With its regular season wrapped up on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake sat back on Saturday and watched the rest of the Western Conference battle for playoff positioning in a day full of excitement.
First, Seattle Sounders FC topped the LA Galaxy 2-0 at CenturyLink Field to claim the Supporters’ Shield and knock the Galaxy into the No. 2 seed. Then the Portland Timbers went on the road to top FC Dallas 2-0 at Toyota Stadium, putting RSL in the No. 3 seed, FC Dallas at No. 4 and, temporarily, the Timbers at No. 5. Then to close out the day, Vancouver Whitecaps FC sealed the fifth seed with a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at BC Place.
What this all means for RSL is a playoff clash with the LA Galaxy for the fourth time in the last six postseasons.
Here is a quick run-down of the previous three match-ups, starting in the 2009 MLS Cup Final.
Salt Lake and LA met for the MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (then called Qwest Field). With an MLS Cup record crowd of 46,011 in attendance, the two teams played toe-to-toe for 120 minutes without a victor determined. Mike Magee scored in the 41st minute to give the Galaxy a first-half lead, but RSL answered in the 64th minute with a goal from Robbie Findley.
In the shootout, both teams made their first two attempts and missed their third. Landon Donovan skied his effort in the fourth round and Ned Grabavoy converted his. However, Salt Lake could not find a match-winner until the seventh round. Nick Rimando saved Edson Buddle’s shot, his second save of the shootout, and Robbie Russell converted his to give the MLS Cup to Real Salt Lake.
After ousting Sounders FC 3-2 in the Western Conference semifinal, RSL went on the road to the Western Conference final to face the LA Galaxy, who won the Supporters’ Shield and topped the New York Red Bulls 3-1 in the semis.
With just one game determining the Conference champions, LA jumped out to an early lead with Donovan converting a penalty in the 23rd minute. Alvaro Saborio responded with a goal of his own in the 25th minute, but LA would storm back with two second-half goals from Magee and Robbie Keane to send the Galaxy to the MLS Cup Final, where it bested the Houston Dynamo 1-0.
Last year, the two teams met in the Western Conference semifinal over a two-legged series. It opened at the StubHub Center where Sean Franklin netted the only goal in the 48th minute. Going back to Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL evened the series on a 35th minute goal from Sebastian Velasquez, sending the series to extra time. There, Chris Schuler scored in the 103rd minute and RSL held on to advance to the Conference final.
With that deep-seeded rivalry in place, the matchup this year is bound to be dramatic.
The 2014 Western Conference Semifinal series starts on Saturday, Nov. 1, at Rio Tinto Stadium. For ticket information, visit http://bit.ly/12D6VER.
Could we see a bald Jeff Cassar this fall?
If RSL makes the MLS Cup Playoffs, we just might.
The RSL boss told the guys from Extra Time Radio on Monday that he and follicly challenged RSL Goalkeeper Coach Daryl Shore made a bet a couple months back that should RSL qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, Cassar will shave his head.
That could lead to a bit of symmetry on the RSL bench, as Cassar is currently the only member of RSL’s coaching staff with any amount of hair; Shore and fellow assistants Andy Williams, Craig Waibel and Paul Dalglish are all bald or sport a shaved look. It should be noted that RSL Strength and Conditioning Coach Dan Barlow has a nice head of hair.
“I wanted to have the best hair on the staff, so I set the bar really low,” Cassar joked during his ExtraTime interview. “But I made a bet with Daryl Shore, one of my assistant coaches, that if we make the playoffs I’m going to shave my head.”
We’ve got a preview of what Cassar could look like with a shaved head above. Gotta say, don’t think bald is Jeff’s best look.
RSL’s last trip to Chicago wasn’t much to write home about, with the teams playing to a sleepy scoreless draw at Toyota Park on May 9, 2012.
So, instead of showing the highlights from that slow affair – or last year’s 1-1 draw between the sides here at Rio Tinto Stadium – we’ll bring back a RSL classic: The highlight tape from the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 2009 Eastern Conference Final victory at Chicago.
Watch and enjoy above ahead of Saturday’s tilt between RSL and the Fire at Toyota Park.
Real Salt Lake owned the Portland Timbers last year, posting a dominant 4-0-2 record in six matches across all competitions against the Cascadia club. RSL and the Timbers will face off for the first time in 2014 on Saturday, when Will Johnson, Caleb Porter and co. will come to Rio Tinto Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. MT kickoff.
The best of the six RSL-Portland games in 2013 came in the Western Conference Final series, which Real Salt Lake won 5-2 on aggregate on the back of a 4-2 win at home on Nov. 10 and a 1-0 win at Portland on Nov. 24. Highlights of those triumphant victories are below. Check them out before Saturday’s big tilt at The RioT.
First Leg: RSL 4-2 Portland
Second Leg: RSL 1-0 (5-2) Portland
Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey sat down with ABC 4's Dana Greene for nearly 15 minutes yesterday, talking about MLS Cup 2013, RSL's 2013 season, the supposed "rebuild," and how the Claret-and-Cobalt stacks up against MLS Cup foe Sporting Kansas City, both on and off the field.
ABC 4 was kind enough to post the entire interview to their website last night, after airing this shorter package on Lagerwey's interview on their 6 o'clock newscast. Check out the full-length interview above.
Real Salt Lake advanced to MLS Cup 2013 on Sunday night, defeating Portland Timbers 1-0 (5-2 on aggregate).
