We’re less than 24 hours away from Thanksgiving and – in the spirit of the holiday – that has those of us here at Real Salt Lake thinking about what we’re grateful for.
Here’s a quick list. Make sure you have a safe and happy holiday.
How could this not be first on the list? You guys came out in huge numbers this year, setting club records for sell-outs, average attendance and consecutive sell-outs. All of us here at RSL – the staff, the coaches and especially the players – greatly appreciate your tremendous support.
The ‘Believe’ Anthem
One of the lasting memories of the 2012 season was the spontaneous singing of Rancid drummer Branden Steineckert’s ‘Believe’ Anthem in the second half of RSL’s Western Conference Semifinal Leg 2 against Seattle. There was no prompt and no background music, just 20,000 people – all in full voice – trying to push the Claret-and-Cobalt on to victory.
While the team sadly came up just a bit short, that moment was a special one. We’re thankful for it and – more importantly – we’re thankful for the song. It’s far and away the best anthem in MLS and we love hearing it rock Rio Tinto before, during and after every home game.
Five-straight playoff appearances
RSL’s run of five-straight playoff appearances is the longest active run of postseason qualification in the league. We’re thankful for it – it’ll be great to get to six next year.
Real Salt Lake set new records for goals scored (46), points (57) and wins (17) this year. Claret-and-Cobalt forward Alvaro Saborio also set a new mark, breaking RSL’s single-season goal scoring record with 17 goals.
We’re excited about all of the team’s new records. Hopefully they’ll all get broken in 2013.
More than anything, we’re grateful for the fantastic opportunities that the team will have in 2013.
Is it March yet?
For the second year in a row, the LA Galaxy will take on the Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup.
LA and Houston won their respective Conference Finals on Sunday, with both teams hanging on to big first leg leads to advance to Cup on Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. Both sides won 4-2 on aggregate, with Houston tying DC 1-1 at RFK Stadium in the afternoon before LA lost 2-1 to knockout Seattle – which, of course, bounced RSL in the Western Conference Semifinals – in the evening.
Interestingly, LA’s win over Sounders FC marks the first time that the team that knocked RSL out of the playoffs won’t compete in MLS Cup. The three previous teams that had eliminated the Claret-and-Cobalt from the postseason – New York in 2008, Dallas in 2010 and LA last year – all went on to qualify for Cup, with LA winning the whole thing last season.
MLS Cup will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN and RDS.
No member of the Real Salt Lake organization was included on the list of 2012 MLS Award Finalists announced by the league on Thursday morning.
This is the first time since the 2009 MLS Cup winning season that RSL hasn’t had a player or coach nominated for an end-of-season award.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was perhaps the team’s most surprising snub, not making the finalist list for Goalkeeper of the Year despite registering 16 wins, 13 shutouts and a 1.03 goals against average in the MLS regular season.
The awards will be released throughout a 10-day period starting on Nov. 19 with the reveal of Xbox Fair Play Individual & Team of the Year, and Rookie of the Year awards before ending with the announcement of the AT&T Goal of the Year, MLS Save of the Year, and Volkswagen Most Valuable Player award on Nov. 29.
The full list of Award Finalists is below:
Rookie of the Year Finalists
Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
Nick DeLeon (D.C. United)
Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Xbox Individual Fair Play Finalists*
Ante Jazic (Chivas USA)
Logan Pause (Chicago Fire)
Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls)
Xbox Team Fair Play Finalists*
New England Revolution
Defender of the Year Finalists
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
MLS W.O.R.K.S. Humanitarian of the Year Finalists
Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City)
Michael Lahoud (Philadelphia Union)
Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)
Referee of the Year Finalists
Assistant Referee of the Year Finalists
Coach of the Year Finalists
Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City)
Frank Yallop (San Jose Earthquakes)
Comeback Player of the Year Finalists
Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes)
Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Finalists
Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA)
Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
Newcomer of the Year Finalists
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
Volkswagen Most Valuable Player Finalists
Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
As you all undoubtedly know by now, Real Salt Lake was – sadly – bounced from the MLS Cup Playoffs last Thursday, losing to Seattle Sounders FC at Rio Tinto Stadium to drop the Western Conference Semifinal series 0-1 on aggregate.
While the team obviously didn’t get the result it wanted on Thursday night, 19,657 great RSL fans put in yet another fantastic performance in a season that was chock full of them. You were great all year long –the below numbers just highlight that.
Thanks for all the love RSL fans. We’ll see you back at Rio Tinto in 2013.
The number of times Rio Tinto Stadium was sold out this year. That’s a club record.
RSL’s average attendance this season. That’s another club record.
The number of consecutive sell-outs at Rio Tinto Stadium from Aug. 18-Oct. 27.
The number of people in attendance for RSL’s 2-1 home win over Portland on Sept. 22, the largest crowd of the season.
The number of fans in attendance for RSL’s May 29 U.S. Open Cup match against Minnesota Stars FC. The huge crowd was the largest non-final, non-doubleheader crowd in the U.S. Open Cup’s nearly 100 year history.
The number of points RSL earned in the MLS regular season, breaking the club record of 56 set by the 2010 squad.
