Real Salt Lake's magical Open Cup run is nearing its culmination: Whether that end-point is a final at Rio Tinto Stadium or a semifinal against Portland Timbers tonight is difficult to predict.
Stay aware of opportunities created in the middle
Real Salt Lake must be entirely aware of opportunities being created through the middle; while most opportunities created against us are from the flanks, Portland Timbers are clearly not like most sides in MLS. They'll pass along the ground, move the ball, and exercise a modicum of patience. It's a bit like we are, and we've not really faced a side like that to this point.
One good look in the mirror
Playing against Portland Timbers will bring to light some of our positive qualities and, indeed, some of our more negative ones. Our weakness in set piece organization is in line with the issues Timbers have displayed with set pieces, while our propensity for attacking through creativity and passing movement will be mirrored by Timbers. This is surely the first time we've faced a side this season that mirrors that desire. The battles will be as physical as ever, but we shouldn't count on Portland resorting to simply lumping the ball long out of the back. That it's taken until August to see this opposition — and not even in league play at this point — is regrettable, given we will now play them in a more condensed period.
In what will surely be one of the key story lines of the night, both sides have young managers who are passionate about their methodology, and that's not likely to change on the night. Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter squaring off should be a thing of broadcasters' dreams. The unpredictability of both managers — combined with the relative predictability of both sides' approaches — will be part of an ever-intensifying evening.
But what could change?
Jason Kreis's side has displayed some very encouraging signs that they're capable of being deployed in multiple formations, and the boss has used that to good effect. Whether it's rolling out a third forward late in the match to maintain high pressure or to contain the high pressure of the opposition, or deploying five midfielders to focus on building attacks in wider positions, there is a newfound element of unpredictability that only helps the general effectiveness of our tried-and-true midfield diamond.
Magic of the cup?
Managing a single-leg knockout competition is rather different than managing a league match or even a double-leg knockout series. Every mistake will be under the microscope after the fact. It's difficult to really make it through on luck alone, but stymying the opposition — perhaps with the aid of one unbelievably good goalkeeper — will be key to securing a U.S. Open Cup Final at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake will play its biggest match of the year so far on Wednesday, when it will host the Portland Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting figures to keep in mind ahead of
Saturday’s Wednesday's match:
Since 1995, only two out of 36 U.S. Open Cup Semifinal matches have surpassed 10,000 fans in attendance. The semifinal attendance record is currently held by the minor-league Rochester Rhinos, which drew 12,179 fans for its 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids in the 1996 U.S. Open Cup Semis.
Real Salt Lake has scored 11 goals in only three U.S. Open Cup matches, giving the Claret-and-Cobalt an average of 3.67 goals per Open Cup game. RSL’s scoring haul is tied for the most in the Open Cup with Portland.
Timbers Captain Will Johnson, donning the No. 4 jersey, will return to Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday for the first time since being traded from RSL to Portland on Dec. 3, 2012. The former RSL man notched nine goals in four-and-a-half seasons with the Claret-and-Cobalt, and was named an MLS All-Star in 2009. Johnson has already scored six goals in his first season with the Timbers.
Real Salt Lake has won the coin flip to host their Open Cup match five times in five potential matches, including the final. The odds of RSL winning all five coin flips are only 1/32, or 3.125 percent.
Real Salt Lake forward Devon Sandoval has found the back of the net three times during the 2013 U.S. Open Cup, tying the club record held jointly by Jason Kreis, Andy Williams and Kyle Beckerman. Two of Sandoval’s three Open Cup goals have come during extra time. Sandoval’s three goals are tied for seventh in all of Open Cup play. Portland Timbers forward Frederic Piquionne leads the pack with five goals, four of which came in the club’s 5-1 third-round victory over the Wilmington Hammerheads.
Wednesday’s match is the first RSL game that Claret-and-Cobalt right back Tony Beltran will be available for since June 29 – a span of 39 days. Beltran missed all of July while with the U.S. national team and the MLS All-Stars and was suspended for Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Colorado due to a red card picked up in that June 29 win at Toronto.
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 will look to bounce back from last weekend’s tough loss to Sporting Kansas City this Saturday, when it will take on the New York Red Bulls at 5:00 p.m. MT on ABC 4 at Red Bull Arena.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s contest:
RSL v, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Jonny Steele
Saturday’s match will pit the Claret-and-Cobalt against former RSL men Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Jonny Steele. Olave and Espindola were dealt to New York this offseason in the same December trade, while Steele signed with the Red Bulls after RSL declined to pick up his option. The trio spent a combined 12 seasons with the Claret-and-Cobalt, with Olave and Espindola playing huge roles on the 2009 MLS Cup winning side and on the team that advanced to the final of the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League.