Here are some interesting numbers from the match:
With Real Salt Lake’s win on Sunday night, the Claret-and-Cobalt has advanced to MLS Cup twice in its nine-season history. Real Salt Lake will face Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park in MLS Cup 2013 on Dec. 7. The last time RSL advanced to MLS Cup was in 2009 where the Claret-and-Cobalt defeated LA Galaxy 5-4 on penalty kicks at Qwest Field in Seattle.
Real Salt Lake handed Portland Timbers four losses in six games across all competitions this calendar year. In the 35 games against everyone else, Portland only suffered four losses.
Robbie Findley scored his sixth-career MLS Cup Playoff goal in Sunday’s match against Portland. The RSL FW has scored two goals in the postseason both against portland– one scored in the 41st minute in the Western Conference Championship first leg 4-2 win and the lone goal in RSL’s second leg 1-0 win over Portland on Sunday. With six playoff goals, Robbie Findley is Real Salt Lake’s all-time leading goal scorer in the postseason.
Real Salt Lake won the Western Conference Championship series with a total 5-2 aggregate score. In the two-legged series, RSL combine for five goals while Portland was kept to two. The series saw goals from RSL MF Sebastian Velasquez, MF Javier Morales, DF Chris Schuler and FW Robbie Findley.
RSL had a very diverse attack against Portland this year, with nine different players scoring and seven different players assisting in the Utah side’s six matches against the Timbers in 2013. RSL MF Javier Morales leads the way for RSL with three goals, followed by FW Alvaro Saborio and FW Robbie Findley with two goals each, while FW Devon Sandoval, MF Luis Gil, DF Chris Schuler, DF Nat Borchers and MF Cole Grossman all have one tally against the Cascadia club. Captain Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Joao Plata lead the way for RSL with three assists against the Timbers each; Grabavoy, Gil, Findley and Saborio all have one assist against Portland.
With Sunday’s full shifts, Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman and GK Nick Rimando have played all 1,710 minutes in RSL’s 18-game playoff history.
Great video from ESPN on the RSL postgame celebration from Sunday's Western Conference Championship win over Portland. Check it out above for the full trophy presentation, along with interviews with Head Coach Jason Kreis, Captain Kyle Beckerman and forward Robbie Findley.
Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers square off again, and while the last match left this one teetering in RSL's favor, another 90 minutes are needed to protect the two-goal cushion leading to the MLS Cup final.
1. Don't allow Portland to build from wide positions
The Timbers thrive in wide positions cutting inside, and often, you'll find their most dangerous play emanating from channels between the flank and the center. If they're allowed time to build and either drive in a cross or play a ball across the face of the box, they'll be dangerous. Preventing the opposition from finding joy in those areas will be key, but it won't solve everything.
To accomplish this, Our midfielders will need to drop into deep positions in those channels, assisting the full backs in wide defense. If the forwards, too, drop back into defense when needed, two things happen: First, we're rendered more solid when defending without resorting to a line of six or seven players; second, we're put in a good position to exploit the inevitable pockets of space that will appear against an attacking Portland side, and to break forward apace.
2. Build through the middle
It's not that Portland possess any particular vulnerabilities through the middle, but this is how we know how to play. Abandoning that now, especially after it's given us so much joy throughout the season, would be folly. That approach also puts us in the strongest position to win set pieces, which are apparently our new favorite way to score (thank you, Chris Schuler.)
3. Utilize narrow strikers
In recent weeks, Jason Kreis has shifted his deployment of forwards somewhat: Where previously, one of the two was sent into a wide position (Robbie Findley or Joao Plata, typically) while the other was left in a more central position, Kreis is now setting out two strikers in more central positions. We saw this with Devon Sandoval and Robbie Findley against Portland in the first leg, and though it wasn't the first time we saw it, it surely brought us the most success. It seemed prior to the switch that we were attempting to shoehorn in some width to our innately narrow formation -- perhaps it is no surprise that when we returned to a more natural approach, we were successful. This also allows the strikers to combine a bit more, and when one of those isn't Alvaro Saborio, who can typically hold the ball until others join in attack, that could just be vital.
4. Don't give up silly free kicks in good positions
This goes without saying, really. Will Johnson scored from a free kick in a great position against us, and it's something we really should be aware of again. It will take a bit of confidence, but it's something of which we must be aware.
RSL at Portland. Western Conference Championship Leg 2. Sunday night. 7 p.m. MT. ESPN.
Real Salt Lake has been here before.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has taken a two-goal lead into the second leg of a tournament semifinals series once already, in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals against Costa Rican club Saprissa. RSL topped Saprissa 2-0 in the first leg of the CCL Semis at Rio Tinto Stadium in March 2011, then went down to Alvaro Saborio’s former club for the second leg, losing 1-2 to win 3-2 on aggregate and move on to the CCL Final against Monterrey.
That CCL second leg was played on artificial turf in the incredibly daunting atmosphere at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, affectionately known as The Monster’s Cave. Conditions will be similar for this Sunday’s Western Conference Championship finale at Portland, with RSL again taking a two-goal lead into a second leg, again heading into a very tough atmosphere – the Timbers are 14-1-5 at JELD-WEN Field this year – and again playing on turf.
Let’s hope the Claret-and-Cobalt can advance from this one, too. Kick is at 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN.