It would be painfully easy to focus on the very poor start to the 2-0 loss against LA Galaxy on Saturday night, but what's tactically more interesting (and less depressing) is the nature of RSL's response to the challenge.
Three at the back
It's not the first time we've seen Jason Kreis shift things around for a three-man back line, and there's something slightly worrying about the necessity of that trend — but when it came time for, as he called them, "desperate measures," there wasn't a moment of hesitation.
But if we look at the Opta chalkboards, we see that it might be more accurate to call it two at the back — Tony Beltran essentially played as an attacking winger, mirroring Ned Grabavoy on the pitch and getting involved in much action. Of course, it's difficult to derive positional arguments out of the late harried action on Saturday night, but there's something to be said for your right back dictating play on the attacking flank.
Beckerman pushed up
Rather than looking toward a nominally more attacking 3-4-3, Kreis went toward a 3-5-2 that saw Kyle Beckerman pushed further up the pitch than usual. Yordany Alvarez came on — essentially for Lovel Palmer, although the order of substitutions speaks ever-so-slightly differently — and was deployed centrally in a vaguely anchoring role. Beckerman moved further up, and given his work rate and energy on the night, it's hard to fault Kreis. It was a strong response late on from the captain, and he covered an immense amount of ground as desperation set in and LA Galaxy sat deeper and deeper.
Dealing with the bus
Real Salt Lake have obviously problems when 11 opponents are sat in the defensive end of the midfield, but they're hardly alone in this. Breaking down a well-organized side like LA Galaxy is difficult on any given match day, but it's rendered tougher when the opposition is handed an early lead to protect.
It should be said, though, that RSL had a great response to that defensive challenge, and with two players hitting the woodwork in the final 30 minutes and five shots blocked — three of which were in the box — it doesn't seem so much a matter of figuring out how best to break down a deep, dedicated defensive line, but how to finish around them. There's certainly some reason for encouragement in that respect.
Real Salt Lake couldn’t rebound from a slow start against the LA Galaxy on Saturday night, giving up two early goals to fall to the Southern California side 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia has hit the post/crossbar four times in five appearances this year. Garcia hit the crossbar on Saturday, powerfully heading a corner kick over Galaxy ‘keeper Brian Rowe and off the bar in second half stoppage time.
The number of players who were late scratches from the RSL lineup on Saturday. Leading scorer Alvaro Saborio was taken out of the starting lineup due to a left quad injury initially suffered on Friday and fellow forward Robbie Findley was removed from the 18 due to a knee injury also originally sustained on Friday.
Real Salt Lake has now given up three goals in the first 15 minutes of matches this year after conceding in the 6th and 13th minutes on Saturday. The Claret-and-Cobalt did not allow a single goal in the first 15 minutes in all of 2012.
The number of career regular season appearances for Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman after he went the full 90 on Saturday. Beckerman’s appearance on Saturday moved him past RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis (305) and into a tie for 15th place in MLS history on the games played list. KB5 is now tied on 306 appearances with former LA Galaxy player Cobi Jones, who was at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night as part of the Galaxy’s TV broadcast.
Sept. 25, 2011
Prior to Saturday night’s two-goal defeat, the last time that Real Salt Lake lost a home game by multiple goals in MLS play was on Sept. 25, 2011, when the 10-man Claret-and-Cobalt fell 3-0 to the Chicago Fire at Rio Tinto Stadium.
LA Galaxy have started their season off with some style, but there's plenty of opportunity for RSL to find success against them on Saturday night like they have so often before.
Stopping the midfield
First, the midfield's got to be stopped — Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas are an efficient pairing in the middle of the park for LA. Snuffing out their threat means we've got to keep our outside midfielders narrow, ready to pick off passes and prevent chances from being created. Additionally, they'll need to be aware of the defensive strength of Sarvas in particular. It's illustrative that he was successful in 10 of 13 tackles against Sporting KC last week. Stopping the midfield means both preventing attacking threats and avoiding defensive threats.
Second, the defense has to be constantly vigilant with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, should they play — and it's hard to imagine they wouldn't for a match like this. Donovan has wasted no time since returning to action, grabbing a goal and an assist last week. Still, the options LA Galaxy have up top aren't endless, and without both Keane and Donovan, it could be tempting for the defense to relax. This would be a mistake, especially with the set piece and long shot prowess of Juninho and the persistence of one Mike Magee.
Being afforded possession
Third, the whole of the side has to be prepared for a team that's willing to sit back a bit and let play develop. LA defeated last season's defensive standouts Sporting KC last week, winning 2-0 — this, despite completing considerably fewer passes and losing the possession battle. It's surprising for a team that has generally controlled possession in 2013, but it shows a willingness to adapt to the opposition that makes them a dangerous side to face. It's easy to imagine the Galaxy sitting back a little bit, picking their chances, and snuffing out ours — it wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be their last time. Playing around them will require some real control and skill on the ball — and it'll take our best passing and possession-oriented skills to ensure we don't allow silly chances.
Some solid footage from RSL training, courtesy team videographer Nick Lamping. Check it out.
Really fun video of RSL's Lalo Fernandez and Carlos Salcedo going through their match day routine.
Spoiler alert: Lalo loves to dance.
