Four goals for Real Salt Lake in the most open match of the season speaks well of the performance on the night, but the 4-1 scoreline over Chivas USA ignores the task facing the defense on Sunday night — as well as a tactical shift that changed the game in the second half.
Wide open: Defense steps up
The first half and much of the second half against Chivas USA last night saw Real Salt Lake playing in perhaps the most open match they've seen all season. Chances were flying back and forth, and by and large, RSL had the better of the opportunities. But some points of frustration will inevitably emerge the very back-and-forth nature of the match and the fact that it took going up 3-1 for a win to look genuinely secure.
The defense deserves real recognition for the manner in which they dealt with the Chivas attack, with Nick Rimando particularly earning plaudits for two reaction saves in the second half. But Chris Wingert, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, and Tony Beltran all stepped up to the challenge well and compensated for a more attacking mentality from RSL.
Findley on: Dynamic changes
When Robbie Findley came into the match, Chivas USA had just started to pick their heads up and respond to the challenge in front of them. With Plata and Sandoval both looking a bit tired, the home side was controlling play more readily and unafraid to push players forward in search of an equalizer. Findley's arrival on the scene saw him pushing ahead of a high line defense, with through balls and passes over the top being played into him.
With Findley screaming past the defense, they attempted to adapt and were forced back into their earlier look that had seen them concede two goals. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that he changed the dynamic of the match. Now, that's not to say that he shouldn't have scored once, twice or maybe even three times, but when his impact is so palpable otherwise, a little forgiveness is in order.
Wingert up: Interception machine
When Chris Schuler earlier this season picked up 8 interceptions, I batted my eyes a bit with surprise. But after turning to the chalkboards last night, I could scarcely believe my eyes: Chris Wingert, who I'd already thought had a very good match, made 17 interceptions. That means that every five minutes or so, Wingert stepped into the line of a pass and regained possession for RSL. That's no small feat.
Those moments can be somewhat attributed to a poor Chivas side, but it's one thing to be poor and another to be made to look so. Had Wingert played more passively and not stepped into passing lanes, it would have been an entirely different game. Given Chivas had 18 shots — though only six on-target — allowing more opportunities would have been, at best, regrettable.
Real Salt Lake closed out its three-game road trip strongly on Sunday night, getting a brace from midfielder Ned Grabavoy and a goal each from forwards Joao Plata and Robbie Findley to down Chivas USA 4-1 at the Home Depot Center.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s game:
Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy scored two goals on Sunday night, giving him the first multi-goal game of his MLS career. The goals snapped a long goalless streak for Grabavoy, who hadn’t scored since Oct. 29, 2011, when he found the back of the net in RSL’s 3-0 win over Seattle in the first leg of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinal. Grabavoy’s last regular season goal prior to Sunday’s brace came on Oct. 16, 2010, when he tallied in RSL’s 2-0 win over FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium. Grabavoy now has 10 regular season goals in his career.
Real Salt Lake is an impressive 8-2-1 against Chivas USA since the start of the 2009 season. RSL has outscored the Rojiblancos 21-5 during that span.
Real Salt Lake is 5-0-0 in both its last five games at Chivas USA and in its last five games at the Home Depot Center, which serves as the home of both Chivas and the LA Galaxy. RSL’s streak at Chivas dates back to the start of the 2010 season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt outscoring the Goats 14-2 during its 5-0-0 run. RSL’s perfect run at the Home Depot Center began in the 2012 season opener and consists of three wins at Chivas and two wins at the Galaxy.
Forward Joao Plata scored his first goal in a RSL uniform on Sunday night, slotting home past Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to give RSL a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute of the Utah side’s win. Along with his one goal, Plata is tied for the league lead with four assists this season.
Nine Real Salt Lake players have scored goals in MLS play this year. That’s just one less than the 10 players who scored MLS goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2012.
March 26, 2011
Grabavoy’s fourth minute goal was the quickest goal scored by RSL since March 26, 2011, when former midfielder and current Head Scout Andy Williams scored in the second minute of RSL’s 4-1 home win over the LA Galaxy.
