Three key absences for Real Salt Lake sounds a difficult proposition to handle, but options for each position — in the midfield, in defense, and up front — could mean RSL is in a better tactical position than one might readily imagine ahead of Saturday's home match against LA.
No Luis Gil means we'll be looking for a midfielder to take his place. Two options readily present themselves: Sebastian Velasquez has shown well this season and is stepping up in the system, but Khari Stephenson provides veteran experience and looked strong last week. The most reasonable approach, to my mind: Stephenson starts, Velasquez comes off the bench. Stephenson can manage the game well in midfield and provide a safe outlet; Velasquez can come on late and be his creative, spark self.
No Chris Schuler leads to a continuation with either Kwame Watson-Siriboe or Carlos Salcedo. Both have showed well so far, and Watson-Siriboe was massive against a pesky San Jose side. Watson-Siriboe had a rocky start to his season, but should he continue to impress, worries about an injured Chris Schuler might ease somewhat. Carlos Salcedo is a natural bench option with an eye on a Wednesday start.
No Alvaro Saborio leaves us again wondering about a tactical scenario. Is the Plata-Findley pairing for real? Can it work? It's hard to deny that chances have been created, and Saturday saw us looking somewhat near very, very good. Olmes Garcia could be an option but is likely to be eased back from injury, while Devon Sandoval might not yet be the sort of player that can dominate the Galaxy defense. But Plata-Findley presents its own challenges from a tactical perspective, but if those can be overcome, it's hard to argue with the selection.
It all leaves Real Salt Lake in an interesting position against one of MLS's better sides, but it leaves a good tactical position open. With the tendencies of Plata and Findley to drift wide, opportunities for midfielders emerge. Javier Morales is in fine form, Ned Grabavoy is in the best goalscoring form of his career, Khari Stephenson has a cannon of a foot and Kyle Beckerman can swing in the late shots himself.
The surprise? The Findley-Plata pairing could be one of our better options up front, regardless of injury concerns and international duty. The win against San Jose, however poor they've been this season, is partly owed to the results of effective movement up top, drawing defenders into poor positions and creating channels for midfield runs. Seeing more of that on Saturday would be precisely the sort of thing RSL needs to handle the Galaxy.
Real Salt Lake is set to continue its home stand on Saturday night, when it will take on the LA Galaxy at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines ahead of Saturday’s match:
RSL out for revenge
Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy have already met once this season, with RSL coming out flat and giving up two early goals to fall to LA 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 27.
RSL has posted a strong 5-1-1 record across all competitions since that match, but a bad taste still lingers. The Claret-and-Cobalt will want to remove that once and for all on Saturday with a win in its second – and final – home game of the regular season against the rival Galaxy.
While RSL has been hot since the April 27 meeting at Rio Tinto Stadium, LA has been in a slide, posting a 2-5-0 mark across all competitions since taking all three points on the Wasatch Front five weeks ago.
LA was blown out in its last match, giving up four second half goals to fall 5-0 at the New England Revolution on Sunday. After that performance, it’s a safe bet that the Galaxy will come into Saturday’s game focused and very, very hungry for a result.
Morales successful against Galaxy
Much like he does against San Jose, RSL midfielder Javier Morales has a very strong track record against the Galaxy, scoring five goals and tallying five assists in 12 career regular season games against LA.
Morales gave San Jose fits last week, scoring a goal and adding an assist in RSL’s 3-0 win over the Quakes last Saturday. The Claret-and-Cobalt is hoping he’ll be able to match that performance this weekend as he looks to strengthen his solid track record against the Galaxy.
The away team has won the last four games between Real Salt Lake and LA dating back to RSL’s 3-1 win at the Galaxy in the 2012 season opener. That’s a very odd statistic in any series, let alone one in which both teams are traditionally tough at home.
RSL, obviously, will be hoping to end that mark on Saturday with a win over its longtime Western Conference rival.
