Real Salt Lake faces D.C. United in what is perhaps the most anticipated match of the last two years, and it's one Jason Kreis and his team will be hoping to put to bed easily. But that's rarely as simple as it seems, despite their opposition's wholly dismal form in MLS.
Form: What is it good for?
If you've guessed that the answer is something close to "absolutely nothing," then you're right on track. It's not really that form means nothing, but that when we're talking about the biggest matches, form won't dictate anything on a grand scale. Quality players step up for games of this nature. There's nothing controversial about that. We've had trouble in the past in these circumstances, but again: Form, even over the longer term, doesn't mean a thing.
Who plays? One major choice remains
If Saturday's defeat of Vancouver Whitecaps (which, I might add, was quite nice) is any indication, and it surely is, then we'll see as strong a lineup as we've seen all season. The only player who would seem a real doubt, Alvaro Saborio, is back, having trained for at least a week now.
But there remains one question: Who plays in the midfield alongside the Beckerman, Grabavoy and Morales trio? Luis Gil has just come off a superb 90-minute performance on the weekend; Sebastian Velasquez the same. Both played heavily in the Reserve League game during the week. This leaves Khari Stephenson as the obvious choice, but as we've seen so often, the obvious choice is so often the one not taken. Luis Gil is hardly out of the running.
Stephenson adds some great work, a calm head, and a great long shot. It perhaps should be noted that he's won an Open Cup before — a champion with Kansas City in 2004.
Gil adds more attacking movement and combination, which is essential to the way we play. He also would come into the match with some renewed confidence, having been the midfield boss throughout Saturday.
The pass-and-move fabric of our side is an important factor: Stephenson is decidedly less mobile (owing in part to his stature and in part to his style of play) than Gil. He isn't a player that fits neatly into our system the way Gil does at current — a testament to Gil's development at Real Salt Lake, surely.
But that, on its own, isn't the determining factor: Stephenson adds new variables to the equation, and it's tempting to deploy that business buzzword, disruption, to the element he would bring. And maybe we should: By allowing us another type of option, Stephenson disrupts the tendency we have to end up in a desperate spot on the flank, flinging ball after ball into the box. He'll stick more centrally, he'll stay calm, and he'll try to find a sane — if not spectacular — pass.
Setting out on the front foot
If there's one thing that's universally agreed upon about this D.C. United side, it's that allowing them to play their game yields dividends for the opposition. The "inevitable mistake," as a group of United podcasters and bloggers described it during a conversation I had with them tonight, will come, and it'll push their chances to something approaching zero.
We won't give them the opportunity to make that mistake. Not easily, at least. At home, with Jason Kreis as our manager, we aim to control nearly everything that comes our way. We lead the league in passes per possession. We make the game ours and not the opponents. Even with the weakness of our opponent, there's little chance we break from that. This is who we are, and we'll continue our unabashed approach.
That's of course to our benefit. There's little point in completely changing the way we play. Responding to our opponents is one thing; playing to exploit one specific weakness is another. We'll play to exploit multiple weaknesses in the midfield and defense, and if it works out, we'll have a very strong chance of coming out victorious on the other side.
We didn't get here by not being us. It's been a difficult road, and the final won't be easy. But we're not going to abandon that road now — not right at the end.
MLSsoccer.com was out in full force at Real Salt Lake practice at Rio Tinto Stadium on Monday ahead of Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final against D.C. United, speaking with Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis, defender Nat Borchers and midfielder Javier Morales about the Cup Final.
They packaged their conversations into a slick video - give it a watch above.
Real Salt Lake picked up a huge road win on Saturday, getting a ninth minute goal from forward Devon Sandoval and keeping the clean sheet to beat Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0 at BC Place.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saturday’s win gives Real Salt Lake 51 points and 15 wins on the season, making the Claret-and-Cobalt the first team in MLS’s post-shootout era to reach the 50-point and 15-win plateaus in four consecutive seasons.
