MLS Regular Season
The Claret-and-Cobalt won’t be in action, but the entire Real Salt Lake family will be locked into one MLS match this weekend: Sunday’s Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders contest (7:00 p.m. MT; ESPN).
Sunday’s Cascadia Cup game between the Timbers and the Sounders at JELD-WEN Field holds massive Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference title implications, with the result going a long way toward determining whether or not RSL will have a realistic shot at either crown come Monday morning.
Here’s the short story, RSL fans: Root for a tie – hard.
A draw between Portland and Seattle on Sunday would keep RSL in first-place in the West, ahead of Seattle by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker and up one point on Portland. The Claret-and-Cobalt would remain in second-place in the Supporters’ Shield race, one point behind New York, which is also idle this weekend. RSL, New York, Portland and Seattle will all have two regular season games remaining after this weekend.
A win by either side on Sunday would put RSL in a more precarious position in the Shield and West races. A Seattle victory would put the Sounders in first in both the Shield and Western Conference races, two points ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt, which would drop to second in the West and third in the Shield race. A Portland win would vault the Timbers into first in the West and second in the Supporters’ Shield standings, and would put RSL one point behind the Timbers, in second in the West and third in the battle for the Shield.
Reiterating: A draw between Portland and Seattle would lead to RSL’s clearest past to the Western Conference crown and Supporters’ Shield. A win by either side wouldn’t eliminate RSL from either race, but it would make things significantly tougher for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Do up your favorite knot, tune-in to ESPN, and pull hard for a tie between Portland and Seattle this Sunday.
Real Salt Lake’s Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes got a big boost on Wednesday night, with West rivals Seattle losing to Vancouver, Colorado falling at San Jose and Supporters’ Shield foe Kansas City drawing at Houston to keep the Claret-and-Cobalt in the thick of both races.
Vancouver did RSL a major solid by beating Seattle 4-1, with 18-year-old forward Kekuta Manneh notching a hat trick to help the ‘Caps stun the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The result keeps RSL in first in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which now has only one game in hand on the Claret-and-Cobalt. The Sounders will make up that match on Sunday, when they’ll take on Cascadia rival Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 10, 2013
While San Jose’s win over Colorado prevented RSL from securing a sixth-straight playoff berth on Wednesday night, the result was still pretty good for Jason Kreis and Co. The Rapids loss keeps Colorado – which is four points behind RSL – off of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s back, making the prospect of securing an all-important top-three seed in the West that much easier.
RSL would’ve preferred a Houston win over Kansas City, but Wednesday’s scoreless draw between the two sides at BBVA Compass Stadium isn’t all bad. Hard-charging Sporting is now dead even with RSL, with both sides posting a 15-10-7 record through 32 games.
Here’s how the big picture looks for RSL following Wednesday’s games:
- RSL needs two points from its two remaining matches (i.e., one win or two draws) to clinch a playoff spot. A San Jose loss or tie or a Colorado loss in either of those clubs' two remaining matches would also lock up a playoff berth for the Claret-and-Cobalt. RSL’s next chance to clinch a playoff berth will come on Oct. 19, when a win at Portland would secure a postseason spot for the club.
- With 52 points through 32 games, the Claret-and-Cobalt sits in first-place in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which has a game in hand on the Utah side.
- RSL is tied with Sporting Kansas City for second-place in the Supporters’ Shield standings, one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the top spot. RSL, SKC and New York have all played 32 games, while Seattle and Portland – which are two and three points behind New York, respectively – have both played 31 games.
- Real Salt Lake is tied for third with Kansas City in the points per game standings. New York leads the league with 1.66 points per game, Seattle is in second with 1.65 and RSL and SKC are in third with 1.63.
- Pending results in Sunday’s Portland-Seattle contest and LA’s home game against Montreal on Oct. 16, RSL could potentially clinch a top-two seed in the West with a win at Portland on Oct. 19.
It’s setting up to be a wild last month. Buckle up.
MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle broke down the modern attacking midfielder in his latest "Between the Lines" piece, putting special focus on Real Salt Lake's brand of soccer and how it opens things up for midfielders to make a difference in the attacking third.
