Here’s a bold statement to start your week: Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium is RSL's biggest game of the year so far by a wide margin, and could end up being the club’s biggest match of the entire season.
Make no mistake about it; Wednesday’s game is serious business. Here are a few reasons why the semifinal is RSL’s most important match in a long time:
There's a trophy on the line
Excluding trophies from rivalry games and whatnot, American soccer teams are only eligible for three domestic trophies. The U.S. Open Cup is one of them. The RSL players, coaches, and staff have repeatedly said that they want to win more trophies for this club, and that they should have more trophies given the quality of the team for the last four years. I can't disagree with them - RSL has consistently been one of the top teams in the league but they don't have enough hardware to show for it. The Open Cup is a golden opportunity to add to the tally, and while Real is still very much in contention to win the other two trophies this year (Supporter's Shield and MLS Cup), those two are much farther off and there is much more competition for them.
A Champions League berth is up for grabs
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis has said in no uncertain terms that he badly wants to get this team back to the CONCACAF Champions League. That's easier said than done, as a maximum of four American MLS teams qualify for the competition each year. The only guaranteed ways for U.S. squads to earn a berth are to make it to the MLS Cup final, win the Supporter's Shield, or win the U.S. Open Cup. As mentioned above, the first two options are currently very complicated. But there are only four teams left standing - and only two games remaining - in U.S. Open play. Clearly this is the shortest path to that coveted Champions League spot.
It's a major tournament semifinal
These kinds of opportunities (for players and fans) don't come along every day. Being this deep in a tournament is a big deal. Believe it or not, with all the success RSL has enjoyed over the last few years, only once before has Real contested a tournament semifinal at home. That match was the 2010-11 Champion's League semifinal on March 15, 2011 with RSL cruising to a 2-0 win over Deportivo Saprissa (Editor's Note: RSL also hosted the 2008 Eastern Conference Final, which the team lost 1-0 to New York. We regret the eariler error). There were no semifinals played in Utah before then and there hasn't been once since. That all changes on Wednesday.
Win, and RSL will host the Open Cup Final
The winner of Wednesday’s RSL-Portland match will host the winner of the Chicago Fire-D.C. United semi in the U.S. Open Cup Final later this year. That’s a huge incentive. Home finals are even rarer than home semifinals, and – should RSL win on Wednesday – it’ll be a heavy favorite in the title game. The winner of the United-Fire semifinal will have to make a long trip to play the final in a difficult environment. Also - and no disrespect intended here - Salt Lake (38 points in MLS play) is a step above the Fire (28 points) and D.C. United (13 points) in terms of quality.
Of course, RSL still has to get by a tough Timbers side to get to the final. That will be a tall task, and the Claret-and-Cobalt will need your voice if they’re to advance. Hope to see you all at the RioT on Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake's Rocky Mountain Cup-losing 2-2 draw at Colorado on Saturday was not the result of lackadaisical output, nor was it the result of injuries, nor of worrying fissures within the side's tactical makeup. What, then, was the cause?
Once again, Real Salt Lake conceded a game-tying goal from a hopeful cross; it is something we've seen repeatedly over the last three matches. In these cases, it's easy to point at the quality of defenders on display, but poor defenders in good positions are less likely to allow those sorts of goals. No, it's not an issue of the quality of defenders, but of the quality of defending take place. Nick Rimando rightly pointed at organization as an issue in the draw and the losses that preceded it. He's not at all wrong.
Goals in transition
Again, this is in part down to organization, but the issue starts further up the pitch. When the ball is lost cheaply at any position, the opposition is handed an opportunity to counter in numbers. They're also given an opportunity to send in hopeful crosses, as with the defense on the back foot, they are less capable of defending crosses into the box. We keep seeing it, and it's difficult to really solve with one fell swoop, but it's hurt us before, it hurt us this time, and it will hurt us again — even if we solve the issue.
It's a function, in part, of the way in which we play that we allow chances. As an attacking side that puts numbers forward — a tactical risk Jason Kreis admits — we must find the best way to deal with the transition, because it's going to happen.
A lack of defensive identity
This one perhaps is the cause of the preceding two points. When your defenders are unable to build rapport through playing time, understanding who exactly is where becomes a difficult proposition. A difficult question to answer: When last did we play the same defensive line in consecutive matches? The question boggles the mind. This season, we've seen Nat Borchers paired with Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Carlos Salcedo, Aaron Maund, and now Brandon McDonald. And we're only halfway through the season. Now, much of that change has been forced, but to go from having a genuine pairing that started the majority of matches in Borchers and Jamison Olave to this? There should be no surprise that we lack identity.
