18-year-old forward Benji Lopez signed a Homegrown contract with RSL last week. His welcome to the team? This unicorn mohawk, courtesy of midfielder Sebastian "Ruffio" Velasquez.
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) July 24, 2013
Has to be one of the roughest cuts I've ever seen. Yikes. Credit to Javier Morales for calling for the clippers, Lalo Fernandez for the unique idea, and the one-and-only Seba Velasquez for the execution.
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) July 25, 2013
Real Salt Lake will face off against former Claret-and-Cobalt players Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave and Jonny Steele for the first time this Saturday, when RSL will take on the trio's New York Red Bulls at 5:00 p.m. MT at Red Bull Arena on ABC 4.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis, defender Nat Borchers and midfielder Ned Grabavoy have already shared their thoughts on going up against the former RSL men. On Thursday, Espindola and Steele spoke to NewYorkRedBulls.com about facing off against their former team.
"It's going to be special," Espindola said. "I know that they're a great team. They're going to play and be a tough team to beat."
"Everything about Real Salt Lake was good for me," he continued. "I have a lot of good things from my time there and I'm grateful for that team."
Steele - who made his MLS debut as a member of RSL against the Red Bulls on March 17, 2012 - was also complimentary of the Claret-and-Cobalt.
"Salt Lake is a small franchise but they do things right and things are professional," he said. "All around they've got great coaches and they've been succesful."
Espindola is particularly looking forward to the on-field battle between Olave and RSL maestro Javier Morales on Saturday.
"I was just joking with [Olave] about how I'm going to laugh when I watch him and [Javier Morales] fighting," he said. "That's going to be funny.
- The last couple of weeks have been pretty hectic after getting my first games. A lot of my friends that I haven’t talked to in a while have been reaching out to me, I had my parents fly in last minute for the Sporting KC game, my in-laws came in, so it’s been pretty hectic, but it’s been fun too. I didn’t want to go the whole season and not feel like I was a part of the team and didn’t contribute in any way, so to get the opportunity to contribute is something that I’ve really appreciated.
- After I made my debut in the Dallas game it was pretty wild. Leading up to Kansas City I was just doing my best to kind of focus. I was on edge a little bit all week and I think I got my wife pretty annoyed with me, but it’s starting to settle in. This week I definitely feel a lot more comfortable; I’m not on pins and needles this week the way I was last week.
- It was tough not getting any games for four or five months and then getting thrown in there. I mean it still is tough; I have big shoes to fill with Nick and Josh. It’s kind of funny because I hadn’t been playing much in Reserve games either, so I hadn’t really gotten many minutes at all and just to get my first 90 minutes with RSL against a MLS team in a game where its first-place vs. first-place, sold-out stadium, and then to have everything go the way it did and the end to happen the way it did, I feel like I experienced at least five months worth of emotion in about 90 minutes.
- While it’s definitely been pretty crazy, I’m just appreciative that the staff trusts me enough to throw me into that situation. To be able to contribute to the team in a positive manner – which I feel like I’ve done so far – is something I’ve really, really appreciated.
- The support from the fans has definitely been incredible. I think coming in at Dallas and making a great save probably had something to do with that, because I can’t imagine the expectations were that high originally. But the team support as well has been really what has been helping me get through this. Nick has been reaching out to me a bunch, telling me to keep calm and play my game. Josh has been really supportive as well, which is obviously tough in his situation. And all the teammates have really shown a lot of faith in me. That they feel comfortable with me back there means everything. The support from really the whole RSL family has been pretty incredible, actually.
- Where I was in preseason and where I am now I think that I’m such a better ‘keeper. A lot of that is a credit to Nick and Josh, just watching them train, picking their brains every chance I can. Obviously working with [Goalkeeper Coach Jeff Cassar] has been great as well, but to be able to see these two guys up close and personal every day for five months, I’ve learned so much from them.
- We’re obviously in a pretty weird goalie situation here with four goalies on the roster. Josh has been a starter in this league for a long time, Nick is obviously the best goalie in the league and then there’s Lalo and I, so the goalkeeper situation I think had a chance to be pretty awkward and unsupportive because everyone’s competing for a certain spot. Thankfully, it’s been the opposite of that and I think that speaks really highly to the type of people that Nick and Josh both are.