A fantastic crowd of 8,236 braved the cold, wind and red cards to come out to Rio Tinto Stadium to see the Real Salt Lake Reserves tie USL Pro club Phoenix FC 0-0 on Monday night.
Monday's big crowd – which had nearly 2,000 more people in attendance than RSL's April 1 exhibition game against BYU – wasn’t lost on RSL players, who complimented the Claret-and-Cobalt faithful in the media and on Twitter after the match.
Here’s some of what they had to say:
Defender Chris Wingert:
"It's unbelievable," Wingert told reporters after the game. "We can't thank everybody enough for coming out. I wish we could've scored a couple of goals for them just to make it a litte more exciting for everyone, but, with that being said, a huge thanks goes out to everyone. I never would have imagined we would've been able to have that many people here for [this game and the BYU game], so its pretty special."
Huge Crowd again tonight at the Reserve Game- thanks to everyone who came out and froze their butt off. We appreciate you!
— Chris Wingert (@wingert17) April 23, 2013
Midfielder Sebastian Velasquez:
Unbelievable Support From Our FansAt Our Reserve Match! The Best Fans By Far In The MLS! Honestly Thank You ⚽⚽⚽#RSLFamily
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) April 23, 2013
Forward Devon Sandoval:
Amazing support from the fans tonight, wish we could have got a win for you
— Devon Sandoval (@Big_Dev49) April 23, 2013
Midfielder John Stertzer:
Big thanks to all the fans that came out to last nights game. Best fans in the league! #RSLFamily
— John Stertzer(@StertzerJohn) April 23, 2013
Defender Carlos Salcedo:
— Carlos Salcedo (@csalcedojr) April 23, 2013
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella:
8000+ for a reserve game!Thanks to everyone that came out and supported. Time to get ready for a big game this weekend #RSLFamily
— Jeff Attinella (@Jeff_Attinella1) April 23, 2013
Midfielder David Viana:
I Enjoy playing in the Rio tinto stadium and i appreciatethe support of all the fans!
— david viana (@daviiid67) April 23, 2013
Two similar sides faced off at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday when Real Salt Lake defeated Chivas USA 1-0, with a crowded midfield dominating the match's narrative.
Yordany Alvarez, in for Kyle Beckerman and his dislocated rib, had a fine night as a defensive midfielder, breaking up play — evidenced by his five interceptions — but also making a delible impact on the match with efficient passing. His only unsuccessful passes (he went 42/51 on the night) were either long or at the edge of the Chivas box.
Where Alvarez controlled the defensive portion of the midfield, Javier Morales controlled the attacking end. His goal made the biggest impact on the match, but with four key passes, he had some real success as a distributor. Of course, it's hard to look past that goal — a fine effort he started off with a 60-yard run into the area.
Considering the midfield glut present throughout the match, the successes of these two is of real note.
It goes rather without saying that there were some areas in which Real Salt Lake looked less than optimal. Chief among those was failing to deal with the high amounts of pressure being put on the midfield.
The players who started on the side of the diamond fared with the pressure differently: Luis Gil wasn't heavily involved (13/15 in passing), while Ned Grabavoy completed only just over half of his passes (19/37) through the match. It would seem to be down to the opposition and the high pressure, but it's also worth noting that Chivas USA had a hard go of things in their midfield as well, completing only two-thirds of their passes in the middle third. Of course, 75 percent of Chivas's passes came in the middle third.
It was a match described most readily by a crowded midfield — when two remarkably similar dominant-midfield sides are up against each other, perhaps that's inevitable.
After all the talk of Chivas USA deploying in a 3-5-2 or something approaching it, we were left with something that looked more akin to a more defensive diamond 4-4-2 — imagine Real Salt Lake's approach with Kyle Beckerman more readily dropping into a center back role rather than pushing forward. It's a matter of semantics, and not an entirely important one, but it's worth discussing.
RSL kicked off its three-game home stand in style on Saturday night, beating Western Conference foe Chivas USA 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s penalty kick save on Chivas USA midfielder Edgar Mejia in the 36th minute of Saturday’s game moved the veteran ‘keeper to 18-for-59 (30.5 percent) on regular season penalty kicks in his career – the best mark in league history.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio assisted on midfielder Javier Morales’ goal on Saturday night, the first time that the Costa Rican international registered a helper on a Morales goal in regular season play.
Saturday’s win continued RSL’s recent dominance over Chivas USA, moving the Claret-and-Cobalt to 7-2-1 in regular season play against the Rojiblancos since the start of the 2009 season.
RSL forward Olmes Garcia made his first career MLS start on Saturday night, registering an assist and hitting the crossbar twice in 63 minutes of action. The 20-year-old Garcia signed a five-year contract with RSL in February.
RSL has zero losses in three home games this year, with Saturday’s result moving the Utah side to 2-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2013. The Claret-and-Cobalt will play six of its next nine league matches in Sandy, starting with this Saturday’s contest against Western Conference rival L.A. Galaxy.
When Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez subbed on for Luis Gil in the 74th minute of Saturday's 1-0 win over Chivas USA, the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd (specifically, Section 35) started a fantastic "Rufio" chant.
Study the image and make the call in the comments section. Bangarang.