Sept. 29, 2012
Prior to Sunday’s match, the last time RSL scored at least four goals in a game was on Sept. 29, 2012, when forward Alvaro Saborio notched a hat trick to power the Claret-and-Cobalt to a 4-0 victory at Chivas USA.
Real Salt Lake has now scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS games dating back to the team’s 2-0 home win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on May 4. The last time RSL scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS matches was in May 2010, when the Claret-and-Cobalt tallied at least twice in five-straight league games. It should be noted that RSL has been without injured leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the entirety of its current streak.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler did not play on Sunday night, bringing the total number of RSL players who have played in all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s MLS matches to zero. Prior to Sunday night, Schuler had played every possible MLS minute for RSL.
Rather than harping on about the things that went wrong in RSL's 3-2 loss at Montreal on Saturday — and there certainly were a few — it might be more interesting and productive to talk about some of the things that went right and how they contrast with some problems.
Early attack: RSL controls the match
The mentality was right from the outset of the match, and an early goal — albeit an own-goal scored by an Impact player — speaks to that. But more tellingly, In the first 30 minutes of the match, RSL's central defenders rarely touched the ball, with Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe attempting only six passes in the defensive half (only one one went astray.) Lovel Palmer and Chris Wingert were both involved, and a cross from Palmer forced the early Matteo Ferrari own-goal.
Indeed, most of Kyle Beckerman's touches came further up the pitch, and Ned Grabavoy played almost as a left-sided attacking midfielder, Sebastian Velasquez a central one, and Javier Morales as the roving attacking midfielder. It brought Morales some success, completing three passes leading directly to shots, and it led to some dangerous opportunities for Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval.
The match wears on: Shifts define things
Velasquez took a more right-sided approach, but struggled to get as involved as he was in the first 20 minutes of the match. Beckerman continued stepping further forward, but he was hardly seen in the final 20 minutes of the match. Morales remained vitally involved throughout and covered perhaps more ground than any other RSL player on the pitch — an indication that age and injury hasn't hurt his mobility, even if he's not quite as quick as he was in his late 20's.
Possession from this point forward flowed through Javier Morales, but the players around him did much work to afford him space. Ned Grabavoy controlled the left flank (22/22 in passing) alongside Chris Wingert, while Kyle Beckerman proved an incredible positive influence, allowing RSL to build play from the back.
After the comeback: Morales bright
As the match wore on, RSL's players struggled for involvement. After going 2-1 up in the 77th minute, key members of Real Salt Lake were kept roundly off the ball. Morales remained involved as ever, but excepting him, the nine outfield players combined for 27 passes with about 66 percent accuracy. Morales completed 10 of his 14 passes during that same period. Despite the problems facing the side, it's clear that RSL's playmaker has as much of a knack for controlling play and possession as ever.
Real Salt Lake lost a tough one on Saturday, conceding two late goals to fall 3-2 to the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
There is now only one Real Salt Lake player – defender Chris Schuler – who has played in every MLS match this year. Schuler has played every minute this season for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Midfielder Luis Gil had started all 11 of RSL’s MLS matches prior to Saturday, but was rested and did not make it off the bench in the loss at Montreal.
Real Salt Lake has never won in Canada, moving on Saturday to 0-6-4 in 10 matches across all competitions north of the border. The Claret-and-Cobalt will get two more cracks at its first win in Canada this season, taking on Toronto FC at BMO Field on June 29 before facing off against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sept. 28 at BC Place.
Real Salt Lake has scored two goals in three-straight MLS matches. The Claret-and-Cobalt accomplished that feat twice last year, scoring multiple goals for three-straight MLS games from May 26-June 20 and Sept. 22-Oct. 6.
Montreal defender Matteo Ferrari scored in the 93rd minute of Saturday’s match to give the Impact the 3-2 victory. The stoppage time winner was the latest game-winner allowed by RSL since Sept. 6, 2012, when then-Houston midfielder Colin Clarke buried a 93rd minute penalty kick to give the Dynamo a 1-0 win over RSL at BBVA Compass Stadium.
July 14, 2012
RSL conceded three goals on Saturday for the first time since July 14, 2012, when the 10-man Claret-and-Cobalt lost 5-0 at the San Jose Earthquakes. RSL conceded three or more goals just three times in the 2012 regular season.
