Blog

MLS Regular Season

07 March 5:02 pm

With Real Salt Lake opening their season against LA Galaxy tomorrow, we're facing once again one of the difficult sides in MLS to play against. With some attentive play and effective possession, we can neutralize the threat and create options for ourselves at the same time.

Narrow at the back

LA Galaxy are not, I think, a side that will hit you with incredible crosses consistently; they are, however, a side that can always spot any gaps and spaces between the center backs and the full backs. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan both excel at stepping into the channels, though the way in which they operate differs somewhat.

If we are to prevent those deadly two from capitalizing on any space, we have to remain somewhat narrow at the back. This should not be entirely too problematic, though. It was something we could pinpoint in several preseason matches: the full backs tuck in when defending and push out wide in attack. Exaggerating this a bit could help our chances.

Soak up pressure

It's difficult to say how LA Galaxy will come out of the gates, but with the first match in front of their home crowd, they'll likely see some attacking impetus behind them. If we can adjust our game to soak up some of the inevitable pressure that comes our way, we can avoid getting caught out when a fast Galaxy side comes streaking at us.

This doesn't mean surrendering possession by any stretch, but it does mean we'll want to shape our approach to regaining it. We can't have defenders pushing too far, as we'll get caught — this is something we saw in previous matches against the Galaxy.

This approach does, however, require more than a modicum of attentiveness and preparedness from the midfield: This necessitates moving as a unit and understanding where pockets of space have and will emerge. This also means we must watch any runs further inside our area — if we let someone like Robbie Keane move into a more open position, we won't fare well.

Hit them on the counter

We should be a fine counterattacking side but too often we lose sight of that. While the focus is and should continue to be on effective play through possession, we have the right tools for effective play on the break. With Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata, we have quick forwards who can find themselves in great positions; in Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy, we have midfielders who can hit anybody with a pass; in Luis Gil and Javier Morales, we have attacking players who can really create opportunities.

By soaking up pressure when we don't have possession, too, we encourage Galaxy to push further into our half in an attempt to break our stance and find space to create. While there is some inherent risk in this, it allows us to take advantage of the plentiful options at our disposal.

07 March 4:41 pm

ABC 4 kicks off this season's Crossbar Challenge series with Dunny taking on newly appointed RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar. Cassar opens up about his early playing days in MLS, helping build the RSL ethos and what it's like taking the top job.

Real Salt Lake will play its first-ever regular season game under Cassar tomorrow, taking on the LA Galaxy at 8:30 p.m. MT at StubHub Center. The match will be broadcast live on ABC 4, which will begin its coverage with a 30-minute pregame show at 8:00 p.m. MT.

07 March 1:08 pm

 

Real Salt Lake will open its tenth season on Saturday night, taking on longtime rival LA Galaxy at 8:30 p.m. MT on ABC 4 at StubHub Center.

Saturday’s match is chock full of interesting storylines. Here are a few to be on the lookout for:

New RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar set for his first match in charge

Though he’s been with the Claret-and-Cobalt since 2007, Saturday’s match will have a different feel for new RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar. Cassar, who took over the head job in December following Jason Kreis’ departure, plans to run the same system as his predecessor, but there will inevitably be some differences between the two. We’ll get our first real glimpse at those differences tomorrow – it’ll be very interesting to see how RSL’s new boss handles in-game adjustments and player selection, not to mention what his demeanor will be like on the sideline.

Landon Donovan aims for all-time scoring record

Galaxy star Landon Donovan can make MLS history on Saturday night, needing only one more goal to pass Jeff Cunningham and set a new league record with 135 career regular season goals. The record will be a well-deserved honor for Donovan when he achieves it, though we certainly hope that he’ll wait until after LA’s first two matches – the Galaxy play both of their first two MLS games against RSL, with the second coming at the Claret-and-Cobalt’s home opener on March 22 – to make his mark in history.

Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando continue climbing up the record books

Real Salt Lake stalwarts Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando will continue their climb up the MLS record books in 2014, with both players set to achieve more career milestones this year.