Doyle's piece is definitely worth a watch. Check it out above.
The team isn’t playing, but Wednesday night is going to be huge for Real Salt Lake.
Two games with massive implications for the Claret-and-Cobalt will take place tomorrow night, with Seattle hosting Vancouver at CenturyLink Field (8:00 p.m. MT; MLS Live) and San Jose hosting Colorado at Buck Shaw Stadium (8:30 p.m. MT; MLS Live).
RSL could clinch a postseason berth pending the result of the San Jose-Colorado match, with a Rapids win or tie in the Bay Area securing the Claret-and-Cobalt’s sixth-straight MLS Cup Playoff appearance. Of course, a result for the Rapids would pull Colorado closer to RSL in the Western Conference standings. With the Rapids just four points back of the Claret-and-Cobalt at the moment, that might not be the best thing.
As several pointed out on Twitter, this whole situation has led to a bit of internal conflict for some of us here in the office.
@RealSaltLake But a San Jose win would put your chief rival one step closer to losing out on a playoff berth. The enemy of your enemy...
— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) October 8, 2013
@robertjonas Well now we're conflicted.
— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) October 8, 2013
Moving past the Quakes-Rapids contest – and our minor existential crisis – the Seattle-Vancouver matchup is oozing with Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield implications. There’s no dilemma here: RSL fans will be rooting for the ‘Caps to pull the upset in this Cascadia clash.
Seattle is currently one point behind RSL for the West lead and two points behind the New York Red Bulls in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield. The Sounders have two games in hand on both the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York, meaning that Seattle will need to drop a result or two down the stretch for RSL to have a shot at the West crown and the Supporters’ Shield. No better time for that than tomorrow, when the Sounders will be without U.S. internationals Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson against a Vancouver side fighting tooth-and-nail for its playoff life.
Real Salt Lake was able to earn a hard-fought point on Saturday, drawing FC Dallas 1-1 despite going down a man in the 17th minute.
Here are some interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Rio Tinto Stadium was sold-out on Saturday night, with 20,488 fans filling the RioT to capacity for the seventh time this season. The sellout was the third consecutive full house at the Sandy facility.
With Saturday’s draw, Real Salt Lake maintains the lead in the Western Conference with a total of 52 points, one point ahead of second-place Seattle Sounders FC.
The Claret-and-Cobalt remains competitive in the Supporters’ Shield race, currently sitting in second-place, one point behind the league-leading New York Red Bulls.
Real Salt Lake is currently looking to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the sixth-straight year. The Claret-and-Cobalt could clinch its berth in the postseason before it plays its next game on Oct. 19 at Portland, as a San Jose loss or tie against Colorado on Wednesday would put RSL in the playoffs.
Should San Jose beat Colorado on Wednesday, RSL would clinch a postseason berth with a win at Portland on Oct. 19. The Claret-and-Cobalt would effectively clinch a spot in the postseason with a tie at Portland through tiebreakers held over San Jose.
A sixth-consecutive postseason qualification which would tie RSL for the second longest such streak in MLS history with the New York Red Bulls (Six years; 2003-2008), trailing only the New England Revolution (Eight years; 2002-2009). RSL’s current streak of five consecutive MLS Cup Playoff berths is the longest active run of postseason qualification in the league.
RSL was shown its sixth red card of the season on Saturday, when defender Abdoulie Mansally was ejected in the 17th minute for a late tackle on Dallas’ Jackson. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 1-2-3 in the six league games it’s gotten a red card in this year.
Forward Alvaro Saborio scored his 11th goal of the 2013 season in the 60th minute, working his way around three defenders to strike a half-volley inside the left post from 12 yards out. Despite playing in just 14 league games, Saborio is now in a three-way tie for fifth place in the MLS Budweiser Golden Boot standings.
In the 2013 MLS regular season, Real Salt Lake has a 9-2-4 record at home. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 73-31-38 all-time at home.
