MLS Regular Season
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.=
Fun video from the guys at ABC 4's Real Sports Live featuring RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth challenging - and, shockingly, beating - Claret-and-Cobalt midfielder Javier Morales in a crossbar challenge.
Javi and Dunny also talk about some of the bigger moments in Javi's Real Salt Lake career, including his first meeting with RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis and the 2011 tackle that sidelined him for nearly five months.
Real Salt Lake put the hurt on Columbus on Saturday night, scoring three second half goals to beat the Crew 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s contest:
Real Salt Lake’s four goals on Saturday night gave the team 48 regular season goals this year, breaking the club record of 46 regular season goals set in 2012. The Claret-and-Cobalt still has seven regular season matches remaining this year – plenty of time to add to its new record.
April 12, 2008
Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman’s two-goal performance on Saturday night was his first multi-goal game since he bagged two goals against D.C. United on April 12, 2008. Beckerman’s brace was the 45th multi-goal game by a RSL player in club history. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 37-4-4 all-time when a player scores multiple goals in a match.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned his 107th career regular season shutout on Saturday night. Rimando is now just five clean-sheets shy of tying Kevin Hartman for the all-time MLS shutout record. The veteran ‘keeper has eight shutouts this year; 71 of his 107 career regular season clean-sheets have come in a RSL uniform.
Rimando also moved into third-place in MLS history in minutes played on Saturday night. The “Wall of the Wasatch” has now played 30,753 minutes in 340 career regular season matches, all of which have been starts. He trails only Hartman (37,260) and the retired Steve Ralston (33,142) on the all-time MLS minutes played chart. Rimando is now tied for fifth on the all-time MLS appearances list with former D.C. man Jaime Moreno and is one start away from moving into a tie for third-place on the all-time starts list with Vancouver goalie Joe Cannon.
Real Salt Lake has now scored nine goals in its last three games in league action. That’s an absurd total – one that’s good for an average of three goals per game.
A 4-0 win over Columbus Crew for Real Salt Lake will surely have everyone in good spirits, and with good reason: Never did RSL look like anything other than the far better side. There is no exaggeration when Jason Kreis called it his side's "most complete performance" of the year.
Columbus's biggest threats on the night were surely Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain. Neither were particularly threatening to RSL's dominance on the night, with Higuain's impact frustrated to the point that he opted to get sent off instead of continuing in the match. Throughout, Columbus Crew took only a single on-target shot and but three off-target shots. There will be plenty of talk about the attack, and rightly so, but just as vital as the speed with which we re-won possession.
Patience is a virtue, I think
That first goal for Real Salt Lake was one which seemed it would never come. Columbus Crew were resolute in their defending and more than content to let us keep the ball, and but for a deflection, they would have gone into the half having not conceded. What the first half saw, then, was two sides demonstrating immense patience: RSL continued their attack without panicking, and Crew continued their defense without wavering.
And by and large, there was something nice about that — perhaps because Real Salt Lake had breached the defense once, it was made more palatable. But once the Crew decided that, should they desire any result at all, they'd have to be at least slightly more adventurous. The second goal came perhaps as a result, more or less, of that: It was not so much that they had pushed too far forward, but that they failed to track any sort of run. It was as static as the Crew could have looked.
For a team playing — again — its third game in an eight-day stretch, it was encouraging to see those who played full matches in the two preceding matches — Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales, with Chris Wingert close behind — making constant attacking runs. The players who came in looked not just fresh, but eager to be involved. That sort of attitude is difficult to teach and is surely a testament to the squad that has been built.
That movement led to dangerous opportunities throughout the first half, and when the second half rolled around, it led to a further three goals for the home side. Running out winners has rarely been so literal a phrase. A special word should be reserved for Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval, who formed a strong, solid partnership, with both players making those essential runs.
Rimando to Beltran; Beltran to Findley; Findley to Velasquez; Velasquez to Beckerman; Beckerman to Velasquez; Velasquez to Wingert; Wingert to Grabavoy; Grabavoy to Morales; Morales to Gil; Gil to Grabavoy; Grabavoy to Morales; Morales to Velasquez; Velasquez to Grabavoy; Grabavoy to Gil.
Gil to goal.
Real Salt Lake’s third goal in its 4-0 romp over Columbus on Saturday night was an absolute beauty. Finishing off a 14-pass sequence that began with ‘keeper Nick Rimando and went through nine of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 11 players, the move was a master-class in attacking soccer, featuring quick, one-two passing, heady dribbling and an excellent finish from Luis Gil.
Check out the entire 36-second sequence above.
With one of the Eastern Conference's playoff somewhat-hopefuls coming to town in the form of Columbus Crew, the impetus is on Real Salt Lake to continue improving in all areas.
Momentum may or may not be a myth, but if we're talking about what Real Salt Lake should do to ensure victory, it certainly is something to consider. But this isn't the sort of momentum maintained in a frictionless system; instead, RSL must continue applying force to keep on the right path. Things have slowed in recent weeks, and maintaining speed is of the essence as the race for the Supporters Shield heats up once again.
Getting players like Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando back into the side will be of the utmost importance, but it ought be remembered that we've also struggled with them in there. Should we hope to get back to our best, those two — as well as everyone else out there, but especially those two — will have to ensure that they remain defensively aware.
Without a doubt, this has been the biggest sticking point for Real Salt Lake in the last month. Too often we have done tremendously to find a lead, only to surrender it at first asking, often on a set piece or a cross into the box. Our physical attributes are not particularly problematic, and the ability of our defenders is difficult to question. But it must be remembered that defensive awareness starts at the front and trickles to the back.