- Honestly, coming out of college, I thought not making RSL and going to the minors was a huge setback. You don’t really know how hard it is to make it to this level right out of school. I was first-team All-American my junior year, I went overseas a couple of times and did really well, so I thought things were going to come pretty easy, to be honest and to go down to the minors right away and get drafted in the Supplemental Draft and not taken on the first day was a huge wakeup call. But it was a blessing in disguise. I went down to the Tampa Bay Rowdies and got 50+ games and gained a ton of experience. Obviously I got to stay in my hometown for two extra years, and that was awesome – playing professional soccer in your hometown, it doesn’t really get any better than that. So it was huge, I owe the NASL and the Rowdies a lot. Being able to get those games, playing one or two games every week for eight months was huge for my experience and I really think that it helped me get to the point I am now, even if just in the fact that I feel comfortable in the net in a game situation. The game Saturday was probably my 60th career professional game including the NASL; it’s a lot different when you’re playing in your 60th compared to if that was my first start as a pro.
- I’m a huge Tampa Bay sports fan, so any chance I get I’m watching those teams in action. I have a Slingbox hooked up to the TV in my parents’ house, so I’ve been watching a lot of Rays baseball. I’m also spending a lot of time taking my dog to different trails and things like that. I’m trying to get a little bit of Utah life, the whole outdoors life, see what that’s like. Off the field, I just spend a lot of time with my wife. When the guys are getting together, I hang out with the guys, a lot of the single guys, so I’m sure my wife appreciates that. But I’ve just been trying to dive into Utah and getting used to how life is out here.
- I listen to all kinds of music; really it depends on my mood. But I am a country fan and I was 100 percent planning on going to go the Jason Aldean concert this weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium. I went to that concert actually twice in Tampa and had a great time. Obviously I’d rather be in New York with the team, though, and I’m happy I’ll be there this Saturday. But when I saw Jason Aldean coming and that we were away I was pretty excited about getting the chance to see him again. The plan is for my wife to go and take some videos for me, though.
It's one of the best features on MLSsoccer.com: Simon Borg takes a look at controversial refereeing decisions from the weekend and breaks them down, as only he can.
This week's edition is - unsurprisingly - heavy on decisions from Real Salt Lake's tough 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. Mr. Borg offers his opinion on the calls and RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis' assesment of them. Give it a watch above.
The Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy U-16's won the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy Championship on Saturday, defeating Dallas-based Solar Chelsea 4-2 to take home RSL-AZ's first title.
After the match, the players celebrated on the field by signing the "Believe" anthem. Video above.
Real Salt Lake’s 11-game unbeaten streak came to an end on Saturday night, falling to Sporting KC 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Despite Saturday’s loss, Real Salt Lake is still in first-place in the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races, one point ahead of SKC for the league lead and three points ahead of Portland in the West table. The Claret-and-Cobalt also remains in first in goals scored, goals conceded, goal difference, road goals and road goal difference.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales suffered six fouls on Saturday, the most fouls he’s suffered in any one game this season. The Argentine playmaker has now been fouled 51 times this season, second in the league behind Dallas’s David Ferreira. Morales’s 3.25 fouls suffered per 90 minutes is the highest rate in the league amongst players with more than 1000 minutes played.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella on Saturday became the 25th RSL player to start an MLS match in the 2013 season. Fellow Western Conference contenders Portland and FC Dallas each have only started 19 different players thus far in MLS play.
Real Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley tallied his fifth goal of the year on Saturday, equaling his total from the 2010 season – his last season with RSL before a two-year sojourn at English club Nottingham Forest.
The Claret-and-Cobalt now has an all-time record of 6-2-10 in home Fireworks games. The club’s prior defeat in a home Fireworks game came at the hands of Toronto FC on July 4, 2007.
Sporting KC’s Ike Opara scored the game-winning goal in the 97th minute of play on Saturday. The goal was the latest RSL has ever allowed.
Two of the best sides in recent MLS memory face each other when RSL takes on Sporting Kansas City this weekend, and that we're involved in that is a testament to the progress we've made this season — but playing SKC always presents some difficult considerations.
