MLS Regular Season
In case you didn't notice, the 2013 MLS All-Star team was announced on Monday, with the game taking place on July 31st in Kansas City. With the announcement of the team - headed by Kansas City coach Peter Vermes - there follows inevitable hand-wringing from pundits about snubs - players who deserved to make the All-Star team but didn't.
Some snubs that immediately come to mind are RSL's Ned Grabavoy, LA's Marcelo Sarvas, and Philadelphia's Jack McInerney, but they aren't the biggest surprises. While Vermes did RSL fans a solid by naming Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, and Kyle Beckerman to the team, the omission of Javier Morales shocked me the most, and his snub is the subject of this post. Nothing I can write is going to get Morales added to the roster, but it does provide the opportunity to recognize a player who is having a phenomenal year.
How good has Morales' year been so far? Consider this: His five goals are tied with Olmes Garcia for the team lead, and his eight assists are far and away the most on the team. At this pace, he'll finish the season with nine goals and 15 assists. In 2009, Morales had one goal and five assists. In 2010, Morales had seven goals and nine assists. Why did I choose 2009 and 2010 as points of reference? Because Javi made the All-Star team both those years.
Granted, 2009 and 2010 were different times in MLS. It seems that lately more teams have seen the value in a true No. 10 and more teams have spent money on that position. So clearly the bar is higher for Morales than it was back in those days.
But in spite of all the young talent and big-name players that now quarterback offenses; the evidence suggests that Morales is still at the top of the class. As mentioned above, Morales has scored five goals and dished out eight dimes so far this year. New York's Tim Cahill has five goals and three assists. Portland (and ex-RSL) man Will Johnson stands at six and three. KC's Graham Zusi is on four and five, Houston's Brad Davis has three and three, and Montreal's Patrice Bernier has two and five. All five of those midfielders made the All-Star team while Javier Morales did not. I'm not implying that these players don't deserve to be on the team; they have all had fine seasons. But after you look at these numbers you can't tell me that there's not room for a player who has produced the way Javi has.
Aside from just the raw numbers, Morales continues to do all the little things that make RSL a winner. Integrating so many new, young faces into the squad is a daunting task, one that usually takes teams’ considerable time. RSL struggled a bit in the early going as most of us expected, but lately they've been on a well-publicized tear. This doesn't happen without veteran leaders integrating the locker room and getting the new talent to buy in to what's being taught. Morales is an instrumental figure in the RSL locker room, especially serving as a bridge between the American and Latino players, and his efforts in that regard are one reason why RSL currently sits at the top of the league table.
It's true that All-Star games are more of a popularity contest than a legitimate selection of the best players, but they also serve as a form of recognition within the MLS community; a form of recognition that Morales certainly deserves this season.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
Real Salt Lake made club history on Saturday night, getting goals from Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and Olmes Garcia to beat FC Dallas 3-0 at FC Dallas Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saturday’s win was Real Salt Lake’s 100th in MLS regular season play. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 100-103-69 all-time in regular season action.
Saturday’s victory was Real Salt Lake’s 11th-straight match in all competitions without a loss. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 9-0-2 in that span. RSL hasn’t lost since May 11, when it dropped a 3-2 result at the Montreal Impact.
Real Salt Lake’s 3-0 victory over FC Dallas marked the club’s first-ever win on Texas soil. The Utah side now has a 1-18-3 record across all competitions in the Lone Star State.
24-year-old goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made his first MLS appearance on Saturday night, replacing injured ‘keeper Josh Saunders in the 51st minute. Attinella made three saves during his 39-minute stint, including a parrying block of a point-blank header by Dallas forward Ramon Nunez in the 88th minute.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia scored his fifth goal of the MLS season in the 90th minute of Saturday’s match. Garcia’s five goals in 547 minutes this year give him a rate of one goal per 109 minutes played – the next-best scoring rate by a member of the Claret-and-Cobalt is Alvaro Saborio’s one goal per every 164 minutes.
Including the victory over FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake now has a record of 4-4-1 on the road this year, with a road goal differential of +5. The only other teams with a positive road goal differential are Portland and Sporting KC, which are both at +2.
Real Salt Lake has now scored 32 goals in MLS play this season, tied with Philadelphia for the league lead. The club has scored two or more goals in 12 of its last 14 matches across all competitions.
