MLS Regular Season
It's no secret what Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey wanted to do this past offseason. In addition to getting younger and creating some salary cap room, RSL’s technical staff needed to find some scoring punch after the club finished the year with zero goals in their final five matches across all competitions. What Kreis, Lagerwey & Co. undertook is no easy task. Bringing in younger and lower-priced players seems to be diametrically opposed to improving offensive output; just consider how much other teams are spending to bring in big-time scorers. So now that we're a considerable distance into the 2013 season, let's take a look at how the focus on more goals has panned out. If you think you've seen opponents' nets move a lot this season, you're right - the evidence suggests the "new" offense is working out very well.
- After being shut out four times in their first nine games across all comps, RSL have now scored in 19 straight games. That's a franchise record.
- With a league-leading 39 goals in 24 MLS matches played, RSL is on pace to score 55 goals this season. That would blow away their previous best by nine goals.
- Five players have scored at least five goals so far in MLS play. RSL has never had more than four players do that in the same season, so that's already a club best. And two more players (Luis Gil, three goals, and Kyle Beckerman, two goals) could end up joining that list.
- RSL currently has a road goal differential of +4 after 12 road games. No other incarnation of RSL can touch that, even that phenomenal 2010 team (+/-0 after 12 road games).
- And keep in mind that RSL is doing this despite trading or waiving 39 percent of the goals scored in 2012.
I don't think anyone - even those wearing the thickest Claret-and-Cobalt-tinted glasses - could have predicted how potent this offense would be in such a short period of time. Most of us thought RSL would struggle to score at first, and they did, but at some point in late April a switch was flipped and Real has been cooking with gas ever since. So what - and who - has been responsible for this offensive onslaught we've been witnessing? Here are a few parties that stand out:
- Alvaro Saborio has been deadly efficient this year. He has nine goals this season but he's played in less than half of RSL's games. He's averaging 1 goal for every 103 minutes played. For reference, in his amazing 2012 season where he finished as the second-leading scorer in the league, he averaged 1 goal for every 141 minutes played.
- Javier Morales is having a career year, already hitting paydirt five times. That's right up there with his best pre-injury years.
- Ned Grabavoy has dramatically upped his scoring by putting in five goals so far this season. He had only scored eight goals in his previous nine MLS seasons.
- Not to be outdone by the resurgent vets, Luis Gil has chipped in three goals this year. In three pro seasons prior to 2013, he had three goals combined.
- Another youngster who has exceeded expectations is Olmes Garcia. During the offseason, word around the team was that Garcia was a long-term project and would likely contribute to the first team a little if at all in 2013. But he's been too good to keep off the field, scoring five goals in just 13 appearances. Last year, playing in Colombia for Deportes Quindio, he scored five goals in 33 appearances. In 2011 he had two goals in 14 appearances.
Clearly this team is rolling when it comes to moving the scoreboard and it doesn't show signs of stopping. RSL has always been the MLS team to follow if you like possession-based soccer, but now it's also the team to watch if you like to see opposing goalkeepers fish the ball out of the net.
Because it's really what was on everybody's minds after the match, let's talk about the formation shift Jason Kreis rolled out and its effectiveness for this team.
To start, it was a fairly European 4-2-1-3 — or as some might term it, a 4-2-3-1 — but whatever way you describe it, there were two deeper midfielders, Ned Grabavoy and Kyle Beckerman; an attacking midfielder sitting essentially in the attacking half, Javier Morales; a central striker, Alvaro Saborio; and two wide players in attacking positions, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata. The difference between the two formational descriptions rests on the roles of Garcia and Plata. Neither played exactly like a traditional winger, nor did they play exclusively like strikers in wide positions. In reality, the formation is somewhere betwixt the two.
