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11 October 12:07 pm

The Claret-and-Cobalt won’t be in action, but the entire Real Salt Lake family will be locked into one MLS match this weekend: Sunday’s Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders contest (7:00 p.m. MT; ESPN).

Sunday’s Cascadia Cup game between the Timbers and the Sounders at JELD-WEN Field holds massive Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference title implications, with the result going a long way toward determining whether or not RSL will have a realistic shot at either crown come Monday morning.

Here’s the short story, RSL fans: Root for a tie – hard.

A draw between Portland and Seattle on Sunday would keep RSL in first-place in the West, ahead of Seattle by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker and up one point on Portland. The Claret-and-Cobalt would remain in second-place in the Supporters’ Shield race, one point behind New York, which is also idle this weekend. RSL, New York, Portland and Seattle will all have two regular season games remaining after this weekend.

A win by either side on Sunday would put RSL in a more precarious position in the Shield and West races. A Seattle victory would put the Sounders in first in both the Shield and Western Conference races, two points ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt, which would drop to second in the West and third in the Shield race. A Portland win would vault the Timbers into first in the West and second in the Supporters’ Shield standings, and would put RSL one point behind the Timbers, in second in the West and third in the battle for the Shield.

Reiterating: A draw between Portland and Seattle would lead to RSL’s clearest past to the Western Conference crown and Supporters’ Shield. A win by either side wouldn’t eliminate RSL from either race, but it would make things significantly tougher for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

Do up your favorite knot, tune-in to ESPN, and pull hard for a tie between Portland and Seattle this Sunday. 

10 October 9:42 am

Real Salt Lake’s Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes got a big boost on Wednesday night, with West rivals Seattle losing to Vancouver, Colorado falling at San Jose and Supporters’ Shield foe Kansas City drawing at Houston to keep the Claret-and-Cobalt in the thick of both races.

Vancouver did RSL a major solid by beating Seattle 4-1, with 18-year-old forward Kekuta Manneh notching a hat trick to help the ‘Caps stun the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The result keeps RSL in first in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which now has only one game in hand on the Claret-and-Cobalt. The Sounders will make up that match on Sunday, when they’ll take on Cascadia rival Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN.

While San Jose’s win over Colorado prevented RSL from securing a sixth-straight playoff berth on Wednesday night, the result was still pretty good for Jason Kreis and Co. The Rapids loss keeps Colorado – which is four points behind RSL – off of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s back, making the prospect of securing an all-important top-three seed in the West that much easier.

RSL would’ve preferred a Houston win over Kansas City, but Wednesday’s scoreless draw between the two sides at BBVA Compass Stadium isn’t all bad. Hard-charging Sporting is now dead even with RSL, with both sides posting a 15-10-7 record through 32 games.

Here’s how the big picture looks for RSL following Wednesday’s games:

  • RSL needs two points from its two remaining matches (i.e., one win or two draws) to clinch a playoff spot. A San Jose loss or tie or a Colorado loss in either of those clubs' two remaining matches would also lock up a playoff berth for the Claret-and-Cobalt. RSL’s next chance to clinch a playoff berth will come on Oct. 19, when a win at Portland would secure a postseason spot for the club.
  • With 52 points through 32 games, the Claret-and-Cobalt sits in first-place in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which has a game in hand on the Utah side.
  • RSL is tied with Sporting Kansas City for second-place in the Supporters’ Shield standings, one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the top spot. RSL, SKC and New York have all played 32 games, while Seattle and Portland – which are two and three points behind New York, respectively – have both played 31 games.
  • Real Salt Lake is tied for third with Kansas City in the points per game standings. New York leads the league with 1.66 points per game, Seattle is in second with 1.65 and RSL and SKC are in third with 1.63.
  • Pending results in Sunday’s Portland-Seattle contest and LA’s home game against Montreal on Oct. 16, RSL could potentially clinch a top-two seed in the West with a win at Portland on Oct. 19.

It’s setting up to be a wild last month. Buckle up. 

09 October 12:32 pm

MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle broke down the modern attacking midfielder in his latest "Between the Lines" piece, putting special focus on Real Salt Lake's brand of soccer and how it opens things up for midfielders to make a difference in the attacking third. 

Doyle's piece is definitely worth a watch. Check it out above.

08 October 10:11 am

The team isn’t playing, but Wednesday night is going to be huge for Real Salt Lake.