April 29, 2012
The seventh-minute own goal scored by Ferrari on Saturday was the first own goal scored for RSL since April 28, 2012, when Toronto defender Richard Eckersley put one in the TFC net in RSL’s 3-2 win over the Reds at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake pulled off a dramatic victory at New England on Wednesday night, getting two late goals – and an even later penalty kick save – to down the Revs 2-1 at Gillette Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Early Goalkeeper of the Year favorite – yes, favorite – Nick Rimando did it again on Wednesday night, preserving all three points for RSL by saving Saer Sene’s 92nd minute penalty kick. Rimando is now 19-for-60 against penalty kicks in the regular season, the best such mark in MLS history. Bravo, Nick.
It took 263 regular season games, but Real Salt Lake’s all-time goal differential is now in positive territory for the first time ever following Wednesday’s win. The Claret-and-Cobalt has 335 goals for and 334 goals against in its regular season history, giving it an all-time goal difference of +1.
Real Salt Lake rookie forward Devon Sandoval scored his first career goal on Wednesday night, sliding onto a Sebastian Velasquez rebound just inside the six yard box and slamming the ball into the roof of the net to tie the game 1-1 in the 77th minute. A University of New Mexico product, Sandoval is the first second-round pick from the 2013 MLS SuperDraft to score a goal in league play.
RSL defender Carlos Salcedo made his first career start on Wednesday night, making it into the 91st minute before being sent off with a controversial second yellow card. The 19-year-old Salcedo – who became the first Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy product to play in a MLS match when he came on as a late game sub in Saturday’s home win over Vancouver – is the first-ever RSL-AZ product to start a MLS match.
The combined age of Salcedo and 19-year-old midfielder Luis Gil, both of whom were in RSL’s starting lineup on Wednesday night. Salcedo and Gil became the first teenagers to appear for RSL in the same regular season game on Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake's late 2-1 win over New England on Wednesday and the drama involved boils down to three things: Attention to rebounds, substitutes, and a bit of defensive mayhem near the end that could have cost RSL a win.
If ever there was a match that illustrated the importance of following up on the shots of your teammates, it was this one. It's difficult to recall the number of times a shot was spilled by the goalkeeper, but it's easy to recount the two that saw goals. The first came after a rebound from a Sebastian Velasquez shot from the left side of the box, and it was a fine bit of skill in buildup that led to it. Devon Sandoval proved once again his ability to be in the right spot at the right time, and this time, his saw the back of the net.
The second came after a rebound from a Kyle Beckerman shot from distance, and my word — it was a fantastic shot. But fantastic or not, the rebound fell back to the defenders in the box, and Olmes Garcia wasted no time beating a defender to it and finishing desperately at the near post with a trickling shot. Neither goal was beautiful, but both were the product of hard work and a dedication to seeing out the play.
The first substitution of the match is the one that is always most telling: Sebastian Velasquez, in for Luis Gil, added the ability to maintain possession under the worst circumstances. In the process, he helped to change the dynamic of the match in the second half. He won free kicks in good positions and, importantly, got the shot off that rebounded to Devon Sandoval. Also a vital substitution was, of course, Olmes Garcia, who scored a fine goal and forced defenders to think about the match in a different way.
Those are inevitably the best substitutions a side can make: those that force a change in approach. Olmes Garcia always does just that, even when he doesn't score. Sebastian Velasquez, too, changed the approach of defenders, who now had to worry more keenly about the midfield keeping possession after being tackled.
It's hard tactically to account for poor decision making on the part of referees, but it's rather easy to account for clearances in dangerous areas. In the build-up to the late, late penalty decision, RSL failed to deal with a number of balls from New England, and as a result, a dangerous opportunity presented itself. Carlos Salcedo and Tony Beltran ended up getting mixed in with a group of Revs and the developing play invoked a decision from the referee, albeit an incorrect one. Had the ball been cleared earlier, there wouldn't have been an issue with which to deal.
Clearances weren't problematic after the penalty, though, and the awareness of Kyle Beckerman deserves all available plaudits alongside those of Nick Rimando. The save was good, and Rimando's uncanny knack for those even better, but Beckerman stepped in at the right moment and made no mistake with his clearance, preventing a clear opportunity for onrushing attackers.