Now, this may be because they weren't entirely effective in their positions. Jason Kreis was critical of the two in his post-match press conference, saying of the formation's future for RSL: "…If we’re going to continue forward ... we’ve got to get those players moving more. I don’t like them standing on their outside backs and getting themselves marked." Now, this doesn't necessarily mean either deserve blame for this, as it was a new approach for the squad and one that requires a great deal of understanding for proper execution. It did present some promise.
What, exactly, does the future hold for Real Salt Lake's formational approach? In the short-term, it's hard to see us moving away from the diamond, on which we have built our core. It's an excellent fit for many reasons — from Javier Morales's consistent mobility to the ability of deeper midfielders to impact play with dynamic runs, there's a lot to be positive about. The diamond may not be here long-term — two, three years down the road, say — but it's hard to see a distinct shift now.
Still, the tactical flexibility afforded by the change in approach is indisputable. If we are able to sufficiently gain an understand in another system, and we're able to utilize it effectively in the attack — not just in defense — we'll be better able to counteract the stale defensive outlays teams send out to put a stopper on us. Should we be able to effectively shift to a three-forward setup, we can instantly widen play in a significant way; should we shift back, we could attack down the middle more effectively. Both systems afford defensive width, and both systems allow for quality play in transition, so we don't lose any particular advantage as a result.
Should Real Salt Lake continue down this road? It would seem a good one to at least venture down a little further. We have wide attacking players who can make a significant impact, and we have a collection of midfielders who will fight for every ball and cover as much ground as anyone in the league. It's a good fit — but it has to work in a sustainable, long-term sense. And given we haven't seen it work fully yet, there remain questions aplenty
Real Salt Lake won its second match in four days on Saturday, getting a penalty kick goal from Alvaro Saborio to beat the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saborio’s goal on Saturday was his sixth in four games since returning from international duty ahead of RSL’s July 27 match at New York. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading scorer, Saborio now has nine goals and two assists in 11 league games and 11 goals and four assists in 13 games across all competitions this year. Saborio’s nine league goals are tied for fifth in MLS; the four players with more goals than him have played between nine and 13 more league games than he has. The Costa Rican international leads the league amongst players with more than one strike with 0.88 goals per 90 minutes. He is now 15-for-16 on penalty kicks in all competitions with RSL and has scored on nine of his 15 shots on goal this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 34-6-8 in all comps when Saborio scores.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis departed from his usual diamond 4-4-2 formation on Saturday, starting the match in a 4-2-1-3 setup with Saborio, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata playing up top. It was only the third time this year that Kreis began a match in a formation other than the diamond 4-4-2. RSL is a perfect 3-0-0 in those matches, beating Toronto 1-0 on June 29 and dominating Dallas 3-0 on July 13.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned the 106th clean sheet of his sterling MLS career on Saturday. The veteran ‘keeper – who has seven shutouts this year – is now only six clean sheets shy of Kevin Hartman’s all-time MLS shutout record.
With Saturday’s win, Real Salt Lake moved to 3-1-1 this year in the final matches of three-game in eight day stretches. Real Salt Lake will play three games in eight days two more times during the season – once beginning with the Aug. 17 match against the LA Galaxy, and again in late September to early October.
Six players age 25 or younger saw the field for the Claret-and-Cobalt on Saturday. Four of the six – forward Olmes Garcia (20), forward Joao Plata (21), midfielder Luis Gil (19) and defender Carlos Salcedo (19) – are 21 or younger.
Real Salt Lake has zero losses when outside backs Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert start together, as well as zero losses in games in which defender Carlos Salcedo appears. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 10-0-1 across all competitions when both Beltran and Wingert start and 9-0-2 in all comps when Salcedo plays.
RSL is in sole possession of first-place in MLS in points, points per game, wins, goals scored, goals per game, goal differential, road goals and road goal differential.
MLSsoccer.com’s John Bolster had an interesting bit on Real Salt Lake in his weekly Monday Postgame column, asking if the Claret-and-Cobalt’s star players have outstripped the club’s “Team is the Star” mantra.
