season heating up awfully early with Rivalry Week entering the fray in the third week of play, Real Salt Lake will face the slightly struggling Colorado Rapids. Jason Kreis will have decisions to make to counter the strong-passing Rapids.
Abdoulie Mansally is out after being (rightly) suspended for the match by the league, leaving a gaping hole at left back. Lovel Palmer is likely to step in, and with him comes some tactical uncertainty. For all Mansally's ails when he bursts forward on the left, his interceptions in advanced positions are vital to our tactical approach. With Palmer in the side, perhaps Tony Beltran pushes a bit higher up and we shift our attack a bit more to the right side.
Ned Grabavoy has a chance to make the lineup after returning to the squad this week, although there's a chance he wouldn't be starting, as he missed significant training minutes and two matches. If he does, expect Khari Stephenson to drop to the bench, as he and Grabavoy fill vaguely similar tactical roles in the side. Stephenson has fared reasonably well during his first two matches for the club, proving a good tackler and a nice link-up player, but Grabavoy brings more to the table, as well as a greater understanding with his teammates.
Desperately seeking balance
Perhaps it's not balance qua balance we're seeking, as we've got that already — the midfield is balanced but perhaps at the wrong spot. Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, and Khari Stephenson have, in the first two matches, been excellent at maintaining possession, but none of the three has put in the attacking thrust we've really needed.
With Javier Morales still out with injury, somebody will need to step forward and really push play up the pitch. Grabavoy may not be the man to do that particularly, but he'll help. Velasquez can do it, but as he's generally on the side, won't influence play as much as a playmaker in the middle would. Gil's the best option, and judging by the final 30 minutes of his performance against D.C. United, it's one he's capable of. He simply needs to assert himself more out there — it'll come as a natural result.
Rapid passing patterns
Fascinatingly, Colorado has lost their first two matches having out passed the opponent by a considerable margin, in both matches completing nearly double the passes of their opponent. In both, they even took their fair share of shots. Jason Kreis's side will need to be aware of the danger here.
The solution seems simple: Don't allow Colorado to control the match. Though they haven't succeeded by doing so, they haven't been entirely far off. Stymying those passing rhythms and controlling the match in a safe, sensible manner should be of the highest priority.
Miss Nick Rimando's Q&A with KSL 5's Jason Shepherd earlier Thursday?
Don't worry, we've got you covered. Catch the entire chat above - and don't forget to show up to Rio Tinto Stadium prior to Saturday's 4 p.m. kickoff to see a ceremony honoring Nick for becoming the second player in MLS history to reach 100 career shutouts.
I'm convinced that true rivalries must have more than just a geographic component. There needs to be a strong element of competitiveness between the rivals, and the nail-biting nature of the games between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids have added to the richness of the Rocky Mountain Cup. There have been so many great moments in the Rocky Mountain Cup over the years; bulletin board material, last-minute game-winning goals, big-time saves, questionable calls, questionable no-calls, red cards, and skirmishes, just to name a few.
My favorite RMC moment – so far – was the RSL-Colorado game on Oct. 24, 2009, the final day of regular season play that year. It wasn't so memorable because of the game itself – RSL won 3-0 – but everything else that went on that night. Let me set the stage for you.
Going into the final day of the 2009 season, one playoff spot was up for grabs. As the day's games kicked off, that final spot belonged to none other than the Rapids who were sitting on 40 points. Right on their heels were FC Dallas, D.C. United, and Toronto FC, each with 39 points. RSL was the final team with a mathematical chance at the playoff spot with 37 points. In order for RSL to make the playoffs, they would need to leapfrog the three aforementioned teams and beat the Rapids. A win by either Dallas, D.C., or Toronto would automatically eliminate RSL.
That afternoon, before heading to Rio Tinto, RSL fans eagerly tuned into the early game on the East Coast: Toronto at New York. We were able to sit back and relax after not too long thanks to a brilliant showing by New York. The Red Bulls scored early and often, thrashing Toronto 5-0 to eliminate TFC from playoff contention at 39 points. One down, three to go.
Then it was off to Rio Tinto where, coincidentally, the final three games that would determine RSL's fate (Colorado at RSL, Dallas at Seattle, D.C. at Kansas City) all kicked off at roughly the same time. Facing a must-win situation, RSL came out flying. Robbie Findley hit pay-dirt twice in the first half hour, ending the drama early as it became apparent that Colorado didn't have the horses to equalize on this night. RSL went on to win 3-0, putting them level with Colorado at 40 points but ahead based on tiebreakers. Two down, two to go.
While RSL was putting a bow on their game, things were getting interesting elsewhere. Dallas gave us an early scare at Seattle when Atiba Harris put them up 1-0, but the expansion Sounders scored twice early in the second half and hung on to win, knocking Dallas out of playoff contention. Three down, one to go.
The D.C. at Kansas City game was going along fine at 1-1 with RSL owning the tiebreaker over D.C. Then suddenly, it looked like the clock had struck midnight and RSL would turn back into a pumpkin - Julius James put D.C. ahead in the 82nd minute. From then on it was all Kansas City on the offensive, but it appeared D.C. would hold on. At this point, almost every member of the media at Rio Tinto was ignoring the final minutes of RSL's win and we were all glued to the TV watching KC and D.C. Then, in second-half stoppage time, RSL got the miracle they needed - a controversial handball gave the Wizards a penalty on the last kick of the game. Claudio Lopez buried it, ending the match 2-2 and putting RSL through to the playoffs.
Without those four matches going exactly the right way, RSL would have watched the playoffs from the couch. Instead, they went on to win MLS Cup. It was a magical night all around, and it's officially my favorite Rocky Mountain Cup game of all time.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM