MLS Regular Season
Real Salt Lake took down Seattle 2-1 on Saturday, scoring two goals from set pieces and looking rather like the well-oiled machine that seemed absent through most of 2012. It's hard not to focus on those two goals, because they're indicative of something the squad's been missing for some time.
It's just as Alexi Lalas says: "Set pieces." I'm sure there's more to that statement, and it probably relates to what we saw on Saturday. Luis Gil scored from a corner, and Robbie Findley scored from a throw-in. The nature of their goals being as different as they were — one a well-planned attack that caught a defense ball-watching, the other a quick finish that came from awareness up front — it's easy to see how important set piece planning can be.
If there's been a major criticism of Real Salt Lake in attack this year — and perhaps longer than that — it's been a lack of threat from set pieces. Saturday changed that, but it came from a shift in mentality. The first goal saw Tony Beltran thrust a ball into the mix from a throw-in, and the strength of Devon Sandoval kept Seattle from making an easy clearance. Robbie Findley's awareness paid dividends, and not a moment too soon, as he was taken off injured hardly minutes later.
For the second goal, rather than sending a corner straight into the center of the Seattle box, where they were well covered, a touchline-searing ball from Velasquez to Grabavoy set up Luis Gil for a strong header to the far post. Too often, defenses can crowd Real Salt Lake in the middle of the box, but creative play and danger from multiple areas will give defenses pause for thought.
It's perhaps no surprise that Jason Kreis confirmed that more time was spent on set pieces than in the past. When it becomes less about power and strength (particularly with the departure of Jamison Olave) and more about finesse, Real Salt Lake, with its array of short midfielders, will be a natural benefactor.
It's difficult to say what the proper tactical approach would have been in the second half, but with Seattle putting RSL on the back foot for the first 15 minutes of the second half, Abdoulie Mansally and Tony Beltran tucked in to cover runs from attacking midfielders. On the conceded goal scored by Brad Evans, the defense had become so narrow as to allow Seattle right back DeAndre Yedlin all the time in the world to cross, and as such, a goal was scored.
The return of Javier Morales and the rise of Sebastian Velasquez
Javier Morales looked closer to the Javi of bygone days than he has in some time. Claims that he's a slow, old player are overblown: The breakaway, on which he should have been awarded a penalty kick after being hauled down by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, showed that.
Whether it was planned that Luis Gil would come off for Morales or not, there was something incredible about seeing the playmaker-in-chief lining up with the talented Sebastian Velasquez for 30 minutes. Whether that continues depends on how Luis Gil fares in training sessions, but it seems Kreis has every reason to be impressed with the rat-tailed kid. He's been one of RSL's best players in the early days of the season, and his hard work is a sure factor in that.
Real Salt Lake picked up its first home win of the season on Saturday night, beating Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders FC 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
20,359 RSL fans packed a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium to the rafters on Saturday night. Saturday’s game was RSL’s eighth-straight non-playoff sell-out and seventh-straight MLS regular season sell-out.
The number of days between RSL goals for forward Robbie Findley, who opened the scoring for the Claret-and-Cobalt in the eighth minute on Saturday night. Findley’s last RSL goal came on Nov. 6, 2010 in the Western Conference Semifinals second leg against FC Dallas. The 27-year-old speedster left RSL after that match, spending 2011 and 2012 with English Championship side Nottingham Forest before rejoining RSL this offseason.
Findley’s last regular season goal for RSL came 973 days ago on Aug. 7, 2010 at Kansas City.
Findley’s goal broke Real Salt Lake’s 408-minute scoreless streak against Seattle. The Claret-and-Cobalt hadn’t scored in its previous four matches against Sounders FC, last scoring against the Cascadia club in the 50th minute of its 1-0 win at Seattle on May 12 of last year.
RSL midfielder Javier Morales entered Saturday’s match in the 62nd minute to make his 2013 season debut. Morales – who entered the game to a raucous standing ovation from the RSL faithful – had missed the Claret-and-Cobalt’s first four matches while recovering from preseason knee surgery.
Real Salt Lake outshot Seattle 25-8 on Saturday night. The total was RSL’s highest mark of the season and vaulted the Claret-and-Cobalt from seventh in the league in total shots to third.
CCL-bound Seattle Sounders FC is in town (7:00 p.m. on Saturday; CW30), and once again, the nascent rivalry looks set to continue its growth. Managing the match presents a tricky puzzle — how will Jason Kreis adapt his squad to the challenge?
Reintegrating full-back width
Working the international players back into the side will be an undoubtedly easy endeavor: Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando each step in for their backup counterparts, and the roles don't change significantly.
Abdoulie Mansally should step in at left back, and he does present something different and perhaps important. Along with Beltran, Mansally certainly gets up the pitch — we could talk about attack all we wanted — but as important as that is the ability to win the ball in the midfield on the flank, squashing attacks early. Certainly there's a risk in pushing both of your full backs up the pitch: Expect one of Beltran and Mansally to drop back while the other goes forward. It allows the defense to adapt more easily to threats.
Javier Morales is back! Well, maybe. Jason Kreis has indicated that Real Salt Lake's playmaker-in-chief could be set for an appearance, and whether this is off the bench or a start depends on highly on his fitness levels. Kreis — as most reasonable managers would — won't start Morales if there's a chance he'll have to take him off for fitness issues. It rather forces the hand of the coach, and when things may be going well, that's a tough thing to take.
Regardless, should Javier get in, it means a significant shift in the midfield. The sort-of-wide midfielders in the lineup and the central playmaker have been playing a relatively flat line, with the attacking midfielder — Luis Gil, say — dropping a little more than Morales, and with the wide midfielders — Grabavoy and Velasquez, perhaps — pushing up a little further. Morales would certainly play centrally, but he'd get the normal latitude to move in other attacking areas. The rotation among the midfielders would serve him well.
As a starter, Morales generally presents an opportunity to assert himself on the match early; as a substitute, he presents a spark and a chance to find joy late in the match. He'd be very unlikely to go 90 minutes, so either option will be working its away around Kreis's head.
Seattle and CCL
Remember when Real Salt Lake was in the CONCACAF Champions League? Yeah, so do I. Seattle Sounders are, and good for them, I suppose. They've got Santos Laguna on Tuesday and could well put out a weakened lineup in preparation for one of the bigger matches in their history. While jealousy does sometimes get the better of me, I suppose it's hard to fault them. It might give us a better chance at a win — but as we've seen before, young, eager guys can sometimes get the better of a more experienced side.
Coming off the back of a rough patch, RSL will need to be ready for Seattle to fling essentially everything at them; if they do roll out a young side, there'll be no huge expectation of winning, and those circumstances are notoriously difficult to manage.
Pumped yet for Saturday's grudge match between Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC?
You will be once you watch this great video from RSL videographer Nick Lamping, a.k.a. the greatest hype man since Puff Daddy.
Real Salt Lake offseason acquisition Olmes Garcia made his Claret-and-Cobalt debut on Saturday night, coming on with the score 1-0 in the 77th minute of RSL's 2-0 loss at FC Dallas.
The 20-year-old Colombian had an exciting debut, nearly equalizing with the first touch of his MLS career. Video of the chance - a diving header that clanged off the near post - is above.
Real Salt Lake's struggles in Texas continued on Saturday with a 2-0 loss at FC Dallas, but it was hardly the state that was their downfall: Rather, it was the state of the squad, and naturally, the state of the attack.
Ringing in the changes
With a bit of surprise, Real Salt Lake didn't have many issues that occurred directly as a result of the changes in lineup. None of the individual pieces were particularly woeful, and indeed, most showed reasonably well for themselves. That is, of course, not to say that their first-choice counterparts wouldn't have been better options — particularly when it came to overall creativity.
Ned Grabavoy led the attack in the midfield, grabbing four key passes; Yordany Alvarez was largely effective as a defensive midfielder despite his late red card, leading the team in passing (56/66) and generally breaking up play. Both goals came from other areas of the pitch — one a long ball over the top, the other a long ball sent wide — leaving Alvarez relatively blameless, excepting his dismissal that made a comeback more difficult for Real Salt Lake.
Of the players who stepped in from the start without having seen action this season, Cole Grossman looked acceptable in the midfield, Nat Borchers looked magnificent in defense, and Josh Saunders, barring his big error, was a solid goalkeeper.
Speed without strength
Jason Kreis opted for a speedier front line than Real Salt Lake has seen in some time, and the acceleration of Joao Plata combined with the top speed of Robbie Findley created some interesting opportunities in front of goal. Indeed, it was Plata's quickness that created the first RSL shot of the match as he burst past a line of defenders. Still, without the hold-up play of Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake lacked an efficient out when pressured, and this led to some dangerous moments in which FC Dallas looked likely to score.
It hammers home an important point: Alvaro Saborio is an important part of the tactical makeup of Real Salt Lake — or at least a player who can hold the ball in congested areas, deflecting attention from other areas of the pitch. With two speedy strikers and a relatively compact midfield sticking further back on the pitch, the defending side can place effective pressure on the midfield without having to cover forwards with multiple players. How many times have we seen Saborio with three players at his heels, only for him to make a pass back to an open midfield? It's illustrative of his influence, and when it's not there, Real Salt Lake quite naturally struggles in attack.
If there's one thing to be said about this Real Salt Lake side early on, it's that when they've conceded, they've had a response. Once again, after conceding a goal, RSL out-passed (77/97 to 45/61; 27/38 to 10/17 in the attacking half) their opponents. But with this late pressure, RSL's efforts backfired a bit, as they conceded another goal, and though the manner of it was hardly a tactical flaw, the three other shots FC Dallas took were not. Should this mentality continue, dividends will certainly be paid. Of greater concern should be the situations in which they concede.