Both sides will be missing key players on Saturday due to international duty. RSL will be without three players, missing forward Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and defender Abdoulie Mansally (Gambia) due to World Cup Qualifiers and midfielder Luis Gil (U.S.), who is with the U.S. Under-20’s ahead of this month’s FIFA U-20 World Cup. LA will be without star forward Robbie Keane (Ireland) and defender Omar Gonzalez (U.S.) for World Cup Qualifiers and U.S. U-20 Oscar Sorto. The Galaxy could also be without U.S. U-20 forward Jose Villarreal depending on when he departs for the team’s pre-World Cup camp.
San Jose Earthquakes are back in town for the first time since they knocked Real Salt Lake out of the Western Conference lead in June 2012, but this time, the visitors are struggling to find even the faintest of footing.
Shots fired: Real Salt Lake are leading the league in shots taken and shots on goal, and while that's nice, it's interesting that San Jose is not far behind in either metric. They've taken 10 fewer shots, so one has to wonder why they haven't been scoring. Indeed, it would be worrying if Jason Kreis wasn't paying attention to that fact — though one should be sure he is. There's a palpable feeling that San Jose are dangerous — one needs only look at shot charts to see why. This necessitates the defense protects Nick Rimando as capably as possible.
Speaking of defense, deciding between Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Carlos Salcedo for the partnership with Nat Borchers can't be easy. After 120 minutes on Tuesday and 90 minutes on Saturday, Carlos Salcedo might miss out. That's simply a lot of time out there, and he's worked hard the entire time. But he has acquitted himself well in the early days of the season, and Jason Kreis has shown a penchant for retaining players in form. With Chris Schuler likely to miss out, the decision comes down to today and how well the two recovered from a grueling Open Cup match.
Recovery will be a big consideration for Kreis everywhere on the pitch. Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Carlos Salcedo all played full minutes in both recent matches, and some rotation might necessarily take place. Sebastian Velasquez, Luis Gil, and perhaps some faces less often seen could be in line for minutes. But once again, inconsistency in play is a natural extension of inconsistent lineups.
Lineup concerns are one thing, but considering RSL's relative success despite those inconsistencies, there's not much reason for grave concern. The rotation might even be a good thing for those players who haven't seen as much time — but who exactly that might be is up for debate.
Less-used players might end up with time. Enzo Martinez and David Viana haven't played any matches yet in 2013 (and Enzo not at all), Khari Stephenson has only started a third of the matches he's played in, and Kwame Watson-Siriboe has played in only a handful of matches. Should some of the players with less experience play against San Jose, they'll have to be extra aware — especially considering that San Jose's not afraid to shoot.
San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch joined On Frame on Thursday night to look ahead to Saturday's RSL-Earthquakes matchup, talk U.S. Open Cup and discuss San Jose's year thus far.
The veteran 'keeper said something particularly interesting about the Earthquakes "Goonies" mentality, telling Brian Dunseth and Trey Fitz-Gerald that he thinks the "Goonies" mantra needs "to be put to rest."
When Real Salt Lake takes the field against the Atlanta Silverbacks in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday, they won't be treating it like a glorified friendly. RSL hasn't seen great success in America's oldest soccer tournament, but they are determined to finally make an impact. Last season was a new low: At home, in front of one of the largest crowds to ever witness an Open Cup match, RSL crashed out of the tournament 3-1 at the hands of NASL's Minnesota Stars. This week, team coaches and management have expressed their displeasure with last year's Open Cup performance.
"I think our coach set the tone," said general manager Garth Lagerwey. "That was possibly the worst game of his coaching tenure at RSL. We have to do better. If we want to advance, it starts Tuesday."
The message from last year's disappointment has apparently made its way down to the players. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who was not with the team in 2012, joked with reporters that he "hasn't heard anything about" the Stars debacle.
Sebastian Velasquez was a rookie last year, and he had plenty to say about what's going to be different this time around.
"We're coming in different from last year," the player said. "I feel like maybe we didn't take it as serious as we should have. Last year it seemed like our minds weren't in it."
The lack of seriousness last year can be attributed to a bit of complacency that came with facing an NASL opponent. Today the loss serves as a reminder that anyone can beat anyone, regardless of division.
"If you come in and think, 'this is a minor-league team; they're not as talented are we are,' that's how you get tripped up," said Lagerwey.
