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.
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.
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.