RSL’s captain, Beckerman will crack the top-10 in MLS history in games played this season. Currently on 325 games played, he needs 17 appearances to become fifth in league history in appearances, and he should set himself up for a run at the top-three in 2015. He’ll also continue his rise up the games started list, tying Tyrone Marshall for eighth all-time in MLS history with his next start. He’ll likely end 2014 in fifth in this category, as well. Look for Becks to crack the top-five in MLS history in career minutes played this season, too.

Rimando is slightly ahead of Beckerman in the aforementioned categories. Currently in fourth in league history with 346 games played, Rimando should pass Jeff Cunningham (365) for third-all time and get within touching distance of Steve Ralston (378) for second. Rimando could become the all-time leader in games played early in the 2016 season, when he could conceivably catch current leader Kevin Hartman (416). Rimando should pass Ralston for second all-time in both games started and minutes played this season.

Of course, the biggest record in play for any RSL player this year is the all-time shutout mark. Rimando is second in MLS history with 108 clean sheets, just four behind Hartman for the all-time record. Here’s hoping that deficit will be three after this weekend.

Morales and Donovan look to continue success against each other

RSL’s Javier Morales and LA’s Landon Donovan have torched each other’s teams in their MLS careers. Morales has put up five goals and eight assists in 14 career regular season games against the Galaxy. Those numbers are wildly impressive, but Donovan has done Javi one better, registering nine goals and nine assists with LA in 18 career regular season games against RSL. Donovan’s nine goals are the second-most against RSL of any player in MLS history, while his nine assists are most in league history against the Claret-and-Cobalt.

Saborio looks to continue hot run of form

RSL forward Alvaro Saborio looks to be hitting his stride at just the right time, scoring four goals in his last three games in all competitions. Saborio scored three goals in RSL’s final two preseason matches, notching a brace in RSL’s 3-1 win over FC Tucson on February 26 and scoring the lone goal in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 1-1 tie against Chivas USA last Saturday. He continued his goal streak this week for the Costa Rican national team, playing 45 minutes and notching a goal in Los Ticos’ 2-0 friendly win over Paraguay. Let’s hope Sabo – who has the best goals per 90 minutes rate of any player with more than 75 career MLS regular season appearances – stays hot on Saturday.

RSL and LA set for rematch of 2013 Western Conference Semifinal series

Yeah, let’s not forget about this. Good times. 

06 March 9:56 am

MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek took a crack at previewing Real Salt Lake's 2014 season, dropping a "Scouting Report" video on Thursday as part of the league site's full RSL season preview. 

Give the video a watch above, and read MLSsoccer.com's entire RSL season preview here.

05 March 5:24 pm

Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Wednesday morning, answering a wide-range of questions from fans around the league ahead of Saturday’s season opener at LA Galaxy.

Below are a few highlights from Lagerwey’s AMA, which you can find in its entirety here.

Reddit user whitecapsfan2010: What's the RSL secret in bringing success in a salary capped league?

Lagerwey: Consistency and humility. You have to set aside your ego to constantly pick up other teams scraps and rehabilitate them, but it works. And there is a lot of hard work scouting. You must be efficient and you can’t afford mistakes because one bad contract can hurt the group. As a GM never think you have all the answers, always have multiple solutions to every possible problem. Players are human and humans are inherently unpredictable so you need options.

Reddit user rmczerz: How do you react when you hear about teams like Toronto going crazy and getting multiple household name players? Do you think it improves the league as a whole, regardless of whether these types of players only go to a few teams? Along the same lines, what kind of mix between experienced vets who have competed at higher levels and young MLS kids do you think is best for a team and the game?

Lagerwey: Big signings raise the quality and profile of the league. MLS is better than most people give it credit for. If we need to sign stars for people to notice, so be it.

You always need a balance of vets and young talent. Vets are the guys who win you games and you have to win games to keep your job. For smaller clubs like ours, developing young players is critical and our Academy is one of the best in the country. The beauty of Academies is that when we sign kids they have already played in our system and it’s easier to transition them to the first team.