Head Coach Jason Kreis is the kind of coach who's not going to let his team make the same mistake two years in a row, so it stands to reason that his squad won't be complacent as they take on the Silverbacks.
Several other factors could also help spur on RSL this Tuesday: They have a guaranteed home match in the fourth round if they win, another good crowd is expected on Tuesday, player resources aren't stretched thinner by CONCACAF Champion's League dates, and the squad is noticeably deeper this time around.
"The thing about this team is that any guy that gets put out there is going to give the same performance as a regular starter," said Velasquez. "I think everybody's ready to play, everybody's ready to get minutes, everybody's ready to show the coach that we're on this team for a reason."
The favorable schedule in the tournament, the depth of the squad, and the painful lessons learned last year have Real Salt Lake aiming for big things in a competition they haven't traditionally done well in.
"We're ready, we're focused, we're ready to come out tomorrow and move to the next round," said Velasquez. "This year we want to win the Cup."
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
The Real Salt Lake Women will play the first of three games at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, when they'll host the Provo-based Utah Starzz at 1:00 p.m. MT at the Sandy facility ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt's 7:00 p.m. MLS home match against the Chicago Fire. The RSL Women will also play at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 8 and July 3 ahead of RSL MLS matches.
ABC4's Dana Greene did a nice report on the Real Salt Lake Women on Wednesday night, talking with team members Sara Cowley, Kendra Halterman, Annie Hawkins and Jacqui Rimando - yes, that Rimando - about the team's history, it's affiliation with RSL and Saturday's home opener.
Check out ABC's report above and get your tickets to Saturday's match at the Rio Tinto Stadium box office, by calling 801-727-2700, or by clicking HERE.
Jason Kreis will have a series of questions on his mind tonight as he prepares his side for a match against Montreal Impact. They all revolve around selection. We'll look at three of these and attempt to answer whether he should look at continuity or change, and what exactly the tactical implications are for each.
Who starts up front: Joao Plata or Olmes Garcia? It's certainly possible that both will start, but Devon Sandoval presents a tactical option neither Garcia nor Plata fulfill. He's scored his first goal, too, and he'll be hopeful to push on. Plata offers more guile on the ball and a better cross, but Garcia is going to push forward more and get into the box. His influence has been undeniable every time he's been on the pitch. While starting Garcia would mean losing a little continuity, the rewards outweigh the risks. At any rate, Plata could make a good impact sub if necessary. Best option: change, Garcia for Plata.
Who starts in midfield: Luis Gil or Sebastian Velasquez? Luis Gil has had some fantastic moments in 2013, and those two goals of his are good indicators of that. But he's also had some struggles, some of which are attributed to a lingering ankle injury. The injury is apparently not so bad as to necessitate his exclusion from the side, so it would seem the prognosis is such that playing through it would be the best option. Sebastian Velasquez has had some great moments on the ball, but he's still yet to find his first goal — although his parried shot on Wednesday saw a goal eventually scored. With Gil still in the side, we retain consistency and allow him more time to get back to his best. We also get a potent option in front of goal. With Velasquez in the side, we get a player who runs non-stop when he's on the pitch, fights for every ball, and has an uncanny knack for keeping possession. Gil is undeniably more direct as a player, and that affects his passing rates. Best option: continuity, Velasquez on the bench for an early second-half sub.
Who starts in back? Carlos Salcedo or Kwame Watson-Siriboe? Carlos Salcedo has had his red card rescinded and is eligible to play, making this an option at all. Kwame Watson-Siriboe has traveled to Montreal for the match after becoming a father recently. The weighing pan would seem to tip slightly toward Salcedo in this regard, as he's been training fully for the last week, but Watson-Siriboe is a more experienced defender with more playing time in the system — although the two joined at around the same time last year. This is probably the hardest question of the three facing Kreis. Salcedo proved himself capable on Wednesday and did nothing to deserve being dropped, but the nature of the game means he could step to the side while the more experienced player starts. But at the same time, Kreis let Palmer continue after Wingert came back from injury — until he had a poor match — and that speaks to a willingness to give new players a chance. Best option: Salcedo continues, Watson-Siriboe on the bench.