Watching some of the more positive moments — those that resulted in goals and those that didn't — against FC Dallas last weekend, the importance of the ever-vaunted pass-and-move strategy came to bear. By forcing defenders and midfielders to follow the ball consistently, quick, dangerous players like Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata can come in late in the match and tear the opposition apart. It should also be noted that Real Salt Lake's goals on the break this season — of which there have been a fair few — have come as a result of that movement. When five, six, even seven attackers end up in the attacking third, the odds of a goal should naturally increase.
Despite conceding some chances while dominating matches, Jason Kreis's side have displayed an undeniable desire to win the ball quickly after turning it over, particularly outside of the defensive third. Being caught of position there is dangerous, while being caught out of position as an attacking midfielder is generally less so. Though there is a bit of danger associated with a high pressure system, the risks are outweighed by the gains. Against a strong defensive side like Sporting Kansas City, it will be imminently important to apply that sort of pressure. They'll have a result to expose the Kansas City defense to holes emanating from the absence of Matt Besler — and to expose the whole squad to the oft-discussed altitude consideration in Salt Lake City.
I feel as though I've written this little bit about 100 times this season already, but it bears repeating: RSL will have to deal with rotating due to injury. This time, we'll be without central defender Carlos Salcedo (although next time we're with him, we'll have Carlos Salcedo without his gallbladder, and perhaps that's good) and goalkeeper Josh Saunders. That's slightly problematic, but their replacements already have time: Both Aaron Maund and Jeff Attinella have seen a bit of time — Maund a bit more — and that's got to help the nerves.
Real Salt Lake returns to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, when it will take on Eastern Conference power Sporting Kansas City for the only time this year. Saturday’s match will kick at 8:00 p.m., with Pioneer Day fireworks following the game.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s match:
11 Game Unbeaten run on line
A week ago, Jason Kreis’ team weathered the early storm at Dallas to record a 3-0 road win, breaking its “Texas Hex” to win on Lone Star soil for the first time ever, courtesy of a Javier Morales game-winning goal, heroics from Josh Sauders and Jeff Attinella in the net and insurance strikes from Ned Grabavoy and Olmes Garcia. The victory extended the club-record unbeaten streak to 11 consecutive games in all competitions to cruise to the top of the MLS table with 37 points and a record of 11-5-4.
RSL faces another contender
Saturday’s match will be Salt Lake’s second-straight contest against the second-place club in MLS. Kansas City comes in leading the Eastern Conference with 33 points and a record of 9-5-6.
Rio Tinto regains Fortress status
Since an April 27 home 0-2 defeat to LA, RSL hasn’t dropped a game in Sandy, winning four of its last six home matches with a goal difference of +9. Overall the Utah side is 9-1-3 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year.
Depth on display
When goalkeeper Josh Saunders tore his left ACL in the 49th minute at Dallas, RSL looked to backup Jeff Attinella to complete the game. The team’s third-string GK became the 25th player from RSL’s 30-man group to start a first team match this season, including 22 field players.
Welcome Brandon McDonald to the Wasatch
On Wednesday, the Claret-and-Cobalt traded a 2014 third-round pick to D.C. United for DF Brandon McDonald, a six-year veteran center back who logged nearly 3,000 minutes last year. McDonald is an Arizona native who grew up playing with forward Robbie Findley in the famed Serano youth club. With Nat Borchers and Aaron Maund the only currently healthy center backs on the RSL roster, the 27-year-old McDonald provides depth and experience while Carlos Salcedo and Chris Schuler recover from injury.
Both teams will be without several players on Wednesday night due to CONCACAF Gold Cup call ups.
RSL will be without all-time leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the fourth straight match after he departed for the Costa Rican national team ahead of a June 29 win at Toronto; that victory at BMO Field was the last match for likely a month for a trio of RSL’s US internationals Captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Tony Beltran and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Sporting Kansas City will be without its star center back, losing MLS All-Star Matt Besler to the U.S. national team.
What could possibly be better than Real Salt Lake's first ever win on Texas soil?
How about a behind the scenes video of that trip, directed and shot by the man with the best rat-tail in MLS, RSL midfielder Sebastian Velasquez.
Check out "Road Trip with Sebastian" above. You won't regret it.