Reddit user wackyguy15: I've always wondered, how do you (and other GMs) keep track of players from all over the world for possible transfers? Do you have a centralized database of info, stats and video? Do you use a network of scouts? Is there a specific area of focus in the world you guys look for folks? Thanks for the AMA!

Lagerwey: We have a network of people we use that are on the ground all over the place. We use Wyscout and Prozone to evaluate various aspects of players through video and data. We tend to look in economically depressed areas or for struggling leagues as you can obtain players below market value, which is our mantra for player acquisition.

Reddit user keepa1: What is one thing that makes Real Salt Lake unique from all other MLS clubs from the view of a player looking to come into the league from overseas? What would entice someone to come to your 'small market' club?

Lagerwey: Culture - the team is the star. Our locker room is very important to us and since we are all former players on both the staff and front office we value the input of our players. We go to great lengths to treat everyone with respect on a daily basis

Reddit user yahakum: I like your mantra (and honesty) - "We tend to look in economically depressed areas or for struggling leagues as you can obtain players below market value, which is our mantra for player acquisition."

I've always thought a fair way to rank leagues worldwide would be on average salary, but now I'm not so sure. How do you think MLS ranks?

Lagerwey: Soccernomics, among other sources found a strong correlation between player salaries and wins. As a former player I always felt MLS didn’t get the respect it deserved. The way to change that is to win Champions League and have the national team do well in this world cup while three of the best players on that team ply their trade in MLS (Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley), as well as a number of other players. In order for MLS to be an elite league we at some point need the best American players to play here. MLS's salary cap is 50 times less than the big 5 leagues, so I don’t think that is a reasonable comparison. However, I do think that MLS can compete with mid-tier teams in almost every other country. If I had to give a rank I'd say much like my law school Georgetown, we are pushing to get into the top 10.

Reddit user GalaxySC: What a normal day like for the RSL General Manager?

Lagerwey: Every day is different which is great. We are managing 30 players and 12 staff on the team side so all kinds of issues pop up, whether they surround media/broadcast interactions, community relations, facilities, travel or simply soccer. GM stands astride the business and soccer aspects of the club so having a clear philosophy linking them is critical to success. For RSL that has been the "Team is the Star" and we apply that across the salary cap as well as our business and fan platforms.

Reddit user Misplays4days: Mulholland has looked really impressive this offseason. How much do you think he'll see the field this year? Also with Alvarez going to Orlando, who is our backup D-mid? Seems like we have quite a few options. Thanks!!

Lagerwey: Mulholland is off to a great start and he and Jordan Allen are both in competition for the 18 right now in the first week of the season which is a really good sign. We have a number of options at d-mid behind Kyle. Cole Grossman dressed in front of Yordany for the last two months of last season. Stertzer may be able to play there as could Joey Dillon. I’d also remind folks that Ned Grabavoy started there in the Champions League final against Monterrey and acquitted himself quite well.

Reddit user antoine474: Following last year’s successes and the departure of Jason Kreis, are you predicting more of the same as last year or decline?

Lagerwey: On paper, from a talent perspective we should be as good or better. We added two players to our top 18 in Allen and Mulholland, the half dozen kids under 23 who played for us regularly last year now have a year in the system under their belts and we were able to retain our veteran core. So long as our young talent can take some miles off the vets during the regular season we will hopefully be fine and reach the playoffs again.

Reddit user amazingcube: Garth, first I would personally like to thank you for your part in building RSL into something that fits the local market so perfectly and represents Salt Lake City in a positive way. There are no shortage of stereotypes or misconceptions about this city and its inhabitants. How do you or any of the staff address concerns from potential recruits who might be hesitant about coming to play and live in Utah?

