MLS Regular Season
I've got some bad news for you, Real Salt Lake fans: Your team doesn't play a Wednesday night fixture tonight. Nor do they play this weekend, or next Wednesday. No, RSL doesn't take the pitch again until next Friday, 10 long days away. For whatever reason, MLS decided to give the Claret-and-Cobalt a break for the upcoming international dates while the rest of MLS plays on. Now I don't like the lack of RSL games either, but as we shall see later, if you're going to have a weeklong break, this is the time for it.
So what's a Real fan to do with no game to watch for the next week? Well, there are plenty of great World Cup qualifiers going on around the world, including those featuring RSL men Abdoulie Mansally (The Gambia), Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica), Nick Rimando (USA), and Kyle Beckerman (USA). Thanks to this break in the schedule, none of these players are going to miss any club matches due to international duty. But there are plenty of MLS clubs that do have games, and many of these games will affect the Supporter's Shield and playoff races that RSL is right in the thick of. So I would suggest that there are still matches worth watching and/or following, and I've got your guide to the ones that most impact RSL below:
Chivas USA at Seattle Sounders (Wednesday 9/4, 8:00 MT, MLS Live)
The Sounders are eight points behind RSL, but thanks to scheduling quirks they have played four fewer games than Salt Lake. That means they have 12 points worth of games in hand, which means any points they drop as they play those extra games would be very helpful to Real's Supporters’ Shield chances. That starts tonight as Chivas USA visits. You may be tempted to think this is a guaranteed three points for the Sounders, but not so fast: They are missing both starting strikers (Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson) to international duty, and midfield stalwart Brad Evans is injured. On top of that, the Goats are playing some decent soccer at the moment, and their striker Erick Torres is one of the hottest players in the league right now. They could snatch a point against a depleted Sounders side.
Chicago Fire at Seattle Sounders (Saturday 9/7, 8:00 MT, NBC Sports Network)
Here we have another Seattle game that may be tougher than you might think. Those internationals will still be away for Seattle while the Fire are unaffected. Mike Magee has scored goals aplenty for Chicago, and Seattle will be playing on three days’ rest. Tune in to see if all those factors conspire to work against the Sounders.
Colorado Rapids at LA Galaxy (Saturday 9/7, 8:30 MT, MLS Live)
The Galaxy are the hottest team in MLS along with RSL, and currently RSL's greatest Supporters’ Shield threat. It would help Real greatly if somebody could slow them down a bit and Colorado has first crack at it. Like Seattle, LA is missing some key pieces due to international duty; Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, and Landon Donovan will all miss this one. When Donovan missed games earlier in the year, the rest of the Galaxy struggled to score goals and win games. And with Colorado fighting for their playoff lives in the midst of a brutal schedule, the outcome here is definitely not a given.
New York Red Bulls at Houston Dynamo (Sunday 9/8, 3:00 MT, UniMas)
New York sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, but their chances of overtaking Montreal took a hit this week as they learned that midfield wizard Tim Cahill will miss several weeks due to injury. This week they take on the Jekyll-and-Hyde Dynamo, who seem to alternate between jaw-dropping and cringe-worthy soccer each week. Regardless, it's never easy to play in Houston, and it would help RSL if the Dynamo could send New York home with nothing.
Montreal Impact at New England Revolution (Sunday 9/8, 5:30 MT, MLS Live)
Montreal is currently RSL's greatest threat in the East, but they recently got some bad injury news of their own. New Designated Player Hernan Bernardello is out for multiple weeks with an ankle injury which will make it harder for Marco Di Vaio and company to score. In this fixture they travel to take on the upstart Revs who are clinging to the final playoff spot in the East. New England knows three points at home are a must, so look for them to try to keep the Impact on the back foot all night.
So there you have it - even with no Real Salt Lake, there's plenty going on that will be of interest to RSL fans. The Supporters’ Shield race is still murky but it will get much clearer over the next week, so tune in and see how it all unfolds.
We’re a little bit notorious around the league for railing about RSL’s lack of national TV games.
One of our favorite topics, the Claret-and-Cobalt’s dearth of nationally broadcast matches – the team has just three this regular season – was brought to the forefront again last week when Portland came to town for RSL’s only home national TV game of 2013.
Players and coaches were asked about the lack of national exposure for RSL in the build up to Friday’s game, with defender Nat Borchers giving the money quote, calling it a “joke” that the Claret-and-Cobalt isn’t on national TV more.
Of course, RSL put on quite the show for the NBC Sports Network on Friday, slamming the Timbers 4-2 in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd of 20,252 at Rio Tinto Stadium. It was a great spectacle for the league – and a great advertisement to put RSL on the national airwaves more often.
Unsurprisingly, observers around the country picked up on the high quality on the field and in the stands from Friday’s match, with some now calling for RSL to be put on national TV more.
Best Soccer Show host Jared DuBois – give him a follow @jrodius – had plenty to say on the subject on Tuesday’s edition of ESPN 700’s OnFrame, going on for about four minutes when asked about the subject. Part of his quote is below – click here to listen to Jared’s entire interview.