With his blast into the top-right corner of the goal on Saturday, Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy has now put 28.6 percent of his scoring chances in the back of the net. Grabavoy has already exceeded his career high in goals scored, having scored four goals thus far in 2013.
Going to Texas and notching a win on our belt is no easy feat, but a 3-0 win over FC Dallas while deploying an untested formation? It's the stuff of dreams for Real Salt Lake, and we can point to tactics if we're looking for a cause.
At least on paper, it looked like was rolling out a 4-2-3-1, and parts of it made a good deal of sense. Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez played in wide attacking roles on either side of Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley operated as the lone forward. The attacking midfielders, on paper, seemed a fantastic use of personnel, while Findley's operating up top on his lonesome seemed a strange decision.
It didn't quite work out that way. Velasquez and Gil struggled to get heavily involved, and perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the role that was problematic for the pair. Both thrive when they have passing options closer to them, and that simply wasn't the case. To connect well, Ned Grabavoy and Yordany Alvarez both had to push higher up the pitch, and Morales would have to swing to either side.
While both youngsters are capable of picking up the ball and running at players, it's not exactly a trait that fits the system — we thrive moving the ball from the inside-out while high up the pitch, then back in again to create danger — Saturday was a case of moving the ball outside deeper, then attempting to bring it back in again. This allowed defending wide players to stop the movement before any momentum could be had.
It was perhaps telling that Javier Morales had one of his finer games of the last three years, and his goal and assist (or, if you're including second assists, then he had two) were a mark of his work. Perhaps this came from the wider players occupying defenders more, giving Morales more time and space on the ball.
On a surface level, it would appear the formation worked, but it's difficult to say to what extent. A single win — or loss — doesn't speak to a formation's worth. But it is encouraging that Jason Kreis, typically a stalwart of the diamond 4-4-2, has significantly experimented with other formations this season. The tactical flexibility this affords should keep opponents guessing a bit more and less able to deploy a stymying tactical plan.
A discussion of the match wouldn't be complete without a note on Jason Kreis's key substitutions, as they really shifted the match in RSL's favor. By stepping back into the 4-4-2 and bringing Joao Plata on for Velasquez, the defense was forced to adapt; Plata's ability to run at players has wide impact.
And Olmes Garcia on for Robbie Findley really sounded the death knells for Dallas — with Findley having tired the defense for 70 minutes, Garcia came on and was handed an exhausted defense. With Dallas looking to recover a bit, they wanted to push players forward: Garcia didn't allow that. He picked up the ball in key positions and ran at defenders, he closed down superbly, and by and large, he was a player that impacted the game in a significant way.
Great story on Real Salt Lake midfielder Yordany Alvarez and his decision to defect from Cuba in 2008 from KSL's Dave McCann. It's a powerful piece; watch a tease above and check out the whole story here.
Cuba will be in action at Rio Tinto Stadium at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, when they'll take on RSL's Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, Nick Rimando and the U.S. national team in a Gold Cup Group C game. Claret-and-Cobalt forward Alvaro Saborio will be in action at the RioT at 4:00, when he'll captain Costa Rica in a Group C match against Belize.
Alvarez and the rest of the Real Salt Lake squad are currently in Dallas, where they'll take on FCD in a battle of the top-two teams in the Western Conference at 7:00 p.m. Saturday night on CW30.
Missing a handful of top players, Real Salt Lake travels this Saturday to FC Dallas, where they've never found a win. Absences won't make it impossible, but expecting it to get easier as a result would be a bit of madness.
A whole host of players will be rather notably absent for this one: Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, and Nick Rimando will all be busy in Salt Lake City (funny thing, fate), and Lovel Palmer is out through suspension after his dubious red card against Philadelphia. That doesn't exactly make the occasion easier, particularly with Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler out with injury. Shifting players around will be a tricky task.
The key position that might throw things off: right back. Beltran's absence is conspicuous, and Palmer's hurts in light of that. Perhaps Jason Kreis will opt to move Chris Wingert to the right side, deploying Abdoulie Mansally on the left — that would seem the most reasonable of options. But Carlos Salcedo and Enzo Martinez have both played significant minutes for the reserves at right back, and perhaps this is an opportunity to test things a bit.
Strike pairs and absences
We've played more pairs of strikers than one would expect, but Robbie Findley and Joao Plata may just get the nod with Saborio's international duty cutting into things — but not significantly more than usual, as the Costa Rican has played fewer than half the available matches this season. The debate rages on about RSL's best pairing: Plata and Findley are not just the speed demon options, but something more intricate that requires the entirety of the midfield be ticking over.
Throwing an Olmes Garcia into the mix obviates that a bit, as he'll run at players and pick up possession all over the pitch, creating dangerous moments along the way. At this point, he's less a system player than he is a fantastic one, though it should be noted that is essentially the goal with him — to exist outside of the system, or at least to stretch and bend it, perhaps nearly to the point of breaking. That sort of disruption is essential in finding the best on-the-field solutions.
Devon Sandoval offers something altogether different, and that's an approximation of our playing style with Saborio in the side. He's clearly a different player, but his playing style is as close as we can come without the veteran striker in the side. As he develops into a stronger, more efficient player, perhaps the best pairing will involve Sandoval.
But for now, Garcia and Plata paired together — especially considering the absences in the side — might make the most sense. Garcia's raw skill and desire to control play from the flanks lessens the impact of Beltran's absence at right back, and it affords an opportunity to combine with Abdoulie Mansally up the left side, should he make the starting lineup.
Demons in Dallas
This is less a tactical adjustment as, say, one that's rather intuitive. We must be acutely focused on the task at hand, and with the numerous replacements to be featured, that's not going to be the easiest of feats. With Dallas struggling after a strong start, having now only two wins from their last 10 matches (having won six of their first 9), the opportunity might just be there for the taking.
As told to Sam Stejskal
- I come from a family of soccer players. My Dad played for Atlas in Mexico before a knee injury ended his career. My great-grandfather played for Chivas Guadalajara, and they won like six titles in a row while he was there. My Dad’s uncle, Hugo Salcedo, actually played for the U.S. at the 1972 Olympic Games. Editor’s Note: Jorge Salcedo – Hugo Salcedo’s son and Carlos’s first-cousin, once removed – played in MLS from 1996-2000, earned three caps with the U.S. national team and is the current head coach at UCLA. Jorge Salcedo coached current RSL defender Tony Beltran at UCLA in 2006 and 2007.
- When I was younger, I played for Chivas [Guadalajara’s] academy. I spent two years there, but eventually moved to Tigres’s youth team when [current Chivas Sporting Director] Dennis Te Kloese moved from Chivas to Tigres. I was at Tigres for almost three years. While I was there, we went to Dallas Cup, and that’s where [RSL-Arizona Academy Director of Soccer] Martin Vasquez scouted me and invited me to come see RSL. At that time, I didn’t have a contract, and didn’t want to re-sign with Tigres, so then I decided to go to the RSL-Arizona Academy and try something new.
- My Dad and Martin have actually known each other for a long time. They got to know each other at Atlas; when my Dad retired, Martin was just getting to the team. When I got here, that’s when my Dad said that he knew a coach at RSL.
- I was at the RSL-Arizona Academy for about eight months. The academy was good. Basically, you wake up, go to school, and after that you have everything you need to become a soccer player. You have daily practices, weight-lifting, you have such a great coaching staff – it’s pretty big-time.
- After I graduated from the Academy last summer, I had offers from three Mexican teams – one of them was Santos Laguna. But I spoke with my Dad and my agent, and I didn’t want to go down to the same atmosphere down in Mexico. I wanted to try something else here in MLS, so I came here last July and began practicing with the team.
- Coach Jason [Kreis] believed in me, and I think that was a big step for me to take this chance – if the coach believes in you, that’s a good point for you. That’s what made me come here. [General Manager] Garth Lagerwey also was here to talk to me, and I think that was good for me. But what really was huge was already practicing with the team for six months and playing in Reserve games last year.
- My life changed a lot this year, because I’ve been getting playing time with the first-team. At the beginning of the preseason, they were telling me that I would be playing on the Reserve team, but when RSL first told me that I’d be playing, I was excited that I got the opportunity. I’d like to thank Garth, Bill, all those guys that helped me to become a better soccer player, and made my dream come true.