This is particularly poignant when we're talking about the midfield; while we've surely improved in the attack over last year, we sometimes lack some important qualities that players like Will Johnson brought to the field. We lack the workhorse in the middle, and while Ned Grabavoy somewhat fills that role, more important has been his attacking thrust. But similarly, I've been quick to criticize players like Luis Gil for not getting far enough into the attack — it's clearly a difficult problem to solve. Whatever we find as our best solution it will involve preventing long unprotected passes from deep in the midfield — those will hurt us over and over.
Higuain v. Morales
The two Argentines are notably among the most ruthlessly efficient playmakers in MLS, and Saturday is a perfect opportunity to see them square off. Both have similar histories, and both are doing quite the providers for their team — but the two aren't exactly the same player. It's difficult to bear those statistics out without watching the match — which renders it all the more interesting. Both are near the top of the league in key passes and assists, and both chip in with a fair few goals for their side — Morales with 6, Higuain with 9.
Real Salt Lake continues MLS regular season play with its third match in seven games to take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Columbus has RSL’s number
Salt Lake has posted only a 3-3-1 mark all-time at home against the Crew, with a 4-10-1 overall record, its worst against any MLS opponent. The Utah side has dropped 5 of the last 6 regular-season matches against Columbus, but does boast 2009 MLS Cup Playoff and 2011 CONCACAF Champions League knockout series wins over the Crew. The Black & Gold is 3-0-0 in its last three against the Claret-and-Cobalt, including a pair of shut-out victories, as well as a 2-0 win at the RioT in Columbus’s most recent visit on July 30, 2011.
The Crew bring its best for the best
Columbus is sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference with 29 points, but the Ohio side is no pushover. Riding a two game winning streak, the Crew has made the most of its opportunities against the league’s top teams, beating the Montreal Impact, Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls, all of whom were in first place when facing the Black & Gold. With Real sitting atop the MLS table with 42 points, coach Jason Kreis’s side will be facing a pesky opponent.
Returns for RSL
Captain Kyle Beckerman served his suspension for yellow card accumulation and GK Nick Rimando sat out due to a stomach virus during Wednesday’s fixture against the Portland Timbers, but the Utah side still managed to get a 3-3 result on the road. For Saturday’s meeting against the Crew, the midfielder is available for selection and the goalkeeper can return to his spot in net. Expect the RSL stalwarts to add leadership and organization to an already veteran squad.
Scoring without Sabo
Nursing a right calf strain, the Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading scorer Alvaro Saborio didn’t see the field in Wednesday’s match and sat out of training on Friday. The RSL boss ruled him out for Saturday’s game, but the Utah side is used to production from its entire squad. Including four Open Cup games, the 48 RSL goals in the last 20 fixtures have been scored from 17 different sources - by 16 different players - surpassing the club’s total number of goalscorers for the entirety of 2012. The latest man to newly contribute to the attack was MF Cole Grossman, whose equalizer at Portland was the former Duke standout’s second-ever MLS goal and his first with RSL.
Clash of the Argentines
All RSL fans know about Argentine playmaker Javier Morales, but Columbus has some South American flair of its own with Federico Higuain. The Crew DP is the engine for his team’s attack, tallying six assists and nine goals in MLS play. The same could be said for Morales, who is tied for fourth in the league in assists with eight. The winner of this clash of Argentines will have a major impact on the game’s result.
Grossman to face his old team
The midfielder’s now-famous return to the field last Wednesday against Portland came just before he’ll face his old team. The former Duke Blue Devil was selected by Columbus in the second round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, appearing in 12 league games and scoring one goal with the Black & Gold. With Grossman healthy and confident due to his game-tying goal, the 24-year-old could get some action against his former club.
Real Salt Lake pulled off an improbable come-from-behind draw on Wednesday night, getting a 93rd minute goal from substitute midfielder Cole Grossman to tie the Portland Timbers 3-3 at JELD-WEN Field despite playing the final minutes with just 10 men.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Wednesday’s match:
Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers and Cole Grossman both scored their first goals of the season on Wednesday night, giving RSL 14 different players that have found the back of the net in league play this year. That total is tied for tops in the league with Chivas USA and Montreal Impact. RSL has had 16 different players score in all competitions this year, six more than the 10 Claret-and-Cobalt players that scored in MLS, U.S. Open Cup and CONACACAF Champions League action in 2012.
Wednesday’s three goal performance gives RSL 25 MLS road goals this year, tops in MLS. Only one other team in the league has as many home goals as RSL has away goals, with Vancouver Whitecaps FC notching 25 goals at home thus far. In addition to leading the league in road goals, RSL is in first place in MLS in road goal differential (+2) and total goals (44).
Wednesday’s result moves RSL to 5-6-3 on the road this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s 18 road points is tied with Sporting Kansas City for most in the league.
Wednesday’s result extended RSL’s unbeaten run on turf to five games. RSL is 1-0-2 on turf this season, tying Vancouver 1-1 at BC Place on April 13 and beating New England 2-1 at Gillette Stadium on May 8 before tying Portland on Wednesday. RSL will play on turf three more times this year, taking on Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 13, traveling north of the border to take on Vancouver at BC Place on Sept. 28 and returning to Portland to take on the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field on Oct. 19.
Cole Grossman’s last appearance with the first-team prior to his shift on Wednesday came 141 days earlier, when he started and played 77 minutes in RSL’s 2-0 loss at FC Dallas on March 23. Grossman suffered a concussion in that match and – though he had made several appearances in the 18 since – had not appeared in a game since. His eight minute cameo on Wednesday was Grossman’s second appearance with RSL after he was acquired by the team this offseason.