“I think when we talk about viewership and tuning in and ratings and everything like that, we need to get out of just the numbers aspect and start looking at the quality aspect,” he said. “What do you actually gain when you have a Chicago vs. Colorado match on national TV? Not much. I’m sorry, but not much. I’d much rather see the quality teams than the big market teams. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m naïve, I don’t work in that industry, but from a peripheral view this is a fan telling you I don’t even tune in if it’s not a quality product on the field. You guys have that at RSL, and you guys have every reason to be aggrieved by [the lack of national TV games]. I’ll be honest with you, watching that Portland game last week, RSL-Portland, I’m watching that game and RSL has a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got something to prove, not just to the other teams in the league, but to the league itself. They said, ‘Listen, put us on.’ That result I saw was Eddie Johnson saying pay me. It’s RSL’s team saying ‘Pay me, put us on TV and this is what you get.’”
We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves. Time to pay up.
RSL will be on national TV once more this regular season, taking on the Seattle Sounders on NBC Sports Network at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 13.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis made a very interesting comment toward the end of his press conference following the team's 4-2 home win over the Portland Timbers on Friday.
Asked by RSL Perspective's Denzel Eslinger what he credited the team's seemingly changed, more easy going attitude to, Kreis said that he thought this edition of the Claret-and-Cobalt is "tighter than any team I’ve ever been a part of, any I’ve ever been a part of, playing or coaching. They're fantastically together."
Check out the 5:50 mark of the above video to see Kreis's full response.
Real Salt Lake again proved their offensive prowess on Friday, getting four goals to down the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Friday’s match:
Friday’s 4-2 win and the team’s 4-0 win over Columbus on Aug. 24 mark the first time in RSL history that the team has scored four or more goals in consecutive regular season matches. The Claret-and-Cobalt has now scored a total of 11 goals in its last three matches, with seven of those goals coming against a usually-stingy Portland side.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio scored his tenth goal during MLS play on Friday – only his thirteenth appearance of the season. Saborio’s 0.83 goals per 90 minutes is tops in MLS among players with more than eight games played.
The Real Salt Lake fan base flexed its muscles once more on Friday, with the capacity crowd of 20,252 marking the fifth sellout at Rio Tinto Stadium this year.
By scoring on Friday, RSL midfielder Luis Gil became the sixth Claret-and-Cobalt player to reach the five goal plateau this year. Gil joins Saborio, midfielder Javier Morales, midfielder Ned Grabavoy, forward Robbie Findley and forward Olmes Garcia as the six RSL players who have found the back of the net five or more times during MLS play. RSL only had two players hit the five goal mark in 2012.
Friday’s win marked the club’s 14th victory of the season, most in the league. Real Salt Lake is now one win away from reaching the 15-win, 50-point plateau for a fourth-consecutive year, something that’s never been done in league history. The Utah side is in good position to also set a new franchise record for wins in a season – the record is seventeen, held by the 2012 team.
With his bicycle kick goal past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts on Friday, Morales tied his career-high with seven goals on the season. Morales’ seven goals are good for second on the team – he leads RSL with ten assists in MLS play.
Real Salt Lake’s four goals in Friday’s match increased its league-leading goal total to 52 goals during the 2013 season. The L.A. Galaxy are a distant second, having scored 43 goals on the season.
Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata notched two assists on Friday, giving him a total of eight assists in MLS play, good for fifth in the league. The 21-year-old Ecuadorian finds himself on the assist leaderboard despite only starting in 16 of the club’s 28 games.
It seems like only yesterday that we faced Portland Timbers, and indeed, it sort of was. Or last week, but that's somewhat like yesterday.
Timbers have assumed relatively the same approach match-by-match, and that they do is a testament to Caleb Porter's belief in tactical consistency. By and large, that's a belief shared by Jason Kreis, who has been one of the most consistent coaches in MLS in recent memory. But Jason Kreis has this season showed a newfound tactical flexibility without sacrificing that belief, and he's changed the shape with relative frequency. The beauty, though, is that no matter how he's changed the shape, the approach and philosophy has remained the same.
With that in mind, Jason Kreis could deploy his side with a different shape to make more difficult the jobs of Porter and crew.
4-2-1-3: Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy; Morales; Plata, Saborio, Findley
Good: In this shape, we'd see Plata and Findley tasked with keeping busy Portland's fullbacks, Harrington and Powell, on the left and the right, respectively. Those two generally are important players, as Porter is well aware of the same thing as Kreis: To succeed in an attacking system with no focus on long ball antics, getting one or even both full backs involved in the attack is essential. By pushing back on those two, a big part of the Portland attack is mitigated.
Bad: We lose something in midfield pressure, leaving Grabavoy and Beckerman to carry more of the pressing weight than they otherwise would. If Portland plays a packed midfield, there's a risk this could get overrun.
4-3-2-1: Rimando, Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Grossman; Gil, Morales; Saborio
Good: Here, we have introduced an additional midfielder to the mix. I've pointed to Cole Grossman as the option, because we have here three midfielders involved in defending. This would mitigate any risk of the midfield being overrun. Gil and Morales would both play in a wider arrangement, and perhaps Grabavoy would step further forward to fill in the gaps. Saborio is left as the sole striker, largely to play the midfield into the attack, which would be essential.