- I think I’ve been getting more and more experience each game I’m playing, and I think it’s a hard league. It’s going to help me get to the next step; to my next goal, which is going to Europe. I think MLS is a good league for defenders, because you get to play against hungry, big-time players like Keane, Henry, Martins and others that have already made a career [in Europe]. You see really good young players, too.
- [RSL goalkeeper] Lalo Fernandez and I used to be roommates, but I moved out like a month ago. It was a good experience, but now I think that we’ve decided to go separate ways, and that’s good at the end of the day. We’re still good friends – he’s one of my best friends – and nothing has changed. It was a good experience to live with another player, hanging out with him every day. Right now I live with a family that I met over here last year. They’re from Colombia, and I like it a lot to live with them. They’re such a good family, and they’re supportive of me.
- I love Utah. I like that everything is super-chill. For me, I’m not the type of player who likes to go out in crazy cities and all those things. I love living here, and I want to live here after I retire.
We're at just about the halfway mark of the 2013 season and midseason awards columns are starting to roll out.
ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle's gave RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando some love in his awards column on Monday morning, naming the veteran 'keeper his MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Nice call, Jeff: Amongst goalkeepers with at least 10 starts, Rimando leads the league in save percentage, wins and goals against average and is near the top in shutouts and saves.
Of course, Rimando brings much more than solid numbers to RSL. As Carlisle points out:
"The veteran netminder's contribution transcends mere numbers. RSL's rebuilding project saw the departure of former Defender of the Year Jamison Olave while injuries to Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler have also prevented RSL from fielding anything remotely resembling a consistent backline. All of which points to Rimando's experience and organization in keeping RSL among the league's defensive leaders."
Currently with the U.S. national team, Rimando will return to RSL following the conclusion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup at the end of July. He'll likely be in action at Rio Tinto Stadium with the U.S. squad this Saturday, when the Americans will take on Cuba at 1:30 p.m. in the first match of a Gold Cup doubleheader that will see RSL forward Alvaro Saborio and Costa Rica take on Belize at the RioT at 4:00 p.m. Get your tickets to the Gold Cup doubleheader here.
On the back of a match struck by experimentation, Jason Kreis's side has been hit once again by international absences. Heading into tomorrow's match against the Philadelphia Union, the concerns weigh on the mind, but solid squad depth should play an easing role.
The 4-3-3: Did it work?
When we take a look back at last weekend, we will rightly wonder if the switch to a 4-3-3 worked. It's a difficult question to answer with the sort of win we found, as it wasn't particularly a win that was down to the system. That said, we saw that it has some potential, particularly in pushing players in wide areas. It did lack a bit of thrust from the midfield, and the strikers were increasingly isolated; whether this is down to a systemic issue or to personnel is difficult to say without further evidence.
That noted, we're not likely to see it again tomorrow unless we're making a second-half adjustment. It would be reasonable to assume that Jason Kreis wasn't looking to change the diamond, but to explore other options for adjustments as needed.
Absence makes the heart grow something-something
Four incredibly important players will be absent for this match and for a few more: Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman, and Alvaro Saborio are all off with international absences, and when you're missing four crucial players, things get — shall we say — tricky. Continuity becomes an issue, as does a drop-off in performance. But critically, some tactical decisions will be involved as well.
Josh Saunders may be a fine goalkeeper, but Nick Rimando is superb when playing with a high-line defense in front of him, as he is quick and good with his feet. Saunders is less of both of those things, though he is certainly a good shot-stopper. A bit more caution from the defenders will be necessitated, and perhaps this will force the defensive midfielder to sit back a little further to allow less room to exploit.
Yordany Alvarez, who will almost certainly be in for Beckerman, lacks the vision and precision of Beckerman, but his break-up play is superb, and he's not a slouch in attack. With him dropping back, the outside midfielders will need to tuck in a bit more, and the full backs will need to push a bit more forward to snuff out wide play.
Saborio's absence certainly affects the attack, but as importantly as anything, he serves as an escape for the midfield and defense in difficult situations. While he may lose the ball from a high-risk pass, his position higher up the pitch obviates much of the risk faced when the opposition receives the ball in dangerous positions. Without him in the side, the ball is more likely to be played to strikers in wide positions, which are more difficult to attack from for a side like ours.