Relive the big three moments from RSL's 2-1 win over New England on Wednesday in this quick-hitting video from RSL videographer Nick Lamping. Goals from Devon Sandoval in the 77th minute and Olmes Garcia in the 89th and a penalty kick stop from Nick Rimando in the 92nd.
Two goals built on counterattacking play against Vancouver Whitecaps display an understanding between the pieces of the side — a blurring of the lines, if you will.
The power of counterattacking
When RSL and Fabian Espindola split, so too did the majority of our counterattacking style: He was always ready to burst when an opportunity was presented. Robbie Findley and Joao Plata are both assumed to bring that back a bit, and we have every reason to think that they could. Saturday is a good example.
But while Plata was vitally involved in both goals as the man who made the final pass, the contributions of the attacking midfielders can't be forgotten. For the first, Luis Gil has embarked on a nearly 100-yard run before scoring the goal. This long of a run speaks incredibly well of Gil's physical attributes, but it also speaks to his ability to spot a chance developing well before it starts to develop. On the second, Javier Morales makes his run from the middle of the park.
Long runs from midfielders serve to disrupt the defense, as even in a zonal marking system, their markers are more likely to simply lose track of the player and desperately try to recover, or open gaps in the midfield, leaving their marker for another and setting out a cascading reaction.
The power of foresight
It wasn't even necessarily the skill sets of Gil and Morales that made their goals possible, but rather their ability to spot potential holes and gaps in the defense. It's not a clear-cut process, of course, and there's always a pretty good chance nothing will come of it. There's a simple beauty in this: It's the dedication to getting into these dangerous positions, even if it comes to naught, that sets the clever players apart from those who simply find themselves in good positions and score as a result.
Before the match, I touched on the disruptive factor Devon Sandoval provides, but it's arguably more important that the midfielders are disrupting things by simply not being where defenders expect them. It's not necessarily always a long, darting run that does it — sometimes it's just the quick sidestep, the exchanging and rotation of positions, or not making a run where one is expected.
The power of service
The difficulty here is in teammates knowing what a player intends: Those clever runs are nothing without service that's built on an understanding. Joao Plata has excelled with this, and one has to think that a consistent tactical approach helps in this regard. Rather than shifting players around every match and attempting to control each game as an individual entity, the Kreis diamond treats each match as a part of a larger whole. The specifics may change every 90 minutes or even more frequently, but the development of that understanding is a process that takes time, and it's got to come in competitive matches.
And as Saturday proved, it's not just the attacking players that need this: Nick Rimando's assist was ridden with foresight, and his long thrown pass — as immaculate as it was — would've been nothing if he hadn't been aware of the chance building.
Real Salt Lake got back on the right track on Saturday night, when it closed out its three-game home stand with a solid 2-0 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
19-year-old Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo became the first RSL-Arizona Academy graduate to play in a MLS match when he came on for forward Joao Plata in the 89th minute of Saturday’s win. Saturday was Salcedo’s first appearance in the 18 since March 16, when he suffered a concussion in the RSL Reserves 2-1 win over Colorado immediately following the first-team game.
RSL forward Joao Plata is tied with Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi for the league lead with four assists. The Ecuadorian attacker had two assists in Saturday’s game, crossing to midfielder Luis Gil for the opener before squaring a ball to playmaker Javier Morales for the second goal. The two assist performance was the first time in 2013 that a RSL player has had multiple assists in a game.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando now has seven career assists after he was credited with one on the Claret-and-Cobalt’s opening goal on Saturday. Saturday’s assist was Rimando’s second in a game in which he also kept a clean sheet, with the first such effort coming in RSL’s 1-0 win over Seattle on Aug. 8, 2009.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert started and played all 90 minutes on Saturday. It was Wingert’s first MLS appearance of the season; the veteran left back missed RSL’s first seven games while recovering from a right foot fracture suffered in December and did not play in either of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s previous two matches.
Saturday’s starting forward pairing of Plata and rookie forward Devon Sandoval is the eighth different starting striker duo RSL has used in 10 games this season. The Plata-Sandoval pair was the seventh different strike combination used by RSL in its last seven games.
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.