Check out his take on RSL below. Click here for the full column.
"They’ve had a saying during the past few years at Real Salt Lake: The Team is the Star. It’s a motto that’s both reflected and sustained the club’s style and formula for success.
But one look at the lineup RSL put out against Houston on Saturday night – with US internationals Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Kyle Beckerman, crafty playmaker Javier Morales, dangerous speedsters Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia, and consistent goalscorer Alvaro Saborio – and you couldn’t help wonder if the saying should be tweaked to “a Team of Stars.”
Salt Lake are stacked with talent and increased depth; they’ve rebuilt their team without really missing a step, and they maintained their top spot in the Supporters’ Shield standings with a rugged 1-0 win over Houston that featured vital contributions from all of the aforementioned players (plus midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who’s having one of the best seasons of his career).
When you look at which team’s impact players might have the last word down the wide-open stretch run, you have to consider the superstars in LA, Seattle and New York, and you wouldn’t neglect the talent in KC or Portland, but the smart money may be on the lower-wattage, but plentiful stars of the current Supporters’ Shield leaders."
While we agree with Bolster that RSL has plenty of stars – we’d argue he forgot a few, in fact – Jason Kreis’s motto doesn’t need any tweaking. As has been detailed many different times this year, RSL's locker room is closer than ever this season. Not exactly a bad combo for such a talented group have such good chemistry. Smart money, indeed.
Real Salt Lake will return to MLS action on Saturday, when it will take on the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Houston, we have a problem
Historically, RSL has fared poorly against the Houston Dynamo, posting a 3-9-5 record against the Orange. The Claret-and-Cobalt has won just once in its last 12 league matches against the Dynamo, last beating the Texas side on May 13, 2010.
Some good news: The Claret-and-Cobalt has done well against Houston at home, posting a 3-1-4 record against the Dynamo in the Beehive State.
Morales and Saborio dynamite against the Dynamo
Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio both have strong career numbers against Houston, with Morales notching two goals and four assists in nine career league games against the Dynamo and Saborio scoring two goals and registering one assist in four career games.
Saborio has been particularly hot lately, scoring five goals and assisting once in three games in all competitions since returning to RSL from international duty ahead of the July 27 loss at New York.
Rimando v. Hall
Saturday’s contest will be a battle between two of the top goalkeepers in the league, with RSL’s Nick Rimando and Houston’s Tally Hall facing off in between the pipes. RSL’s “Wall of the Wasatch,” Rimando has the best save percentage in MLS this year, stopping 78 percent of shots fired at the net. Hall isn’t far behind, tied for third with a save percentage of 74 percent. With both sides attacking well, Rimando v. Hall could be the deciding matchup in the game.
Kreis v. Kinnear
Saturday’s match will also pit two of the top coaches in MLS against each other in Jason Kreis and Dominic Kinnear. The two young American coaches most often discussed for future USMNT and other high-profile jobs, Kinnear and Kreis rank third and fourth, respectively, in terms of active MLS coaches in wins, trailing only Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena. Kinnear has a record of 123-82-98 in MLS play, while the younger Kreis has an 85-57-52 mark in league action.
Real Salt Lake and Houston have combined for eight red card in 14 matches dating back to 2007. Mercifully, no reds have been shown in this series since 2009, when five ejections occurred in three matches between the clubs.
Real Salt Lake has been in mixed form in MLS play, but with a tremendous US Open Cup win on Wednesday, there's a sense that the dip could recover well. The tactical pieces are there — but as so often this season, injuries and fitness could throw a bit of a wrench into the best-laid plans.
Real Salt Lake has been unwavering this season in the desire to play essentially the same style from match to match. Remarkably, this is the case despite several formation shifts, forced personnel changes, and indeed, an understanding that controlling the pace of the match constantly is not always possible or wise.