Patching the holes
Those absences aren't damning. Saunders, Palmer and Alvarez should slot in rather naturally, even if things change as a result. All permutations of our striking pairs are now tested and have their positives and negatives, so Saborio's absence is not nearly so worrying. The defense is solidifying after a fine performance from Aaron Maund. It's all getting there — but while we're patching holes, we want to be succeeding through the summer glut.
Real Salt Lake returns to MLS action on Wednesday, when it will take on the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium. Wednesday's match will kickoff at 8:00 p.m. with Independence Day fireworks following the game.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s match:
RSL on a tear
Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Toronto extended RSL’s active club-record win streak to 7 consecutive games in all competitions (4-0-0 MLS, 3-0-0 U.S. Open Cup). During the month of June, RSL went 6-0-0 in MLS/USOC play, outscoring its opponents 17-3.
No brotherly love
Real Salt Lake has never lost to Philadelphia, posting a 2-0-3 mark in five league matches against the Union. The Claret-and-Cobalt is a perfect 2-0-0 against the Union at Rio Tinto Stadium, beating Philadelphia 3-0 in Sandy on May 8, 2010 and 2-1 on Sept. 3, 2011.
Rio Tinto Stadium regains “Fortress” status
After losing six home games in 2012, RSL has re-established the RioT as “The Fortress” this season, posting a 9-1-2 record across all competitions. RSL is now 69-13-21 in its last 103 home games dating back to the beginning of 2008, Jason Kreis’ first full season. In that span, RSL has outscored opponents by 128 goals (191-71), with a 55-10-23 regular season mark, 6-1-1 CCL record, 3-1-1 playoffs, 4-1-0 Open Cup and 2-0-1 in international exhibitions.
100 in sight
A victory on Wednesday would be Real Salt Lake’s 100th MLS regular season win. Head Coach Jason Kreis notched win No. 100 in all competitions with last week’s Open Cup win over Carolina, with Saturday’s win at Toronto his 101st all-time in regular season, playoff, CCL and USOC play.
Both teams will be without several players on Wednesday night due to CONCACAF Gold Cup call ups.
RSL will be without all-time leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the second straight match after he departed for the Costa Rican national team ahead of Saturday’s win at Toronto; that victory at BMO Field was the last match for likely a month for a trio of RSL’s US internationals Captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Tony Beltran and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Philadelphia will be without two players, losing MLS leading scorer Jack McInerney to the U.S. national team and midfielder Keon Daniel to the Trinidad & Tobago squad.
Real Salt Lake won again on Saturday, getting a first half goal from midfielder Yordany Alvarez to beat Toronto FC 1-0 at BMO Field.
Here are some interesting numbers from the match:
The number one had plenty of significance for RSL on Saturday. The win was RSL’s first in 11 tries in Canada across all competitions; Alvarez’s goal was his first in MLS play for the Claret-and-Cobalt and the team’s first MLS goal at BMO Field; defender Aaron Maund turned in a solid performance in his first MLS start for RSL; and the victory keeps RSL in first-place in both the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races.
Saturday’s win was RSL’s seventh-straight across all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 9-0-1 in its last 10 matches across all comps and 10-1-1 in its last 12 games in all competitions since the start of May. RSL has outscored its opponents 31-11 since the start of May, good for a +20 goal differential.
This weekend’s victory was RSL’s 99th in MLS regular season play. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 99-103-68 in regular season action. The Utah side is 68-43-35 in regular season action since the start of its MLS Cup winning season of 2009.
Saturday’s shutout was the 105th of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s career. Rimando – who has six league shutouts this year – needs seven more shutouts to pull even with Kevin Hartman’s 112 for the all-time MLS clean-sheet lead.
Saturday’s clean-sheet was the Claret-and-Cobalt’s third-consecutive in all competitions. RSL hasn’t given up a goal in 372 minutes, last conceding in the 18th minute of its 120-minute 5-2 U.S. Open Cup fourth-round win over the Charleston Battery on June 12.
By scoring on Saturday, Alvarez became the 11th RSL player to score in MLS play this year, surpassing the 10 players that scored for the Claret-and-Cobalt in league action in 2012. Counting Open Cup play, RSL has had 13 players score goals this season.
Maund became the 24th RSL player to start a league game this year on Saturday. Considering the Claret-and-Cobalt’s first-place standing, that’s a remarkable show of depth. RSL started 23 different players in league action in all of last season.