Bad: We lose a wide man in attack, which has been important for us. When we have a striker on the wing, we introduce a more dynamic attacking option that forces the defense to rethink their plans. Against an attacking Portland Timbers side, there should be space there — it would be good for us to take advantage of that.
4-4-2: Rimando, Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Morales; Plata, Findley
Good: Rather than taking the hold-up approach with Saborio, which brings us plenty of joy, we could give him a rest and allow him an opportunity off the bench, leaving Plata and Findley as the starting strikers. Those two would be tasked with both going wide, leaving the center for the midfield to run into — perhaps they'd start in a central position and move wide. It's difficult to say. This would give us plenty of attacking width and would surely be strong in transition.
Bad: Well, we'd lack a player to hold up the ball, which we've done before. If, as I picture it, we push Plata and Findley into wide positions, we'd be found sorely lacking in the middle, too, I'm afraid. In essence, it could end up looking like a poor parody of a strikerless system.
MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek took a look at tonight's RSL-Portland matchup on their always interesting feature, The Scouting Report. Give it a watch above.
Real Salt Lake will take on the Portland Timbers for the third time in 24 days on Friday, when it will host the Cascadia club in a nationally-televised match at 8:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL is unbeaten against Portland this year, beating the Timbers 2-1 in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 7 before scoring a 93rd minute goal to tie 3-3 at Portland on Aug. 21.
Highlights from both of those matches are above. Check them out.
As the MLS season enters the homestretch, it's time to start thinking about end-of-season awards. Much of the soccer media has been talking about this pretty much since the beginning, but the discussion is largely academic until the end is in sight. To Real Salt Lake fans, one of the most compelling awards this year is Coach of the Year, given that Jason Kreis is probably among the few in serious consideration. Kreis' resume in 2013 is impressive - top of the league table, U.S. Open Cup finalist, and most goals scored in franchise history, just to name a few. RSL's play this season has many talking about this possibly being the best RSL team ever, despite trading away three All-Stars in the offseason. Clearly, this season has shown Kreis' true ability as a head coach.
But what are his chances of actually winning the coveted award? It's an uphill battle for recognition for coaches in small markets like Salt Lake, but what Kreis has done this year can't be ignored by even the biggest-market pundits. Now, before we can answer the question, let's take a brief look at the other coaches who I think should be finalists for Coach of the Year.
Marco Schallibaum - Montreal Impact
Some foreign coaches have trouble adapting to the nuances of life in MLS and never really get the hang of it. Marco Schallibaum is not one of those coaches. This is Schallibaum's first season in MLS after a long career coaching around Europe, and he has wasted no time making Montreal one of the league's elite teams. A largely-overlooked squad with a largely-overlooked roster, Montreal is now best in the league in points per game (1.71). They will likely finish No. 1 in the Eastern Conference playoff race, while just a year ago they were seventh. Credit goes to Schallibaum for the renaissance of Marco Di Vaio and for getting Montreal playing as a true team.
Oscar Pareja - Colorado Rapids
As lovers of RSL it's hard to admit it when the Rapids do something well, but Oscar Pareja was a great hire. After a seventh-place finish in the Western Conference last year, Pareja gambled big by trading away both his starting strikers Omar Cummings and Conor Casey. What he got was a more balanced team that's now in the thick of the Supporter's Shield race. He's getting out-of-this-world play from his bench (goalkeeper Clint Irwin, anyone?), and had maybe the best 2013 draft class of anyone. What team wouldn't want Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers right now? Like Jason Kreis, Pareja got it done during the offseason and is continuing to do so on the sidelines this regular season.
Caleb Porter - Portland Timbers
Caleb Porter is another rookie MLS coach who has made an immediate and unmistakeably positive difference to his squad. The Timbers were one of the worst teams in MLS in 2012, and just a year later they are one of the best. Porter came in from the college ranks with Akron and immediate pushed Portland into a possession style of play similar to the one Real Salt Lake plays. Ever a student of the game, Porter has become one of the better tacticians in the league, but perhaps his greatest accomplishment to date is getting the locker room to believe. Oh, and the offseason acquisitions of guys like Will Johnson and Diego Valeri weren't too bad either.
So is Jason Kreis going to win Coach of the Year when up against these three? It may come down to hardware. If RSL is able to win the Open Cup, that may vault him into the lead. If he can also win the Supporter's Shield, I would say he is pretty much a lock. Winning two major trophies with so many new faces, and doing it in a year that many thought would see RSL struggle, would be unprecedented and cement Kreis' legacy as one of the best to ever coach in this league.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez recently participated in an education related PSA for Voices for Utah Children, an organization that advocates for the well-being of children throughout the Beehive State.
Velasquez's PSA deals specifically with school attendance. Give it a watch above and look for it on TV.
The latest video in the Soccer Smarts with Professor Leo series takes a look at Real Salt Lake's forwards. Give it a watch above to learn a little bit about each of the Claret-and-Cobalt's striking group of attackers.=