MLS Regular Season
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In honor of Real Salt Lake opening its 10th season this Saturday at LA, The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday opened voting on three polls concerning RSL history. Fans can vote on RSL’s all-time starting XI, rank the team’s top-10 moments and rank the top-10 goals in franchise history.
Click here to vote in the polls. The Tribune will post the results in an online presentation ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s March 22 home opener against the Galaxy.
MLSsoccer.com’s Ben Jata published on Tuesday an in-depth study of the league’s 50 most accurate passers in 2013, and – surprise, surprise – Real Salt Lake was very well represented, with five players making the top-30.
Defender Nat Borchers (No. 2), midfielder Ned Grabavoy (No. 3), midfielder Yordany Alvarez (No. 12), midfielder Javier Morales (No. 29) and midfielder Kyle Beckerman (No. 30) all made the list from RSL. Beckerman and Morales both got additional plaudits in the article, with Beckerman getting recognized for leading MLS in passes attempted and successful passes and Morales earning praise for leading the league in passes attempted in the opponents’ half and successful passes in the opponents’ half.
Click here to read the entire piece. It’s an interesting read – definitely worth the time.
Goal.com named Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando its Goalkeeper of the Year on Thursday, giving the honor to RSL’s veteran ‘keeper over Portland’s Donovan Ricketts.
Media voting for the MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Award closes on Friday, with the winner set to be announced early next month.
Ever wonder what it's like to be on a RSL away trip?
Check out the above video - graciously shot by RSL fan Taylor Fugate during the Claret-and-Cobalt's recent trip to Portland - to get a good picture of what life is like on the road for traveling RSL supporters.
Real Salt Lake has been officially eliminated from the Supporters' Shield race.
Sporting Kansas City's Lawrence Olum scored a stoppage time winner to push SKC to a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia earlier Saturday, giving Kansas City 58 points on the season - two more than RSL's total of 56. OIum's goal came just minutes after Union forward Jack McInerney appeared to keep RSL's Shield hopes alive with an equalizer for Philadelphia.
While Real Salt Lake can no longer win the Supporters' Shield, the club can still finish with the top-seed in the West and finish behind only Sporting Kansas City in the East. A Portland loss/draw on Saturday night at Chivas USA would give the Claret-and-Cobalt the West. A New York loss on Sunday against Chicago would put RSL behind only SKC in the East, meaning that the Utah side would host MLS Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium if they qualify and Sporting Kansas City does not. A higher regular season finish would also boost RSL's hopes of qualifying for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League.
Short story, RSL fans: Pull for Chivas USA on Saturday and Chicago on Sunday.