MLS Regular Season
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.
Real Salt Lake returns to MLS action on Saturday, when it will take on Toronto FC at BMO Field. Saturday's match will kickoff at 11:00 a.m., but - due to FCC regulations - will be shown on CW30 on a tape delay, with the television broadcast kicking off at 12:00 p.m.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday's match:
On the road again
Saturday's game will be RSL's first road contest since its 4-1 win at Chivas USA on May 19. The Claret-and-Cobalt just finished a highly succesful seven-game home stand with Wednesday night's 3-0 US Open Cup Quarterfinal win over the NASL's Carolina RailHawks. RSL was dominant during its extended run in Sandy, posting a 6-0-1 record in MLS and USOC play. The Utah side has been good on the road this year, earning a solid away mark of 3-4-1 and winning two of its last three games away from the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has always struggled in Canada, going winless in its 10 matches north of the border. RSL is 0-1-1 in the Great White North this season, tying Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-1 at BC Place on April 13 and losing a 3-2 heartbreaker at the Montreal Impact on May 11. RSL is 0-3-2 in MLS play at Toronto FC and has never scored a goal in regular season play at BMO Field.
Saturday's match is RSL's third in a stretch of four games in 12 days. Given the short turnaround and the long trip the team took following Wednesday's Open Cup victory - not to mention the absences of Alvaro Saborio and Luis Gil due to international duty - it wouldn't be a stretch to see a bit of a different lineup take the field on Saturday. We'll see what Head Coach Jason Kreis rolls out at BMO Field, but don't be surprised if we see a few new faces in the First XI.
Bye, bye Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando
RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Tony Beltran and goalkeeper Nick Rimando will all leave RSL for U.S. national team Gold Cup duty immediately following Saturday's game. The trio could be gone a while; the U.S. is expected to make a deep run in the Gold Cup, which doesn't end until July 28.
Toronto FC, like Carolina Railhawks, are probably going to sit back a bit tomorrow. And by a bit, I certainly mean a lot: At this point, a point for Toronto FC would be a favorable result. As a result, the two matches could take on a similar look from the outset.
Obviously Toronto FC and Carolina Railhawks are sides with rather different makeups, and there's little doubt that Canadian side will field their best possible team. But with some real deficiencies from Toronto this season (and in previous seasons, perhaps a bit sadly), they may well approach things in a similar fashion.
How'd it work against Carolina?
Lower-league opposition, as said so often, can be tricky to handle. Evidence of that can be seen in the Railhawks, who, even with a weakened side, kept RSL from gaining too much advantage. The chances weren't flowing, and it was through a bit of magic — and a perceptive strike from Tony Beltran — that the scoring opened up. An unmarked player out wide cutting inside is a valuable tool against a bunkering opposition, as it disrupts man-marking efforts and can often allow an open look at goal. It just takes that extra bit of sharpness to finish the goal — something Beltran showed in droves — and RSL can take the front foot.
Carrying form forward
Real Salt Lake are a side to be feared (or at least fretted about), such is the resplendency of their recent form, but that so rarely means much once the match kicks off. The onus, then, is on Jason Kreis's side to push on with things and to ignore form in favor of attention to detail. While that's fine from a conceptual point, that's not quite specific enough to practice.
Onus up front
When the opposition deploys with a defense-first strategy in mind, it's vital that the attacking players stretch play as much as possible. With Alvaro Saborio out, having again left for international duty, the forwards will be of a somewhat quicker make — perhaps a Findley-Plata pairing would be in order, as both would be capable of quickly stretching play on both axes. This shouldn't be undervalued, even if no striker scores tomorrow: It's about the chances that emerge from other players capitalizing on the stretched nature of the defense.
Real Salt Lake put in an incredibly professional performance on Saturday night against Seattle, bossing the game and beating the Sounders 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Real Salt Lake now has 30 points this season, tied with Portland for the most in MLS. The Claret-and-Cobalt – which, it’s worth noting, has played more games than most teams in the league – has more wins than Portland and is technically in first-place in the league.
Saturday’s win was RSL’s fifth straight across all competitions dating back to its 3-2 victory over the NASL Atlanta Silverbacks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third-round on May 28. RSL is now unbeaten in its last seven games across all competitions.