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis ran out a bit of a makeshift lineup on Saturday night, making 10 changes to the team that lost 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 21. Sandoval was the only player to start both matches, with Kreis electing to rest most of his regulars with an eye on Tuesday’s all-important U.S. Open Cup Final against D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler went the full 90 on Saturday night, putting in a strong shift alongside Brandon McDonald in the center of RSL’s back line. It was the first appearance of any kind for Schuler in 140 days – the fourth-year defender last played on May 11, missing the next four months due to injuries.
Saturday’s victory was Real Salt Lake’s first-ever win at Vancouver and second-ever win in Canada. RSL has now won two straight games north of the border after never having won in Canada until beating Toronto FC 1-0 at BMO Field on June 29.
Saturday’s result moves Real Salt Lake’s road record to 6-7-3 this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s 21 away points and +1 road goal differential are tied for tops in the league with Sporting Kansas City. RSL has one more road match – at Portland on Oct. 19 – to surpass the club record of 22 away points set last year.
Real Salt Lake faces Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday with a bit of a quandary on their hands: Play a weakened side and risk a loss, or play a strong side and risk losing the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday?
Return to approach
The first and perhaps foremost thing Real Salt Lake must focus on for Saturday's match is returning to the approach that's brought them so much joy through the season. Too often, they've set out to do something, but, after finding themselves down a goal, looked to force the occasion. It's not what they train week-in, week-out to do, and as a result, they're not particularly good at it.
So at the top of Jason Kreis's list will be convincing his side that, if the going gets tough, they must continue to attack in sane, non-panicky ways: Keep the ball on the ground, build connective play, and work as a unit. The individualistic approaches showcased last weekend was not the solution to our ills, and though they might be natural and somewhat sane reactions to the compact defense we saw, they were ineffective.
The necessity of rotation
This is no time in the season to be rotating, but we've found ourselves in a situation where it's necessary. That's a good thing, as the impetus is the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday (ahem, buy tickets, et cetera), which, we'll all agree, is a good thing to have happen. And it's at home, which is even better, as you won't be able to watch it otherwise. But with Saturday on the road, a two-games-in-three-day stretch might be too much to ask of even the most seasoned of players.
Should we lose Saturday, we're in a precarious position for the playoffs. Should we lose Tuesday, we'll have missed another chance at a trophy. Obviously enough, the goal is to lose at neither asking, but the approach required is difficult. We can't put too many of those likely to start Tuesday out there on Saturday — or indeed, even on the plane today — lest we risk tiring them out prematurely.
So a much-changed lineup is inevitable. Balancing those players who might be able to play in both matches with those who might be on the bench is a difficult task. But sending Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales? I wouldn't count on that. Those players are ostensibly the core of our soccer identity, but we'll need to rely on our much-vaunted depth to make it through this difficult stretch.
It's a funny thing when a future match dictates a match immediately at hand, but that's the nature of playing for trophies. It's difficult, it's arduous, and it comes bundled with a great deal of risk. But if we want to stand a fighting chance to continue in both, it will take some real work.
Briefly, a slew of young players will likely see the pitch on Saturday. Sebastian Velasquez can be expected to play at the top of the diamond, where he's continually impressed for the reserves. Yordany Alvarez should be at the base of the diamond, and his strong passing and breakup play will be strongly needed against this Whitecaps side hunting for a playoff spot. Brandon McDonald could be called into action for the first time since the 3-3 draw against Portland (particularly as he's cup-tied and can't play Tuesday).
It'll be a mixed lineup, no doubt, but one imminently capable of putting a two-game losing streak behind this side. It's all about depth, isn't it?
The MLS regular season is winding down and RSL have got yet another compelling stretch of three games in eight days ahead of them – two important league games a week apart with Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup Final wedged in the middle. We’ve seen plenty of 3-in-8’s roll around this season, but it’s doubtful that any of them are as important as this one. If RSL plays out of their minds and wins all three games, they will find themselves with a major trophy in hand, a CONCACAF Champions League berth (and all the ancillary benefits that come with it), and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. But if they crash and burn, they could find themselves without a trophy and on the outside of the playoff race. So if you’re Jason Kreis, the question is how do you manage these games?