Saturday's match against FC Dallas pits a team desperate for a win and a chance at making the playoffs, the Texas side, and a team with one last chance to push for a chance at the Supporters' Shield, the Utah side. The difference becomes rather moot: Both are going to be fighting tooth and nail for a chance.
Jason Kreis told reporters after Tuesday's loss that he had to consider recent results when concocting the group that will take us into the playoffs. That won't be an easy task. Some have been very, very good; others have been poor at best. But when some of those excellent players are young and inconsistent, and some of those poor players are veterans and generally more consistent than not, you've got to wonder if the world has simply gone topsy-turvy for a month.
But it remains the case that we have a deep squad, and we have little reason to not use it now. We may as well throw all of the noodles at the wall to see what sticks, and Jason Kreis undoubtedly recognizes that. So who might he play on Saturday?
Chris Schuler will certainly get another run out, and maybe he'll be partnered by Brandon McDonald again. Both players showed well a week ago, and the calm with which they steadied the back line was admirable. Abdoulie Mansally might get a run on the left, and Lovel Palmer might get a run on the right. (I'd wager one or the other and not both.) Robbie Findley might be back in contention after a knee problem seemed to have kept him out of Tuesday. Finally, Luis Gil will almost assuredly be back in the lineup after having an emergency appendectomy on Sunday. (I mean, really — can't these kids keep their appendixes (appendices?) under control for a day?)
Speed demons, and how to slay them
The immediate options are thus: 1) Run an offside trap, or 2) Play a deeper defensive line to halt opportunities.
If we're playing a less experienced defensive setup, the offside trap seems an unwise gambit. A deeper defensive line, though, would create greater gaps between the defense and the midfield, which brings with it its own set of tactical issues.
But at this point in the season, the only direction in which we can really travel is upward, and only if we string together a great run of results. Our playoff spot is very nearly secured, and a proactive approach is necessary if we're to aim for a Supporters' Shield surprise.
It's a risky thing, but when you need a win, you really have to play for a win, consequences be damned. Let's move the defenders forward, be prepared for Dallas to break with pace, and let the match be its inevitably open self.
MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas put together an informative breakdown of Devon Sandoval's goal in RSL's 1-0 win at Vancouver last Saturday, analyzing the solid plays from Sandoval, fellow forward Olmes Garcia and defenders Brandon McDonald and Lovel Palmer that led to the strike in his "Anatomy of a Goal" series.
The video is well worth a watch, even if Greg mistakenly identifies RSL's Inigo Montoya as the character V from the film V for Vendetta. Check it out above.
Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back on Saturday from Tuesday’s crushing 1-0 defeat to D.C. United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, hosting Western Conference foe FC Dallas at 7:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes on the line
Real Salt Lake is currently in the thick of the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races, one point behind New York in the battle for the Shield and in first in the West by virtue of holding the goals scored tiebreaker over Seattle.
With Seattle holding two games in hand on both the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York, Saturday’s game is vitally important for Real Salt Lake to keep pace in the chase for the Shield and the West. A win over Dallas would keep RSL in first in the West and potentially vault the team past New York, which hosts New England on Saturday. A loss or a tie and the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference title become increasingly unlikely for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
One factor working in RSL’s favor: Seattle could lose key players Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans to the U.S. national team for the Sounders’ Oct. 9 game against Vancouver and Oct. 13 clash at Portland.
Dallas enters Saturday’s match with its playoff hopes hanging by a thread. FCD is currently in eighth-place in the West, five points behind Colorado for the fifth and final playoff spot. The Texas side has just four games remaining in the regular season and will likely need to win at least three of them to have any hope of qualifying for the postseason.
Make no mistake about it: RSL will be facing a desperate Dallas side on Saturday. Expect a lot of scratching and clawing from the Hoops.
RSL magician Javier Morales and Dallas playmaker David Ferreira have both had a good deal of success against each other’s side, with Morales scoring three goals and notching six assists in 10 career regular season games against Dallas and Ferreira registering two goals and three assists in seven career regular season games against the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Kreis matches up against former side
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis spent nine seasons playing in Dallas, scoring 91 goals for the then Dallas Burn from 1996-2004. Kreis – who is still FCD’s all-time leading scorer – is 7-8-3 in all competitions when coaching against Dallas.
