MLS Regular Season
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.
Real Salt Lake hasn't been at its best in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru, tying the rival Rapids 1-1 in the home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 16 before falling 1-0 at Colorado on April 6.
The Claret-and-Cobalt's 0-1-1 mark in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup has the team in a tough spot, with the Utah side needing to win - and only a win - at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday to retain its seventh-straight RMC.
RSL's fantastic videographer Nick Lamping put together a solid recap of the first two Rocky Mountain Cup matches of 2013. Give it a watch above - and get that blood boiling for Saturday's 6:30 p.m. kick.
Real Salt Lake will head to Denver this weekend for Saturday's crucial Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru match at the rival Colorado Rapids.
RSL sits squarely behind the eight-ball in the battle for the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup, needing a win on Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in order to keep the RMC for the seventh-straight year.
The last time the Claret-and-Cobalt was this close to losing the Rocky Mountain Cup was in 2010, when the Rapids - needing a win to take the Cup - led the Utah side 2-0 in the dying moments of the regular season finale. The Colorado colors were already attached to the trophy when Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio brought the Claret-and-Cobalt all the way back, scoring twice in stoppage time to give RSL the draw and the Cup.
Yes, Marcelo, soccer is indeed a cruel game.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio netted his third career RSL hat trick on Saturday, putting in three in the Claret-and-Cobalt's 4-3 loss at the New York Red Bulls. Saborio's outstanding performance led to the MLS Player of the Week award, a MLS Goal of the Week nomination and a spot on the FIFA Ultimate Team of the Week.
Check out video of all nine goals from Sabo's three RSL hat tricks - last year against Portland, last year at Chivas USA and Saturday at New York - above.
Real Salt Lake will travel to Denver this weekend, taking on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the deciding game of the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru.
The Rapids - who got a little weird ahead of the April 6 match between the sides - started the hype machine for Saturday's match on Monday, calling their fans to "Defend the Fortress" by releasing the above video.
— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) July 29, 2013
We thought the phrasing was a little bit odd. Guess the Rapids don't know that Rio Tinto Stadium is The Original Fortress.
— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) July 29, 2013
— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) July 29, 2013
— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) July 29, 2013