Real Salt Lake outshot Seattle by the ridiculous margin of 17-2 on Saturday. Sounders FC’s first shot didn’t come until the 73rd minute; the Cascadia club’s only shot on goal was in the 82nd.
RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman became MLS’s all-time leader in fouls committed on Saturday night. He now has 478 career fouls in regular season play, one more than previous record holder/former MLS midfielder Jesse Marsch.
The number of team’s remaining in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Real Salt Lake will look to move into the tournament’s final four on Wednesday night, when it will host the second-division Carolina RailHawks at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium. Get your tickets here.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle have formed somewhat of a rivalry over the years, and though it's no longer in its nascent stages, there's bound to be plenty of talk about it. But despite the familiarity of the two opponents, some things this time around are a little different.
Seattle is a familiar enemy, but without the likes of Osvaldo Alonso, they'll take on a different look. Since 2010, Alonso has missed only one MLS match against Real Salt Lake; he'll miss his second tonight, according to reports. Without their hard-tackling, short-passing midfielder Real Salt Lake should have a little more freedom to play through the middle, but any relaxing on our part would be remiss.
Still, while Alonso's absence bodes well (but not so well as to allow us a moment to relax), it does rather sting when we know we once again won't be able to see Alonso and Beckerman going at it in the midfield. Remember, if anybody asks you which of the two is better, simply point to a passing chart and ask how many of Alonso's are forward-moving compared to Beckerman's. It quite clearly illustrates the distinction between the two. (Here's a number: Beckerman's passes are 43 percent forward-moving; only 26 percent of Alonso's are.)
Injuries and adjustment
With RSL playing up the middle — which, if we're to be honest, isn't unusual — the deeper midfielders will have greater responsibility. Undoubtedly, Javier Morales will still move into wide positions, and the outside-diamond players will make diagonal runs to and from the flanks, but it's when they're closer to their starting spots that they'll have the best options emerge. Seattle is a team that notably plays well out wide, with Alonso covering huge swathes of ground in the middle. They'll miss that.
Without Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler, another chance for young defender Carlos Salcedo has been created; he'll be looking to put in a good shift with some questions about the necessity of an acquisition looming. Expect his partnership with Nat Borchers to see Borchers stay deeper and Salcedo to step slightly further forward, particularly as we look to win long balls in the air. This match will almost certainly see plenty of those.
In a sense, we're somewhat lucky that Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando consistently join with the national team only to not play. They are, one would imagine, less fatigued than those players who put 90 minute shifts in. Though we missed no MLS matches with those two gone this time, there's still a palpable sense of relief at their uninjured return. Seattle does receive Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson back from United States duty and Mario Martinez from Honduras, but the two former played high numbers of minutes and may be in doubt for the match so as to allow some recovery time for the pair.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC don't have the longest history, but - despite its relative brevity - the rivarly between the Claret-and-Cobalt and the Rave Green is full of great moments. Saturday's match between the two Western Conference powers figures to be another solid meeting. Until then, enjoy these four "Signature Moments" in the RSL-Seattle series.
March 30, 2013: Luis Gil scores a fantastic diving header in RSL's 2-1 win over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Nov. 2, 2012: Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando turned in a performance for the ages in RSL's scoreless draw at Seattle in the first leg of the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, making incredible stop after incredible stop - even after suffering a broken nose in the second half - to keep the clean sheet.
Nick had so many good stops in the game that we thought it'd be unfair to single out just one. The full highlights - featuring all of Rimando's fantastic stops - are below:
Nov. 2, 2011: Tony Beltran had one of the best goal-line clearances we've ever seen in the second leg of RSL's Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle, acrobatically heading away a Jeff Parke volley to keep the game scoreless. The Claret-and-Cobalt went on to lose the match 2-0, but advance past Seattle and into the West Final 3-2 on aggregate.
Oct. 29, 2011: RSL ran rampant in the first leg of the 2011 West semis against Seattle, downing the Sounders 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium to take a hefty lead into the series' second leg. Alvaro Saborio had the first two goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt - his second was particulary impressive, with the Costa Rican striker showing just how skilled he is with an incredible back-heeled goal.
MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek gave Saturday's Real Salt Lake-Seattle Sounders FC matchup the Scouting Report treatment. Give it a watch ahead of tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. kick at Rio Tinto Stadium.
If you're anything like me, when things in the soccer world are going well, life just seems to be a little bit better. It's hard not to leave Rio Tinto Stadium with a smile when your team earns three well-deserved points. If it seems like your post-game walk to the car has often been a happy one lately, that's because it has - teams that call Rio Tinto Stadium home have been extraordinarily successful as of late. Consider the following:
- RSL is on fire in MLS play right now. Since the beginning of May, the Claret-and-Cobalt have collected a league-best 16 points in just 7 matches. Along the way they've found the back of the net a whopping 17 times. At home they've taken 10 of a possible 12 points with a goal differential of +7.
- While all that MLS action was going down, RSL also managed to find success in U.S. Open Cup play. May/June saw two home contests, both won by RSL, both against lower-division foes, though it wasn't easy as both games went into extra time before Salt Lake could secure the victories. As in MLS play, goals have been plentiful for Real in the USOC as they've managed to score eight times in those two matches, with five of those goals coming in 60 total minutes of extra time played.
- The weather wasn't all that was hot on Tuesday night as the U.S. Men's National Team continued their torrid run of form in dispatching Honduras 1-0 in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. The U.S. men started their streak of good results on June 2 with a thumping of world soccer power Germany 4-3 in a final tuneup before three straight World Cup Qualifiers. After that they took their show on the road in Jamaica where a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Brad Evans gave the Red, White, and Blue three crucial road points. All eyes then focused on Seattle where the Nats easily handled Panama with perhaps their best showing in the last few years, setting the stage for this week's victory at Rio Tinto. That win was the U.S.'s fourth straight, giving the team all nine possible points in World Cup qualifying in June. With six games down and four to go, the U.S. is now in command of The Hex from the top of the table, two points ahead of Costa Rica and five points clear of Mexico. It's not over until it's over, but thanks to the current hot streak we all got to be a part of, the U.S. is a virtual lock for the 2014 World Cup.
It's interesting to note that the U.S. men and Real Salt Lake have found their recent success by different means. For the U.S. team, their success has come from stability - for the first time in a long time, lineups and player personnel decisions were consistent. For RSL, their success has come from versatility - with the crowded schedule, injuries, and international absences, most of the roster has seen minutes in MLS and/or U.S. Open Cup play. For the U.S. team, their scoring load has been shouldered by Jozy Altidore who has scored in all four of the States' recent wins, while for RSL, their scoring load has been spread far and wide - nine different players have scored since the start of May. This goes to show that what two teams need to be successful are not necessarily the same. It also illustrates the difference between a cluster of three games followed by a long break (where consistency is needed) vs. the constant grind of a nine-month MLS season (where flexibility is needed).
If you've missed out on these red-hot teams in their various competitions, don't fret - both clubs will be back at Rio Tinto shortly.
- RSL has three MLS home games in the next month, starting this Saturday with Seattle paying a visit. This is a great chance for RSL to continue their strong run in league play while climbing the table and also putting some distance between them and a Western Conference foe.
- Real will be contesting their U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal match at home next Wednesday against Carolina. If you've never given the USOC a chance, this would be a good time to see what it's all about. We've seen two good matches already, but the U.S. Open Cup gets even more compelling starting now as teams realize that they're only a couple of wins away from a CONCACAF Champions League berth. You will see playoff-atmosphere soccer in this one, especially considering the winner hosts a USOC Semifinal against Portland or Dallas.
- The U.S. men will be back to Rio Tinto on July 13 for a Gold Cup tilt against Cuba. Granted, this won't be the strongest team the U.S. is capable of fielding, but it gives us a look at some up-and-coming players on the national scene. Nothing is for certain but this game could have a couple RSL players featuring prominently while the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey get a well-deserved vacation. Plus it's still high-level international soccer; if you haven't experienced international soccer, it has a unique vibe to it. Everyone needs to be a part of something like this at least once.
We've been blessed with lots of great soccer - and great teams - at Rio Tinto Stadium recently, and it's not over yet. See you out here!
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.