Two games with massive implications for the Claret-and-Cobalt will take place tomorrow night, with Seattle hosting Vancouver at CenturyLink Field (8:00 p.m. MT; MLS Live) and San Jose hosting Colorado at Buck Shaw Stadium (8:30 p.m. MT; MLS Live).

RSL could clinch a postseason berth pending the result of the San Jose-Colorado match, with a Rapids win or tie in the Bay Area securing the Claret-and-Cobalt’s sixth-straight MLS Cup Playoff appearance. Of course, a result for the Rapids would pull Colorado closer to RSL in the Western Conference standings. With the Rapids just four points back of the Claret-and-Cobalt at the moment, that might not be the best thing.

As several pointed out on Twitter, this whole situation has led to a bit of internal conflict for some of us here in the office.

Moving past the Quakes-Rapids contest – and our minor existential crisis – the Seattle-Vancouver matchup is oozing with Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield implications. There’s no dilemma here: RSL fans will be rooting for the ‘Caps to pull the upset in this Cascadia clash.

Seattle is currently one point behind RSL for the West lead and two points behind the New York Red Bulls in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield. The Sounders have two games in hand on both the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York, meaning that Seattle will need to drop a result or two down the stretch for RSL to have a shot at the West crown and the Supporters’ Shield. No better time for that than tomorrow, when the Sounders will be without U.S. internationals Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson against a Vancouver side fighting tooth-and-nail for its playoff life.

07 October 11:50 am

Real Salt Lake was able to earn a hard-fought point on Saturday, drawing FC Dallas 1-1 despite going down a man in the 17th minute.

Here are some interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:

20,488

Rio Tinto Stadium was sold-out on Saturday night, with 20,488 fans filling the RioT to capacity for the seventh time this season. The sellout was the third consecutive full house at the Sandy facility.

1

With Saturday’s draw, Real Salt Lake maintains the lead in the Western Conference with a total of 52 points, one point ahead of second-place Seattle Sounders FC.

2

The Claret-and-Cobalt remains competitive in the Supporters’ Shield race, currently sitting in second-place, one point behind the league-leading New York Red Bulls.

6

Real Salt Lake is currently looking to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the sixth-straight year. The Claret-and-Cobalt could clinch its berth in the postseason before it plays its next game on Oct. 19 at Portland, as a San Jose loss or tie against Colorado on Wednesday would put RSL in the playoffs.

Should San Jose beat Colorado on Wednesday, RSL would clinch a postseason berth with a win at Portland on Oct. 19. The Claret-and-Cobalt would effectively clinch a spot in the postseason with a tie at Portland through tiebreakers held over San Jose.

A sixth-consecutive postseason qualification which would tie RSL for the second longest such streak in MLS history with the New York Red Bulls (Six years; 2003-2008), trailing only the New England Revolution (Eight years; 2002-2009). RSL’s current streak of five consecutive MLS Cup Playoff berths is the longest active run of postseason qualification in the league.

1-2-3

RSL was shown its sixth red card of the season on Saturday, when defender Abdoulie Mansally was ejected in the 17th minute for a late tackle on Dallas’ Jackson. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 1-2-3 in the six league games it’s gotten a red card in this year.

11

Forward Alvaro Saborio scored his 11th goal of the 2013 season in the 60th minute, working his way around three defenders to strike a half-volley inside the left post from 12 yards out. Despite playing in just 14 league games, Saborio is now in a three-way tie for fifth place in the MLS Budweiser Golden Boot standings.

9-2-4

In the 2013 MLS regular season, Real Salt Lake has a 9-2-4 record at home. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 73-31-38 all-time at home. 

04 October 1:10 pm

Saturday's match against FC Dallas pits a team desperate for a win and a chance at making the playoffs, the Texas side, and a team with one last chance to push for a chance at the Supporters' Shield, the Utah side. The difference becomes rather moot: Both are going to be fighting tooth and nail for a chance.

Changes

Jason Kreis told reporters after Tuesday's loss that he had to consider recent results when concocting the group that will take us into the playoffs. That won't be an easy task. Some have been very, very good; others have been poor at best. But when some of those excellent players are young and inconsistent, and some of those poor players are veterans and generally more consistent than not, you've got to wonder if the world has simply gone topsy-turvy for a month.

But it remains the case that we have a deep squad, and we have little reason to not use it now. We may as well throw all of the noodles at the wall to see what sticks, and Jason Kreis undoubtedly recognizes that. So who might he play on Saturday?