The question now: How do we create it? Who is closest? And will a pairing galvanize before the playoffs?
Real Salt Lake hits the road to take on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night’s game will be the final game in the Rocky Mountain Cup.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Rocky Mountain Cup on the line
This one’s pretty simple: If RSL wins on Saturday, it will take home its seventh-straight Rocky Mountain Cup. A loss or a tie and the Rapids take home the trophy for the first time since 2006.
Rimando and Beckerman poised for returns
After spending all of July away from the team on international duty and with the MLS All-Stars, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando look poised to make their return to the Claret-and-Cobalt on Saturday.
Both Beckerman and Rimando trained with RSL on Friday. Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis indicated after training on Thursday that both could start on Saturday.
RSL defender Tony Beltran also missed all of July while with the national team and the All-Stars. He won’t be available on Saturday due to suspension.
Beltran isn’t the only RSL player suspended for Saturday’s match – fellow defender Chris Wingert and midfielder Yordany Alvarez are also out for the match after receiving punishment from the MLS DisCo.
Abdoulie Mansally and Lovel Palmer are likely to replace Wingert and Beltran on the back line, while Beckerman should take his usual defensive spot for Alvarez.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio returned to the Claret-and-Cobalt in sparkling fashion last week, registering his third career RSL hat trick in the Utah side’s 4-3 loss at New York. Saborio has had a good deal of success against Colorado in his career, scoring five goals and notching one assist in nine regular season games against the Rapids.
It seems like the Rapids have forgotten their place.
Colorado - which, in case you've forgotten, has lost six-straight Rocky Mountain Cups to RSL - is talking a lot of smack ahead of Saturday's 2013 RMC finale, with Head Coach Oscar Pareja and goalkeeper Clint Irwin giving the first-place Claret-and-Cobalt plenty of bulletin board material for this weekend's clash at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
RSL is 0-1-1 in this year's Rocky Mountain Cup, tying the Rapids 1-1 at home on March 16 before falling 1-0 at Colorado on April 6. The Claret-and-Cobalt must win on Saturday to retain the club's seventh-straight Rocky Mountain Cup.
Here's Pareja on Saturday's contest:
"We know we're stronger than them," Pareja said. "And we know we can [beat them] again.
And here's Irwin responding to a question about his PK stop on RSL's Alvaro Saborio in the April 6 match:
"I hope, when we do get the three points this weekend, we can look back and say that was a key moment."
Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and Nick Rimando finally returned to Salt Lake on Thursday, coming back to the Claret-and-Cobalt after spending the last month with the U.S. national team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the MLS All-Stars for Wednesday’s All-Star Game.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the trio’s stint away from RSL.
Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando spent 32 days away from RSL, leaving the team on June 30 following the club’s 1-0 win at Toronto FC before returning to Salt Lake on Thursday. RSL played four matches while the trio was gone, posting a 1-2-1 record against Philadelphia, Dallas, Kansas City and New York.
Beckerman, Rimando and Beltran combined to play 1,102 minutes while away from RSL. Rimando totaled the most minutes of the trio, playing 450 minutes in the Gold Cup and 45 in Wednesday’s All-Star Game. Beckerman wasn’t far behind notching 382 minutes – and three assists – for the U.S. and starting and playing the first 45 in the ASG. Beltran totaled 180 minutes, going the full 90 in both the U.S.’s win over Cuba at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 13 and in the All-Star Game on Wednesday night.
RSL’s international/All-Star trio flew a distance of 10,954 miles over the last month. Assuming they were all non-stop, here are the nine flights KB5, Tony and Nick were on during the last month:
Toronto to San Diego; San Diego to Portland; Portland to Salt Lake City; Salt Lake City to Hartford; Hartford to Baltimore; Baltimore to Dallas; Dallas to Chicago; Chicago to Kansas City; Kansas City to Salt Lake City
That’s a lot of frequent flyer miles, all four time zones and way too many hotel rooms.
Between Sunday’s Gold Cup Final, Wednesday’s All-Star Game, Saturday’s MLS match at Colorado and Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against Portland, Beckerman and Rimando – Beltran is suspended for this weekend’s Rocky Mountain Cup match – will be eligible to play in four different competitions in a span of just 11 days.
When Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando left RSL after the team’s 1-0 win at Toronto, RSL was in first-place in MLS. Despite two-straight losses, that’s exactly where the Claret-and-Cobalt stand now, with three of the team’s top players returning to the fold.
Real Salt Lake hasn't been at its best in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru, tying the rival Rapids 1-1 in the home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 16 before falling 1-0 at Colorado on April 6.
The Claret-and-Cobalt's 0-1-1 mark in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup has the team in a tough spot, with the Utah side needing to win - and only a win - at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday to retain its seventh-straight RMC.
RSL's fantastic videographer Nick Lamping put together a solid recap of the first two Rocky Mountain Cup matches of 2013. Give it a watch above - and get that blood boiling for Saturday's 6:30 p.m. kick.
Real Salt Lake will head to Denver this weekend for Saturday's crucial Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru match at the rival Colorado Rapids.
RSL sits squarely behind the eight-ball in the battle for the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup, needing a win on Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in order to keep the RMC for the seventh-straight year.
The last time the Claret-and-Cobalt was this close to losing the Rocky Mountain Cup was in 2010, when the Rapids - needing a win to take the Cup - led the Utah side 2-0 in the dying moments of the regular season finale. The Colorado colors were already attached to the trophy when Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio brought the Claret-and-Cobalt all the way back, scoring twice in stoppage time to give RSL the draw and the Cup.
Yes, Marcelo, soccer is indeed a cruel game.
Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman skipped out on the usual halftime team talk at Wednesday's All-Star Game, ditching ASG Head Coach Peter Vermes' tactics discussion for a Google+ hangout with fans at Sporting Park.
Beckerman - who started and played the entire first half before getting subbed out at halftime - got a couple pretty off-the-wall questions, including one a piece from Sporting KC forwards Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer. Saad tried to get KB5 fired up, but Kyle - ever the savvy vet - didn't take the bait, putting the young striker in his place.
Check out Beckerman's entire Google+ hangout above.
Real Salt Lake has a solid history in the MLS All-Star Game, with Claret-and-Cobalt players seeing the field in five previous iterations of the match, including each of the last four.
That streak will extend to five on Wednesday night, when Kyle Beckerman will start for the MLS All-Stars against AS Roma at 7:00 p.m. MT at Sporting Parkon ESPN2 and UniMas. Fellow RSL All-Stars Tony Beltran and Nick Rimando could also see time in the match, though All-Star Head Coach Peter Vermes has already indicated that Rimando won't be starting.
Here's how RSL's All-Stars have fared on the field in past All-Star Games:
July 19, 2007 - The MLS All-Stars took on Scottish side Celtic FC at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, winning 2-0. Eddie Pope registered Salt Lake’s first All-Star minutes when he replaced Michael Parkhurst in the 83rd minute.
July 29, 2009 – The Rio Tinto Stadium All-Star Game saw three Real Salt Lake players take part in MLS’s penalty kick shootout loss, with Kyle Beckerman starting the game and playing the first half, Will Johnson entering for Beckerman and scoring in the shootout and Javier Morales coming on in the 64th minute.
July 28, 2010 - Facing European power Manchester United, Javier Morales and Jamison Olave started and Nick Rimando cleaned up in Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez’s Man. United debut, a 5-2 loss for MLS in Houston.
July 27, 2011 - Again playing the Red Devils but this time in New York, Jamison Olave made it a third-straight year with a RSL man in the First XI, famously besting Wayne Rooney in a foot race. Unfortunately, Olave got hurt shortly after chasing down Rooney, spraining his knee and missing five games upon his return to RSL. Kyle Beckerman also played, entering the match in the second half for Shalrie Joseph as the All-Stars fell 4-0.
July 25, 2012 - Squaring off against Chelsea at PPL Park, Kyle Beckerman represented the Claret-and-Cobalt as a sub, notching the game-winning assist on Seattle forward Eddie Johnson’s 91st minute goal to give the All-Stars a 3-2 win.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio netted his third career RSL hat trick on Saturday, putting in three in the Claret-and-Cobalt's 4-3 loss at the New York Red Bulls. Saborio's outstanding performance led to the MLS Player of the Week award, a MLS Goal of the Week nomination and a spot on the FIFA Ultimate Team of the Week.
Check out video of all nine goals from Sabo's three RSL hat tricks - last year against Portland, last year at Chivas USA and Saturday at New York - above.