The first consideration has to be priorities – which games are most important to win? I think it’s fair to say that the number one priority is the U.S. Open Final for the reasons the RSL blog crew have hashed out for months. So no matter what Kreis chooses to do in the other games, it’s clear that he needs his first-choice team to arrive ready and rested on Tuesday night. After that game the priorities are not as clear-cut, but for me it’s the FC Dallas game on October 5. It’s a home game and represents the better opportunity to get three points.
That’s not to say that Saturday's game at Vancouver game is a throwaway by any means. It’s still important – especially given the low point that Salt Lake is going through right now – that they at least show up and compete well. Going into the Open Cup Final on a three-game losing streak would be less than ideal from a confidence standpoint. With that in mind, there are going to have to be some lineup changes against the Whitecaps. Considering the Tuesday game and the fact that Vancouver plays on turf, it makes sense to consider resting the legs that have the most miles – season and/or career – on them.
I would consider resting guys like Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy because they’re definitely going to be in Tuesday’s plans, so it might be unwise to risk an injury to one of them. Lovel Palmer, Brandon McDonald, Yordany Alvarez, Khari Stephenson and Sebastian Velasquez are certainly capable of replacing them without a big drop in quality. That’s the beauty of being probably the deepest team in the league.
For the U.S. Open Cup game, there will be no holding back. Perhaps this game could even see the return of injured forward Alvaro Saborio. In any case, there’s no way Kreis fields anything less than his best available group. Nobody should underestimate D.C. based on the admittedly horrible MLS season they’ve had. If anything, the disappointment of their league play will further motivate them since Open Cup is the last thing they have to play for this year. United will be a desperate and motivated team, and last week we saw what a desperate team is capable of.
With the Open Cup game behind them (and hopefully with a trophy in tow), RSL can return its focus to the Dallas game and playoff positioning. In the past Kreis has shown no reservations about trotting out guys who played 90 minutes just days before, so his lineup choices will probably be based on how players are feeling after the previous two games and who’s most in form.
This three-game stretch is one of the last opportunities for the team to get their form right before the playoffs, and some less-used players are going to have to step up and play big.
The latest Kickin' it with Kwame is here! Check out RSL's Kwame Watson-Siriboe as he talks with some fans and fellow defenders Nat Borchers and Aaron Maund at last week's RSL Meet the Team Event at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake lost its second match in a row on Saturday, falling 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few facts and figures from Saturday’s match:
Rio Tinto Stadium was sold-out on Saturday night, with 20,504 fans packing the RioT to capacity for the sixth time this season. The sellout – the second consecutive full house in Sandy – was the fourth largest crowd in Rio Tinto Stadium history.
Despite dropping two consecutive matches, the Claret-and-Cobalt is still in the Supporters’ Shield race – albeit on the fringes – just three points behind the first-place New York Red Bulls and two points back of Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC.
All three goals in Saturday’s contest were scored within a 3 minutes and 5 second span in the first half. Steven Lenhart opened the scoring, nodding San Jose ahead at the 17:03 mark. Javier Morales equalized for RSL, finding the back of the net at the 18:44 mark. Lenhart scored the winner scarcely a minute later, again heading home to put the Quakes up 2-1 at the 20:08 mark.
Morales continued his dominance over San Jose on Saturday, with his 19th minute tally marking his seventh career goal against the Quakes. RSL’s Argentine maestro now has seven goals and six assists in 13 career regular season games against the Bay Area side.
While the team wasn’t able to pick up a result, RSL did completely control the run of play on Saturday, registering 69.5 percent possession and out shooting San Jose 17-8.
CASA GRANDE, Ariz. - The Real Salt Lake-Arizona U-16 and U-18 teams will open the 2013-14 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season this Saturday, traveling to Sacramento to take on San Juan Soccer Club.
The U-16 squad is the defending U.S. Soccer Development Academy champions after they defeated Solar Chelsea 4-2 in the U-16 championship match in July 2013. Both sides are looking to qualify for the USSDA playoffs for the fourth-straight year.
Saturday's Academy matches will be held at Mather Soccer Complex - North Field. Kick off for the U-18 match is set for 12 p.m. MT and the U-16 match will begin at 2:30 p.m. MT.