Chris Schuler will certainly get another run out, and maybe he'll be partnered by Brandon McDonald again. Both players showed well a week ago, and the calm with which they steadied the back line was admirable. Abdoulie Mansally might get a run on the left, and Lovel Palmer might get a run on the right. (I'd wager one or the other and not both.) Robbie Findley might be back in contention after a knee problem seemed to have kept him out of Tuesday. Finally, Luis Gil will almost assuredly be back in the lineup after having an emergency appendectomy on Sunday. (I mean, really — can't these kids keep their appendixes (appendices?) under control for a day?)

Speed demons, and how to slay them

The immediate options are thus: 1) Run an offside trap, or 2) Play a deeper defensive line to halt opportunities.

If we're playing a less experienced defensive setup, the offside trap seems an unwise gambit. A deeper defensive line, though, would create greater gaps between the defense and the midfield, which brings with it its own set of tactical issues.

But at this point in the season, the only direction in which we can really travel is upward, and only if we string together a great run of results. Our playoff spot is very nearly secured, and a proactive approach is necessary if we're to aim for a Supporters' Shield surprise.

It's a risky thing, but when you need a win, you really have to play for a win, consequences be damned. Let's move the defenders forward, be prepared for Dallas to break with pace, and let the match be its inevitably open self.

regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com, Matt Montgomery runs the SB Nation blog RSL Soapbox. Follow Matt on Twitter @TheCrossbarRSL

04 October 9:23 am

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. - The Real Salt Lake-Arizona U-16 and U-18 Academy teams have announced two tryout dates for interested players.

In the short three-year history of the Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy, the U-16 and U-18 Academy teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season. Nine players with ties to the Academy have signed professional contracts and over 40 graduates are currently playing collegiate soccer.

In July 2013, the U-16 Academy team defeated Solar Chelsea 4-2 in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Championship game, becoming the first residential academy program to capture a Development Academy title.

Tryout sessions will be held at the Grande Sports Academy on the following dates:

October 18-20

December 17-19

Tryouts are for Birth Years: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999

Click here for more details and to register for the tryout.

03 October 12:56 pm

MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas put together an informative breakdown of Devon Sandoval's goal in RSL's 1-0 win at Vancouver last Saturday, analyzing the solid plays from Sandoval, fellow forward Olmes Garcia and defenders Brandon McDonald and Lovel Palmer that led to the strike in his "Anatomy of a Goal" series. 

The video is well worth a watch, even if Greg mistakenly identifies RSL's Inigo Montoya as the character V from the film V for Vendetta. Check it out above.

03 October 10:28 am

Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back on Saturday from Tuesday’s crushing 1-0 defeat to D.C. United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, hosting Western Conference foe FC Dallas at 7:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:

Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes on the line

Real Salt Lake is currently in the thick of the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races, one point behind New York in the battle for the Shield and in first in the West by virtue of holding the goals scored tiebreaker over Seattle.

With Seattle holding two games in hand on both the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York, Saturday’s game is vitally important for Real Salt Lake to keep pace in the chase for the Shield and the West. A win over Dallas would keep RSL in first in the West and potentially vault the team past New York, which hosts New England on Saturday. A loss or a tie and the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference title become increasingly unlikely for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

One factor working in RSL’s favor: Seattle could lose key players Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans to the U.S. national team for the Sounders’ Oct. 9 game against Vancouver and Oct. 13 clash at Portland.

Desperate Dallas

Dallas enters Saturday’s match with its playoff hopes hanging by a thread. FCD is currently in eighth-place in the West, five points behind Colorado for the fifth and final playoff spot. The Texas side has just four games remaining in the regular season and will likely need to win at least three of them to have any hope of qualifying for the postseason.

Make no mistake about it: RSL will be facing a desperate Dallas side on Saturday. Expect a lot of scratching and clawing from the Hoops.

Magic maestros

RSL magician Javier Morales and Dallas playmaker David Ferreira have both had a good deal of success against each other’s side, with Morales scoring three goals and notching six assists in 10 career regular season games against Dallas and Ferreira registering two goals and three assists in seven career regular season games against the Claret-and-Cobalt.

Kreis matches up against former side

Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis spent nine seasons playing in Dallas, scoring 91 goals for the then Dallas Burn from 1996-2004. Kreis – who is still FCD’s all-time leading scorer – is 7-8-3 in all competitions when coaching against Dallas.  

01 October 9:57 am

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.

regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com, Matt Montgomery runs the SB Nation blog RSL Soapbox. Follow Matt on Twitter @TheCrossbarRSL