Defensive questions reign ahead of today's match against New England Revolution, and with Nat Borchers having taken ill, those questions are sure to be more poignant and pressing.
We're likely to see Chris Wingert out there again, and there's something refreshing about that. Wingert is, as we know by now, an important defensive piece. While he may not be the most attacking full back in the league — we probably have that piece available, too, with Abdoulie Mansally — he brings organization and positional awareness to the side. With a more attacking midfield group this season, Wingert's calming presence is helpful. We saw the very palpable benefits of his presence on Saturday, and if he plays again, we'll be in a strong position.
With news that Nat Borchers could be out for the match with illness, Wingert's presence could be essential. He'd be a stabilizing presence at the back — and with a young center back likely to start, that could be the difference between conceding a handful and keeping a clean sheet.
The question then turns to who starts at the back alongside Chris Schuler: The most immediate option is Kwame Watson-Siriboe, but given that he's a new father as of Friday, there's a thought that he may be unavailable. Watson-Siriboe presents himself as a player similar to Borchers, though he's not to that level. He's as capable athletically as anyone, and he can step into the right positions to win the ball. Perhaps more importantly, he's very good in the air, and against a New England side that's still unsure what their attacking style looks like, that could be essential.
Carlos Salcedo, who was handed his debut on Saturday, has a chance as well. The young academy graduate a bit more of an unknown quantity, but he's been impressive for RSL's reserves and is an immaculate worker. He cuts an aggressive figure, and though he's inexperienced, he wouldn't necessarily be out of his depth in the lineup. Again, though, he presents plenty of unknowns and has a lot to prove. Interestingly, Salcedo is more likely to cary the ball out of defense when the options are open, and he's very good in the pass. This gives us a look we haven't really seen — both Schuler and Borchers are capable, but more frequently they pass the ball off to a full back or to Kyle Beckerman.
Chris Wingert could also move centrally, which he did at times last year with some success. He played centrally frequently early in his career, but he's been a full back with us for long enough that it's easy to forget that. He's not a perfect option, but you know what you get with Wingert in the middle. More pressingly, missing him at left back could be troubling.
With Vancouver coming to Rio Tinto Stadium tomorrow, Real Salt Lake will be looking to establish a strike partnership to carry forward with Alvaro Saborio out with injury.
Striking up a partnership: Olmes at the core
Leading scorer Alvaro Saborio is out for at least a few weeks, and that's certain to add a bit of stress to the RSL strike force. As a result, it's important that a partnership be struck up between the strikers available — whether this is Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval or Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata is difficult to say. It seems likely, though, that Olmes Garcia is at the center of considerations at this point, such have been his displays in this still-early season.
He presents different advantages with each option: Alongside Sandoval, Garcia could play a little deeper and more central, picking up on balls shook loose by the big man. Sandoval's also a disruptive figure, and we've seen him getting some joy with his ability to hold off an opponent. Alongside Plata, Garcia could be a more central figure around which Plata would pivot. The options are boundless.
There's always a chance Garcia doesn't get the start, but if he's fit, the odds seem pretty good. He's the most flexible option of the three potentially available, and with RSL's attack still developing and building anew, that flexibility may be enough to sway considerations. He's also the only one of the three with a goal, and in every match he's played, he's looked dangerous and likely to score further goals.
We're not unfamiliar with how Vancouver Whitecaps FC is looking this season, largely because we played against them only — what — three weeks ago? It's a funny thing, this somewhat-randomized intra-conference play. As a result, there shouldn't be any real surprises — and hopefully no strangely decided penalty kicks with which to contend. This should be particularly useful when considering Vancouver's attacking options. Truth be told, RSL looked pretty good against Vancouver, but improving on that will be a high priority.
First to the gates
Something like that, right? The onus is on Real Salt Lake to control the proceedings and to score first. It's an obviously desirable thing, but as we've seen, this side has trouble breaking down teams defending deep. Particularly without Alvaro Saborio out there to disrupt defenders through hold-up play, there's an inherent difficulty in breaking down those walls — unparking the bus, as it were. Scoring first and early forces Vancouver to abandon any designs to sit back and defend.
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.