Return of Sabo
Star forward Alvaro Saborio will be available to make his return to the RSL lineup this weekend after playing just twice since April 20 due to a combination of international call-ups and injury. Saborio was most recently with the Costa Rican national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, re-joining RSL earlier this week after Los Ticos were eliminated by Honduras in the tournament’s quarterfinals on Sunday.
Real Salt Lake faces another top Eastern Conference team
Saturday’s match is RSL’s fourth-consecutive against a team in playoff position, and third time this month that it will face a top Eastern Conference side after taking on Philadelphia and Kansas City earlier in July. The Red Bulls currently sit in third-place in the East with 32 points from a 9-7-5 record.
A backline without Beltran and Wingert
Saturday’s game will mark the first-time in 74 games across all competitions that RSL will play without both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert. Beltran is unavailable while with the U.S. national team for Gold Cup duty, while Wingert is out while serving the first game of a two game suspension.
Getting back on track
The loss Saturday night against Sporting Kansas City was Real Salt Lake’s first in 12 matches across all competitions. The last loss, prior to Saturday, was a 3-2 loss against the Montreal Impact on May 11 in Montreal.
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.
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.
Interesting video from MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas and Josh Whisenhunt on Real Salt Lake's Saturday home match against Sporting Kansas City.
Greg and Josh debate whether or not RSL-SKC is a MLS Cup Preview; Greg says it is, Josh picks Kansas City to make it, but bails on RSL. Greg's clearly the smarter of the pair.
Saturday's match will kickoff at 8:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium. Tickets are going fast; click here to get yours now.
Missing a handful of top players, Real Salt Lake travels this Saturday to FC Dallas, where they've never found a win. Absences won't make it impossible, but expecting it to get easier as a result would be a bit of madness.
A whole host of players will be rather notably absent for this one: Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, and Nick Rimando will all be busy in Salt Lake City (funny thing, fate), and Lovel Palmer is out through suspension after his dubious red card against Philadelphia. That doesn't exactly make the occasion easier, particularly with Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler out with injury. Shifting players around will be a tricky task.
The key position that might throw things off: right back. Beltran's absence is conspicuous, and Palmer's hurts in light of that. Perhaps Jason Kreis will opt to move Chris Wingert to the right side, deploying Abdoulie Mansally on the left — that would seem the most reasonable of options. But Carlos Salcedo and Enzo Martinez have both played significant minutes for the reserves at right back, and perhaps this is an opportunity to test things a bit.
Strike pairs and absences
We've played more pairs of strikers than one would expect, but Robbie Findley and Joao Plata may just get the nod with Saborio's international duty cutting into things — but not significantly more than usual, as the Costa Rican has played fewer than half the available matches this season. The debate rages on about RSL's best pairing: Plata and Findley are not just the speed demon options, but something more intricate that requires the entirety of the midfield be ticking over.
Throwing an Olmes Garcia into the mix obviates that a bit, as he'll run at players and pick up possession all over the pitch, creating dangerous moments along the way. At this point, he's less a system player than he is a fantastic one, though it should be noted that is essentially the goal with him — to exist outside of the system, or at least to stretch and bend it, perhaps nearly to the point of breaking. That sort of disruption is essential in finding the best on-the-field solutions.
Devon Sandoval offers something altogether different, and that's an approximation of our playing style with Saborio in the side. He's clearly a different player, but his playing style is as close as we can come without the veteran striker in the side. As he develops into a stronger, more efficient player, perhaps the best pairing will involve Sandoval.
But for now, Garcia and Plata paired together — especially considering the absences in the side — might make the most sense. Garcia's raw skill and desire to control play from the flanks lessens the impact of Beltran's absence at right back, and it affords an opportunity to combine with Abdoulie Mansally up the left side, should he make the starting lineup.
Demons in Dallas
This is less a tactical adjustment as, say, one that's rather intuitive. We must be acutely focused on the task at hand, and with the numerous replacements to be featured, that's not going to be the easiest of feats. With Dallas struggling after a strong start, having now only two wins from their last 10 matches (having won six of their first 9), the opportunity might just be there for the taking.