The Real Salt Lake U-16 Elite squad is also going to be on the road this weekend, as are set to travel to Scottsdale, Ariz. for their first match in the Arizona State League. The Claret-and-Cobalt will square off against SC del Sol 98 at Scottsdale Sports Complex; kickoff set for 9:25 a.m. PST.
Four Real Salt Lake Academy players have been invited to a U-18 MNT camp at the U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center in Los Angeles, California. The camp takes place Sept. 22-29
The Grande Sports Academy home of the Real Salt Lake Arizona Academy is pleased to announce the commitment of: Chase Bishov to Princeton University; Dillon Nino to Dayton; and Justen Glad to Stanford.
Assistant coach Freddy Juarez spoke to U.S. Soccer about the benefits of a residency setup.
GSA Exports is a regular feature where we track the progress of our former players who are playing at the college and professional levels. Here is a list of eight players who are playing professionally in five different countries and here is another list of over 40 academy graduates who combined to score four goals and assist on eight goals in the first week of college soccer.
The Grande Sports Academy home of the Real Salt Lake Academy is pleased to announce a new partnership between the Seeds of Hope and GSA to create the first mentoring program in the city of Casa Grande.
Following Wednesday's training, assistant coach Mike Kraus and players Fito Ovalle and Jose Hernandez shared their thoughts on the Academy teams, expectations for this year and how things have been different in training.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and forward Olmes Garcia were both named to MLSsoccer.com's fourth-annual 24 under 24 list this week, with Gil clocking in at No. 2 on the rankings and Garcia coming in at No. 19.
While Gil and Garcia are both highly deserving of the honor, there are a few worthy RSL players that didn't make the list. 21-year-old forward Joao Plata and 19-year-old defender Carlos Salcedo have been particularly strong for the Claret-and-Cobalt this season, with Plata notching three goals and eight assists in league play and Salcedo performing admirably as a surprise starter alongside Nat Borchers in the center of RSL's back line.
Plata's exclusion from the 24 under 24 list is particularly curious. The diminuitve Ecuadorian, as mentioned above, has been very strong for RSL this year, but he's also been better than numerous forwards who made teh 24 under 24 list. Plata has better numbers than LA forward Gyasi Zardes (No. 7) and Jose Villarreal (No. 11) as well as Vancouver forward Darren Mattocks (No. 12). Alas, on-field performance isn't the only criterion used in the 24 under 24 voting, with the slightly-vague "Marketability/Personality" category carrying 20 percent of the weight, equal to the other four metrics used in tabulating the rankings.
Plata's plight was significant enough that it was noted this morning by MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle in his column highlighting the five biggest 24 under 24 snubs this season.
RSL has a pair of of other youngsters who also merit mention in this discussion, with 22-year-olds Devon Sandoval and Sebastian Velasquez performing nicely for the Claret-and-Cobalt as spot starters this season.
This Saturday (7:00 p.m. – CW30, ESPN700), Real Salt Lake looks to retake the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race as they host a desperate San Jose side. But that’s not all that is noteworthy ahead of this weekend’s clash. Rio Tinto Stadium is close to notching its sixth sellout of the season— only Maverik Mayhem Corner seats and Standing Room Only tickets remain — while going head-to-head with Utah’s biggest rivalry game: BYU vs. Utah.
The near-sellout has proved to be especially noteworthy, garnering an article in the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis sees the near-sellout as a sign of soccer’s growing influence in Utah.
"We’ve done this in the past, a near-sellout or sellout,” he told media when asked about going up against the BYU vs. Utah game. “I think it’s a pretty clear indicator of where we are in our sport and where we are with the support in this community. I think all of us feel extremely proud and extremely pleased with that support.”
The BYU vs. Utah game might be the biggest sports rivalry in Utah, but RSL fans aren’t letting this weekend’s critical match go unnoticed.
The players are having a little fun with it too, sharing their favorite sports rivalries in the video above ahead of Saturday's likely sellout at Rio Tinto Stadium and college football clash in Provo.