Lagerwey: I had been in SLC for one day before taking this job so I had no idea what I was getting into. Some of the stereotypes are just silly. It’s gorgeous here and you can do any outdoor activity you can dream up. Traffic isn’t bad, cost of living is affordable. People here care about and are invested in our club. Our players do a tremendous job of showing new guys around the city and introducing them to all the great things about SLC. Kyle Beckerman recently married a SLC girl and I suspect there may be more follow. Our team is relevant and our players matter in the cultural landscape. Some players are always going to pick the bright lights of a bigger city, but if you believe the team is the star, you will likely want to play for RSL.

Reddit user melkahb: Thanks for coming on and doing this, Mr. Lagerwey. The willingness of people at all levels to communicate directly with the fans in this kind of forum is one of the strengths of MLS.

Two questions:

1) You've already spoken to the challenges and techniques needed for smaller-market teams to compete in MLS's increasingly high-spending environment. Going forward, how well do you see organizations like RSL faring as the expectations for high-salaried stars continue to rise?

2) Related, what steps do you think the league and/or owners need to take in order to maintain true parity and squad cohesion? Personally, I feel that allocation money or cap space leniency for keeping veteran squads intact is a good direction, but from your perspective, what's necessary to build and maintain good teams while ensuring largely-even competition?

Lagerwey: 1) So long as you have playoffs, the league will have parity. Big markets will have advantages in the regular season, but the teams are close enough where anyone can win over two legs.

2) Continuity helps us punch above our weight. When players are very familiar with their teammates they can combine to play at a level higher than the individual parts. You need the right culture as a small market club and a true identity. We can’t beat big market teams at spending, but we can focus on youth development and keeping systems in place to solve the problem a different way. We have to think, not simply spend.

05 March 12:53 pm

You know by now that Real Salt Lake will be kicking off its 2014 MLS campaign on Saturday at LA Galaxy.

What you might not know is that the Galaxy have another, bigger game on tap a few days after Saturday’s opener. LA will begin its CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal series against Club Tijuana next Wednesday, hosting Los Xolos at StubHub Center in the series’ first leg. The Galaxy won’t play in MLS that following weekend, taking a bye ahead of the March 18 return leg at Tijuana.

Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and co. will surely approach Saturday’s opener with an eye on their upcoming CCL matchup. How – or if – that affects how they run out this weekend against the Claret-and-Cobalt remains to be seen, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on ahead of Saturday’s opener.

04 March 1:21 pm

Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy have long been Western Conference foes, with each meeting between the sides always a battle. LA Galaxy has won MLS Cup four times, including back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2012 and has been crowned Western Conference Champions six times. So when Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy last met in the 2013 Western Conference Semfinal series, the stakes were high and the rivalry never more intense.

Real Salt Lake defeated LA Galaxy 2-1 on aggregate in the two-legged series to advance to the Western Conference Championship series. RSL headed into the second leg down a goal after losing 1-0 at LA. The Claret-and-Cobalt took full advantage of its opportunity to stage a comeback in front of its home crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium, getting goals from two surprising players to defeat LA 2-0 in a thrilling, extra time affair. 

RSL midfielder Sebastian Velasquez opened the scoring in the 35th minute, notching his first career goal to tie the aggregate 1-1. The goal was beautifully constructed, beginning with midfielder Javier Morales finding unmarked defender Chris Wingert on the left flank. Wingert collected the ball, took a touch toward the end line and whipped in a fantastic cross, picking out the onrushing Velasquez at the top-left corner of the box. The 5-foot-7 Velasquez took it from there, brilliantly snapping a header inside the near post to put RSL on the board.

RSL went on to hit the woodwork two times in regulation – once by defender Chris Schuler in the 74th minute and then by forward Alvaro Saborio four minutes later. In the 85th minute, the Claret-and-Cobalt had a controversial goal called back when Morales’ free kick found the back of the net but referee Baldomero Toledo called a foul on Schuler in the box, disallowing the goal. 

The two sides headed into extra time deadlocked in a 1-1 tie on aggregate. RSL netted the game-winner in the 102nd minute when Schuler picked the perfect time to score his first goal of 2013. Morales had the assist, curling a free kick in from the left flank that Schuler – who made a marvelous run from the top of the box – side-volleyed in from the right edge of the six, sending Rio Tinto Stadium into euphoria.