A makeshift Real Salt Lake lineup couldn’t quite get a result at FC Dallas on Saturday night, conceding twice in the final 20 minutes to fall 2-0 to FCD.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Saturday’s result moved RSL to 0-19-3 in Texas. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 0-11-2 across all competitions at Dallas.
Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers made his first appearance of the season on Saturday night, starting and playing 90 minutes. Borchers had missed RSL’s first three games while rehabbing from offseason quad surgery.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia entered Saturday’s match in the 77th minute. It was the MLS debut for the 20-year-old Garcia, who signed with RSL in February.
Garcia nearly scored a goal with the first touch of his MLS career, snapping a diving header off the near post in the 78th minute.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler had nine interceptions on Saturday night. Schuler leads the league with 38 interceptions this year, 14 more than second-place Aurelien Collin of Sporting Kansas City.
Real Salt Lake will be missing more than a handful of players as they travel to take on FC Dallas. Dealing with absence after absence will be the highest priority on Jason Kreis’s mind — how, exactly, does one go without ten-plus players, anyhow?
Managing expectations and approach
Let’s be clear about things: Real Salt Lake is likely to be missing upwards of 10 players on Saturday. It makes things very difficult. It could well be the case that to fill the seven-man bench, there will be two goalkeepers on there — it’s no certainty, but there should be no surprises if that’s the case.
As such, this match is a very difficult one for Jason Kreis’s crew. Our loyal leader will need to have his side prepared for what could be a tough match. At this early point in the season, the goal should be to avoid a blowout loss, to understand expectations, and to simply work hard on and off the ball. Anything more than that will, I suspect, be a bonus.
Given that Jason Kreis is hardly a madman, even if he is obsessive about winning, it’s hard to see him upset with a loss — excepting perhaps some anger directed at MLS for scheduling a match during World Cup qualifiers.
Coping with changes
Continuity’s a funny thing. We’re not likely to have, well, any. Or at least not much. Of the players who started last match, only a handful are likely to start again: Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Lovel Palmer (albeit on the opposite side), Luis Gil and Robbie Findley. That’s right: Only five players who played one week ago are likely to start. Should Khari Stephenson be deemed start-ready, that number will be boosted to slightly more than half of the starting lineup at six.
Dealing with those changes is going to be difficult, but Kreis should focus his side on playing a more reserved style, wherein they look to control possession with safe, unadventurous passing. It’s not promising to be a pretty match — but should they get pegged back, the physical presence of Devon Sandoval, likely in for Alvaro Saborio, combined with the kinetic potential of Robbie Findley could see RSL playing prototypical “Plan B” football.
Solidifying the defense
Jason Kreis will surely be looking to solidify his defensive line ahead of Saturday’s match, but given the seemingly imminent return of one Nat Borchers (who will undoubtedly take the captain’s armband for the day, should he start), the task may not be so mammoth.
Of course, an untested midfield grouping, owing to the absence of several players, is likely to see that backline tested. With Palmer on the right and Schuler on the left, expecting much attacking thrust from the defensive group is unreasonable; but that may play into RSL’s hands. Indeed, three of the four that started in defense last week are expected to be starting again. I suppose it could be worse.
Real Salt Lake has learned that star forward Alvaro Saborio's injury is not serious and that it shouldn't keep him out of Friday's U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier.
Saborio, who has all three of RSL's goals this year, bruised his knee while training with the Costa Rican national team ahead of Friday's game. Costa Rican media outlet Deportes Repretel reported on Wednesday that Saborio was doubtful to start on Friday's match due to the injury.
Friday's qualifier will kickoff at 8 p.m. MT from Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. and will be broadcast live on ESPN. RSL players Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are in the U.S. squad for the match.
Beltran, Beckerman, Rimando, Saborio and Abdoulie Mansally (Gambia) will all miss Saturday's RSL at FC Dallas match while on international duty. Both the U.S. and Costa Rica will play a second Hexagonal match on March 26, with the Stars-and-Stripes taking on Mexico at Estadio Azteca and Costa Rica hosting Jamaica.
Real Salt Lake hasn’t ever won at FC Dallas, but it does have plenty of ties to the club.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis, Assistants Jeff Cassar and Miles Joseph, General Manager Garth Lagerwey and Color Commentator Brian Dunseth all played in Big D, with Kreis and Lagerwey on the 1997 team that won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the club’s only major trophy to date.
Kreis in particular was very successful in Dallas, scoring 91 goals in 247 appearances for the then-Burn before moving to Real Salt Lake ahead of the 2005 season. Cassar had 33 appearances across two stints in Dallas, Lagerwey had 10 and Joseph and Dunseth both had nine.
Despite his obvious ties to the organization, Kreis indicated after training on Tuesday that the RSL-FC Dallas matchup no longer resonates with him like it used to. He’s clearly all Real Salt Lake, all the time.
RSL will take on FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium at 6:30 p.m. MT on Saturday. The match will be televised on ABC4 and Univision and will be broadcast on the radio on ESPN700 AM and 102.3 La Gran D FM/1600 AM.