As a result, we've seen RSL surrender possession at times; this often comes in the form of allowing the opposition to simply pass the ball around the back line while they probe for an opening. Our general strategy — short build-up play and balls sent to either flank to release pressure and stretch play — remains the same regardless. I don't know that Jason Kreis is setting his side out to surrender some attacking control in exchange for another sort, but the ability of our side to adapt to changes in the pace of the game has been an important factor in our successes.
Defending from the front
If one thing can be said about Wednesday's win over Portland Timbers, it's that Real Salt Lake displayed an encouraging ability to defend from the front lines. With Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley both dropping deep to defend when not in possession, Real Salt Lake pushed Portland attackers into wide positions, where they were ineffectual at best.
Houston Dynamo won't quite present the same challenge, but that mentality is one that we've pushed forward with through the season. It's paid dividends. Indeed, it's been the case almost to the point that Findley has been deployed as something approaching a winger who will burst forward during counters. This is more than him simply stretching play: He's been important from wide positions and has helped create goals from those positions.
Jason Kreis's side has been in a bit of a minutes crunch this season, and for some, pushing them to play both Saturday and Wednesday stretched their fitness thin. As such, players like Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman are both in positions where playing again Saturday is probably too soon. A bit of a rest for the two of them, who are rarely afforded them, will be essential in the long-term, but in the short term, we have to wonder about replacements.
On Wednesday, Ned Grabavoy played at the top of the diamond, and he was fairly effective doing so. Last Saturday, he played in the side of the diamond. This Saturday, he might play at the base of the diamond. The remarkable part is that he can play those three distinct positions effectively.
Real Salt Lake's Rocky Mountain Cup-losing 2-2 draw at Colorado on Saturday was not the result of lackadaisical output, nor was it the result of injuries, nor of worrying fissures within the side's tactical makeup. What, then, was the cause?
Once again, Real Salt Lake conceded a game-tying goal from a hopeful cross; it is something we've seen repeatedly over the last three matches. In these cases, it's easy to point at the quality of defenders on display, but poor defenders in good positions are less likely to allow those sorts of goals. No, it's not an issue of the quality of defenders, but of the quality of defending take place. Nick Rimando rightly pointed at organization as an issue in the draw and the losses that preceded it. He's not at all wrong.
Goals in transition
Again, this is in part down to organization, but the issue starts further up the pitch. When the ball is lost cheaply at any position, the opposition is handed an opportunity to counter in numbers. They're also given an opportunity to send in hopeful crosses, as with the defense on the back foot, they are less capable of defending crosses into the box. We keep seeing it, and it's difficult to really solve with one fell swoop, but it's hurt us before, it hurt us this time, and it will hurt us again — even if we solve the issue.
It's a function, in part, of the way in which we play that we allow chances. As an attacking side that puts numbers forward — a tactical risk Jason Kreis admits — we must find the best way to deal with the transition, because it's going to happen.
A lack of defensive identity
This one perhaps is the cause of the preceding two points. When your defenders are unable to build rapport through playing time, understanding who exactly is where becomes a difficult proposition. A difficult question to answer: When last did we play the same defensive line in consecutive matches? The question boggles the mind. This season, we've seen Nat Borchers paired with Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Carlos Salcedo, Aaron Maund, and now Brandon McDonald. And we're only halfway through the season. Now, much of that change has been forced, but to go from having a genuine pairing that started the majority of matches in Borchers and Jamison Olave to this? There should be no surprise that we lack identity.
The question now: How do we create it? Who is closest? And will a pairing galvanize before the playoffs?
Real Salt Lake hits the road to take on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night’s game will be the final game in the Rocky Mountain Cup.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Rocky Mountain Cup on the line
This one’s pretty simple: If RSL wins on Saturday, it will take home its seventh-straight Rocky Mountain Cup. A loss or a tie and the Rapids take home the trophy for the first time since 2006.
Rimando and Beckerman poised for returns
After spending all of July away from the team on international duty and with the MLS All-Stars, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando look poised to make their return to the Claret-and-Cobalt on Saturday.