The stakes won’t be as high when RSL and LA meet again in Saturday’s season opener, but the memory of the last meeting still lingers. The four-time MLS Cup Champions will be sure to seek revenge at home and RSL will be looking to make a statement that 2013 was no fluke.

Re-live RSL's win in the thrilling second leg of last year's Western Conference Semifinal above. 

04 March 12:17 pm

Arguably the most accomplished player in the history of the league, New York Red Bulls Designated Player Thierry Henry has long been a fan of Real Salt Lake.

Henry has professed his admiration for RSL before, telling media ahead of RSL’s meeting against New York in 2012 that the Claret-and-Cobalt are – with LA – “the best team in this league, by a distance” and that they “outplay you, they cross, they score, what are you going to do? You have to accept it.”

He was at it again this preseason, praising RSL to Fox Soccer’s Kyle McCarthy at MLS’s Media and Marketing tour last month.

“Salt Lake is the best team in the league in terms of playing and passing the ball,” Henry told McCarthy, who used the quote on Tuesday in his RSL season preview at Fox Soccer blog Inside MLS. “Kansas City won last year, but if you watched the game and you watched Salt Lake, they can play. The lost [Jamison] Olave, they lost [Fabian] Espindola, they lost Will Johnson. Everybody was like, hmm, they will struggle. They had an identity. They didn’t struggle. And you can say they were unfortunate to lose the final.”

That’s some pretty high praise from a man who’s been around the game a bit. McCarthy has a little more color from Henry, and plenty of quotes from RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman in his RSL season preview on Inside MLS. The piece is very well done, and definitely worth a read. Check it out here.

04 March 11:46 am

Public service announcement, Real Salt Lake fans: RSL GM Garth Lagerwey’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” on /r/MLS has been rescheduled to Wednesday at 10 a.m. MT.

Lagerwey was initially scheduled to hold his AMA on Thursday afternoon, but had to switch due to some shuffling in the AMA lineup over at /r/MLS. Make sure you hop in tomorrow and ask Garth anything your heart desires – we’ll do our best to make sure he answers all of your questions, hair-related or otherwise.

03 March 1:48 pm

Real Salt Lake won’t have an easy start to the Jeff Cassar era, with the Claret-and-Cobalt scheduled to open its 2014 MLS regular season campaign with a brutal slate of matches.

RSL will play four of its first six matches on the road, traveling to LA for Saturday’s season opener, taking on San Jose at the always unfriendly Buck Shaw Stadium on March 15, playing at defending MLS Cup champion Sporting KC on April 6 and traveling across the country to take on Philadelphia on April 12.

RSL’s early season home games won’t be a cakewalk either, with the Claret-and-Cobalt hosting the Galaxy in the home opener on March 22, taking on Michael Bradley and revamped Toronto FC on March 29 and welcoming 2013 Western Conference Final opponent Portland Timbers to Rio Tinto Stadium on April 19.

The average 2013 point total for RSL’s first seven opponents comes out to 49.57 points, the seventh-highest mark in the league across the first seven matches. That average, however, is skewed somewhat by the inclusion of Toronto FC, which had just 29 points last year – third-fewest in the league – but is projected for far more than that in 2014 after adding Bradley, DP’s Jermain Defoe and Gilberto and Brazilian national team goalkeeper Julio Cesar this offseason.

In fact, only one of the six teams ahead of RSL in this category – Colorado, which clocks in at fourth in the league at 50.57 – also have Toronto on their schedule in their first seven games. None of the teams ahead of RSL have Chivas USA or D.C. United on tap for their first seven games; Chivas and D.C. were the only teams to finish below Toronto in the standings last year.

All of this means that we’ll need to keep our expectations in check for the start of the season. RSL has a very tough opening schedule, and it’ll be incredibly difficult to get off to a flying start. A tough beginning shouldn’t be much cause for concern however – RSL was 2-3-2 after seven games in 2013, and managed to put in a decent season.