Real Salt Lake picked up a huge road win on Saturday, getting a ninth minute goal from forward Devon Sandoval and keeping the clean sheet to beat Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0 at BC Place.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saturday’s win gives Real Salt Lake 51 points and 15 wins on the season, making the Claret-and-Cobalt the first team in MLS’s post-shootout era to reach the 50-point and 15-win plateaus in four consecutive seasons.
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis ran out a bit of a makeshift lineup on Saturday night, making 10 changes to the team that lost 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 21. Sandoval was the only player to start both matches, with Kreis electing to rest most of his regulars with an eye on Tuesday’s all-important U.S. Open Cup Final against D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler went the full 90 on Saturday night, putting in a strong shift alongside Brandon McDonald in the center of RSL’s back line. It was the first appearance of any kind for Schuler in 140 days – the fourth-year defender last played on May 11, missing the next four months due to injuries.
Saturday’s victory was Real Salt Lake’s first-ever win at Vancouver and second-ever win in Canada. RSL has now won two straight games north of the border after never having won in Canada until beating Toronto FC 1-0 at BMO Field on June 29.
Saturday’s result moves Real Salt Lake’s road record to 6-7-3 this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s 21 away points and +1 road goal differential are tied for tops in the league with Sporting Kansas City. RSL has one more road match – at Portland on Oct. 19 – to surpass the club record of 22 away points set last year.
Real Salt Lake faces Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday with a bit of a quandary on their hands: Play a weakened side and risk a loss, or play a strong side and risk losing the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday?
Return to approach
The first and perhaps foremost thing Real Salt Lake must focus on for Saturday's match is returning to the approach that's brought them so much joy through the season. Too often, they've set out to do something, but, after finding themselves down a goal, looked to force the occasion. It's not what they train week-in, week-out to do, and as a result, they're not particularly good at it.
So at the top of Jason Kreis's list will be convincing his side that, if the going gets tough, they must continue to attack in sane, non-panicky ways: Keep the ball on the ground, build connective play, and work as a unit. The individualistic approaches showcased last weekend was not the solution to our ills, and though they might be natural and somewhat sane reactions to the compact defense we saw, they were ineffective.
The necessity of rotation
This is no time in the season to be rotating, but we've found ourselves in a situation where it's necessary. That's a good thing, as the impetus is the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday (ahem, buy tickets, et cetera), which, we'll all agree, is a good thing to have happen. And it's at home, which is even better, as you won't be able to watch it otherwise. But with Saturday on the road, a two-games-in-three-day stretch might be too much to ask of even the most seasoned of players.
Should we lose Saturday, we're in a precarious position for the playoffs. Should we lose Tuesday, we'll have missed another chance at a trophy. Obviously enough, the goal is to lose at neither asking, but the approach required is difficult. We can't put too many of those likely to start Tuesday out there on Saturday — or indeed, even on the plane today — lest we risk tiring them out prematurely.
So a much-changed lineup is inevitable. Balancing those players who might be able to play in both matches with those who might be on the bench is a difficult task. But sending Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales? I wouldn't count on that. Those players are ostensibly the core of our soccer identity, but we'll need to rely on our much-vaunted depth to make it through this difficult stretch.
It's a funny thing when a future match dictates a match immediately at hand, but that's the nature of playing for trophies. It's difficult, it's arduous, and it comes bundled with a great deal of risk. But if we want to stand a fighting chance to continue in both, it will take some real work.
Briefly, a slew of young players will likely see the pitch on Saturday. Sebastian Velasquez can be expected to play at the top of the diamond, where he's continually impressed for the reserves. Yordany Alvarez should be at the base of the diamond, and his strong passing and breakup play will be strongly needed against this Whitecaps side hunting for a playoff spot. Brandon McDonald could be called into action for the first time since the 3-3 draw against Portland (particularly as he's cup-tied and can't play Tuesday).
It'll be a mixed lineup, no doubt, but one imminently capable of putting a two-game losing streak behind this side. It's all about depth, isn't it?