Both Beckerman and Rimando trained with RSL on Friday. Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis indicated after training on Thursday that both could start on Saturday.
RSL defender Tony Beltran also missed all of July while with the national team and the All-Stars. He won’t be available on Saturday due to suspension.
Beltran isn’t the only RSL player suspended for Saturday’s match – fellow defender Chris Wingert and midfielder Yordany Alvarez are also out for the match after receiving punishment from the MLS DisCo.
Abdoulie Mansally and Lovel Palmer are likely to replace Wingert and Beltran on the back line, while Beckerman should take his usual defensive spot for Alvarez.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio returned to the Claret-and-Cobalt in sparkling fashion last week, registering his third career RSL hat trick in the Utah side’s 4-3 loss at New York. Saborio has had a good deal of success against Colorado in his career, scoring five goals and notching one assist in nine regular season games against the Rapids.
It seems like the Rapids have forgotten their place.
Colorado - which, in case you've forgotten, has lost six-straight Rocky Mountain Cups to RSL - is talking a lot of smack ahead of Saturday's 2013 RMC finale, with Head Coach Oscar Pareja and goalkeeper Clint Irwin giving the first-place Claret-and-Cobalt plenty of bulletin board material for this weekend's clash at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
RSL is 0-1-1 in this year's Rocky Mountain Cup, tying the Rapids 1-1 at home on March 16 before falling 1-0 at Colorado on April 6. The Claret-and-Cobalt must win on Saturday to retain the club's seventh-straight Rocky Mountain Cup.
Here's Pareja on Saturday's contest:
"We know we're stronger than them," Pareja said. "And we know we can [beat them] again.
And here's Irwin responding to a question about his PK stop on RSL's Alvaro Saborio in the April 6 match:
"I hope, when we do get the three points this weekend, we can look back and say that was a key moment."
Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and Nick Rimando finally returned to Salt Lake on Thursday, coming back to the Claret-and-Cobalt after spending the last month with the U.S. national team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the MLS All-Stars for Wednesday’s All-Star Game.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the trio’s stint away from RSL.
Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando spent 32 days away from RSL, leaving the team on June 30 following the club’s 1-0 win at Toronto FC before returning to Salt Lake on Thursday. RSL played four matches while the trio was gone, posting a 1-2-1 record against Philadelphia, Dallas, Kansas City and New York.
Beckerman, Rimando and Beltran combined to play 1,102 minutes while away from RSL. Rimando totaled the most minutes of the trio, playing 450 minutes in the Gold Cup and 45 in Wednesday’s All-Star Game. Beckerman wasn’t far behind notching 382 minutes – and three assists – for the U.S. and starting and playing the first 45 in the ASG. Beltran totaled 180 minutes, going the full 90 in both the U.S.’s win over Cuba at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 13 and in the All-Star Game on Wednesday night.
RSL’s international/All-Star trio flew a distance of 10,954 miles over the last month. Assuming they were all non-stop, here are the nine flights KB5, Tony and Nick were on during the last month:
Toronto to San Diego; San Diego to Portland; Portland to Salt Lake City; Salt Lake City to Hartford; Hartford to Baltimore; Baltimore to Dallas; Dallas to Chicago; Chicago to Kansas City; Kansas City to Salt Lake City
That’s a lot of frequent flyer miles, all four time zones and way too many hotel rooms.
Between Sunday’s Gold Cup Final, Wednesday’s All-Star Game, Saturday’s MLS match at Colorado and Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against Portland, Beckerman and Rimando – Beltran is suspended for this weekend’s Rocky Mountain Cup match – will be eligible to play in four different competitions in a span of just 11 days.
When Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando left RSL after the team’s 1-0 win at Toronto, RSL was in first-place in MLS. Despite two-straight losses, that’s exactly where the Claret-and-Cobalt stand now, with three of the team’s top players returning to the fold.