The number of goals scored by RSL in the MLS regular season – yet another club record.
The number of wins for RSL and the number of MLS goals scored by forward Alvaro Saborio in 2012. Yep, those are both club records, too.
Some big playoff news last night, as LA defeated San Jose 3-1 to advance to the Western Conference Final and Houston held on against Sporting Kansas City to move on to the Eastern Conference Final.
Whichever team advances from tonight’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg between RSL and Seattle will travel to LA to take on the Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Final on Sunday night. If RSL advances, the Claret-and-Cobalt would host the Galaxy in the Conference Final’s second leg on Sunday, Nov. 18.
Houston advancing in the East keeps RSL’s dream of hosting the MLS Cup Final on Dec. 1 alive. The fifth-seeded Dynamo was the only Eastern Conference Semifinalist that finished with fewer regular season points than RSL and – as such – they’re the only side that would have to travel to Rio Tinto Stadium for MLS Cup.
Obviously, there’s a ton of work to be done for RSL to get to that point. First up: Tonight’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg against Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium. Winner of the match goes through. Kick’s at 8 p.m. MT and a very, very limited number of tickets are still available. We’ll see you out here.
There’s been some interesting injury news coming out of Seattle over the last couple days.
First, it looks like Sounders FC leading scorer Eddie Johnson is set to play on Thursday night. Johnson – who didn’t make the 18 for the scoreless draw at Seattle in the series’ first leg on Friday due to a hamstring injury – told reporters earlier this week that he’d “for sure” play in the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday.
“I've come too far to not be a part of this special thing we've got going on as a team,” Johnson said on Monday. “We know how much it means to our fans and our organization in getting to the next round. It's not going to be easy. We've had our ups and downs as a team, we've overcome adversity midway through the season, and it's been good to see the team gel."
Johnson – who initially injured his hamstring in the first half of Seattle’s Oct. 28 regular season finale at LA – should provide a significant boost to the Sounders attack. The U.S. international is fast, good on the ball and great in the air, scoring eight of his 14 goals this year with his noggin.
It remains to be seen if Johnson starts on Thursday as he’s likely not at peak fitness after being out of training for 1 ½ weeks. If he doesn’t make head coach Sigi Schmid’s first XI, expect to see him come in off of the bench if the Sounders need a goal.
Johnson isn’t the only significant Seattle player dealing with an injury this week. In fact, Johnson isn’t even the most important Sounder who has a bit of a knock. That’d be midfielder/captain Mauro Rosales, who didn’t train at all on Monday and only barely on Tuesday after suffering a hamstring injury in Friday’s scoreless draw.
"He went through the early part of the warm-up for us today and then we sent him in, so it's definite progress from yesterday," Schmid said on Tuesday. "We just have to see how he feels tomorrow and keep going, progressing day by day."
Rosales, 31, was a huge player for the Sounders this year, scoring three goals and notching 13 assists – tied for third in the league – in 2012. He was also strong in Friday’s first leg, delivering both first half corner kicks that Seattle nearly scored on and hitting a total of 16 crosses in from the right flank.
Johnson was one Rosales’ favorite targets this year, with the Argentine midfielder assisting on six of Johnson’s goals. Interestingly, every single one of Rosales’ assists to Johnson came when the forward finished with his head.
Obviously, Johnson coming back into the fold for Seattle on Thursday would mean big things. But Rosales being out could be even bigger. We’ll see how it all unfolds on Thursday – Kick’s at 8 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium. Be there.
Fantastic stuff from RSL videographer Nick Lamping above. Nick takes you behind the scenes of RSL's trip to Seattle for the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. The video shows RSL traveling to and training in Seattle, as well as the Claret-and-Cobalt's 0-0 draw against Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field from last Friday. It really is a solid piece - make sure you give it a watch.
And in case you haven't heard yet, let this serve as an official notice that the second leg of the West Semifinal series on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium kicks off at 8 p.m. MT, not 7:30 as previously scheduled. The broadcast information for the game has also changed - it will now be shown live on NBC Sports Network instead of on a tape-delay on CW30.
It's rare that two sides so perfectly matched meet, but with Real Salt Lake once again taking on Seattle Sounders, a tactical battle was inevitable. With Seattle focusing in wide areas and RSL creating through the middle, the match was more tactical than technical in its nature.
Stopping wide play
There are two sides to this coin: On one hand, we should consider how well Seattle was able to get crosses into the box. On the other, we should consider that those rarely had any real effect.
A six-for-38 crossing rate — about 16 percent success, including corners — speaks to the cross quality. It's a low mark for Seattle, but the number must be a little startling — allowing 38 crosses is a bit dangerous. But by and large, those were rushed, and the central defenders — Borchers and Watson-Siriboe, largely — were able to clear most of the danger.
Understandably, Seattle focused their crossing efforts on their right side. With Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert taking up positions there, RSL relied heavily on Chris Wingert, who performed well, especially given the glut of attack coming on that side.
Flipping the midfield
To clog up the passing lanes in Seattle's attack, Jason Kreis made an interesting decision to switch the sides Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson operated on. With Grabavoy on the left, Rosales and Tiffert were able to pick up play a bit, but we more easily regained possession on that side.
Johnson on the right allowed an excellent partnership with Tony Beltran, forcing Seattle's play outside the final third. Combined with Seattle's generally right-sided play, the other flank was RSL's. With Johnson cutting in just a bit more central than he usually does when playing on the left, clogging passing lanes effectively.
With Grabavoy and Johnson switching sides and playing in channels, Kyle Beckerman was left to control the center of the park. His defensive contribution was largely acting as a body in the center — Seattle's penchant for avoiding the center of the park in attack meant he wasn't called on as he is against other MLS sides.
As a result, Beckerman acted more as a distributing central midfielder, occupying the middle third almost exclusively. It's a stark contrast from the occasions in which he's deployed in an anchoring role and acts as a third center back — on Friday, he was tasked with transitioning from defense to attack.
With Javier Morales taking up his typical wider positions, the connection between the two was strengthened: Beckerman picked the ball up in the middle of the park, pushed it off to Morales, and the attack moved forward. Additionally, Alvaro Saborio, in fine hold-up form, was a vital cog as RSL looked to build in attack.
Real Salt Lake got its Western Conference Semifinal series off to a good start on Friday, tying Seattle Sounders FC 0-0 at CenturyLink Field to set itself up nicely for Thursday’s return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Friday’s first leg:
The amount of goals RSL has conceded in four games against Seattle this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt has kept Sounders FC off the board for 389 straight minutes, last conceding against Seattle in the 61st minute of the second leg of last year’s Western Conference Semifinal on Nov. 2, 2011.
The number of consecutive scoreless draws RSL has played across all competitions.
The number of minutes RSL has gone since last conceding. The Claret-and-Cobalt last gave up a goal in the 17th minute of the team’s 2-1 win at L.A. on Oct. 6.
The number of saves Nick Rimando made on Friday night. Four of those stops were absolutely spectacular.
The number of stitches Rimando got after Friday’s game. Rimando suffered a facial laceration and a broken nose – which was re-set after the match – when he collided with Seattle midfielder Christian Tiffert in the 66th minute of Friday’s game.
The number of postseason minutes captain Kyle Beckerman and Rimando have played for RSL. The pair has played every single playoff minute in the team’s history.
The number of RSL playoff games midfielder Will Johnson has appeared in. Johnson has appeared in all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s postseason matches.
The number of consecutive sell-outs of Rio Tinto Stadium RSL is shooting for on Thursday night. A limited amount of tickets to the match are still available and can be purchased here.
Of the 13 all-time meetings between RSL and Seattle across all competitions only three - a 4-1 Seattle win in the 2011 U.S. Open Cup and both 2011 Western Conference Semifinal games - have been decided by more than one goal.
The number of times RSL has advanced from a home elimination game in six tries. The Claret-and-Cobalt will be hoping for number 2 on Thursday night.
It seems like it was only yesterday that Real Salt Lake was on their way to Seattle to take on the Sounders on Oct. 17. These two sides just can't seem to stop playing each other, and with that, another entertaining match is likely to ensue in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semifinal.
Stopping wide play
The Sounders are an interesting matchup for more reasons than just historical: With their flank play, they represent a distinct ideological shift from Real Salt Lake's through-the-middle approach. Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy will be forced to step into wider areas to challenge Seattle's full backs, and Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran will be forced to push a bit higher than they would against most sides to challenge Seattle's wingers.
This puts a bit more of an onus on Kyle Beckerman to cut out passes when Seattle transitions from the wide areas to more central areas, focusing acutely on players like Christian Tiffert and Mauro Rosales, the two biggest sources of Seattle's key passes.
On the defensive
Going behind in the first leg of a playoff series makes the second leg more difficult. It is perhaps fortunate, then, that RSL is going into this match with a brilliant defensive record, having conceded only three goals in 990 minutes of play across all competitions. It's a remarkable measure, but it doesn't stop goals from occurring.
Performances on the road have at times been lacking, evidenced by the fact that RSL has conceded 20 goals and scored only 19, leaving them with a negative differential away from home. But going on goal differential can be a bit misleading: San Jose has conceded 21 (+8 GD), Seattle 22 (+2 GD), LA Galaxy 27 (+1 GD), and Vancouver Whitecaps 24 (-14 GD).
Seattle has conceded only 11 goals at home, the best mark in all of MLS. It makes the proposition a bit trickier: Does Real Salt Lake come out and try to nick a goal or two against the team with the best home defensive record? I'm inclined to think that Jason Kreis recognizes this and will instruct his players to worry first about defending — something they've been quite good at in the last month or two — and to look for goals through counter attacking play.
It's been evident before (save in the most recent MLS match against them, though they did go down a man) that Seattle isn't afraid to commit players in attack. It could be an influential factor. I'm not saying RSL should bunker, mind — that's the sort of stuff the team’s never been great at. But if Seattle wants to swing crosses in with reckless abandon, RSL's back line — whoever it may be — will have the ability to deal with it. It's when wingers cut inside that there may be more worries.