MLS Regular Season
It's been an exciting couple of days for Major League Soccer - my Twitter feed has been replete with words like "NYC", "Queens", "Yankees", "$400 million", "oil baron", and other words synonymous with big money. But for a moment, I'd like to talk about a subject that might be the soccer opposite of the New York expansion news: Ned Grabavoy. Real Salt Lake fans know better than most what Grabavoy's game is all about: Honest, hard work on both sides of the ball. He's rarely in the headlines. He's rarely in the spotlight. He's rarely up for Goal of the Week. What you get from "Grabs" is a solid, consistent effort, tidy possession, and hard tackles.
But this week the media is all abuzz with Grabavoy news, thanks to his two goals that led to RSL's lighting-up of Chivas USA on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. Don't get me wrong - it's a remarkable story to be sure. To put it in perspective, Grabavoy is in his 10th year in MLS and he has scored 10 goals. In other words, a ten-year veteran added 20% to his career goal total in 90 minutes. That's headline-worthy stuff, but I don't want to let the goals overshadow the rest of his game, because Sunday night Grabavoy was very, very good.
Take a look at Ned's passing chalkboard against Chivas. Ignore the completion percentage (more on that later) and ask yourself where most of his passes came from. The answer is, everywhere! This is what a box-to-box midfielder does - he covers all the length and width he can, helping in possession when his team has the ball and looking to win the ball back when his team doesn't. Speaking of winning the ball, Grabavoy was extraordinarily effective at that versus Chivas: His five tackles won were second-most on the team, just one behind Chris Wingert. Most of us probably would have expected that honor to belong to one of the other fullbacks or maybe Kyle Beckerman. But on Sunday, it was Grabavoy who did most of the midfield ball-winning for RSL.
Grabavoy also had RSL's best pass completion rate with 36 of 43 (83.7 percent) passes completed. That's no easy task on this team - Beckerman has lead MLS in this category for the last 2.5 seasons. Normally 84% isn't a great number, so why was it the best mark in this game? Well, the answer has everything to do with how Chivas chose to play defense. Their always-entertaining coach "Chelis" Sola elected to compress all his players into the smallest possible area in order to disrupt RSL's passing game. Honestly, it worked well; with the playable area of the field so small, every time an RSL player received a pass there he had a Chivas player nipping at his heels before he could line up a good pass. That led to a lot of incomplete passes. However, we also saw the downside of Chivas' defensive scheme: It left a lot of room behind the defense for attackers to use to run onto through balls, something Salt Lake players did with success all night (including Grabavoy, obviously).
It's a remarkable night when any RSL player nets a brace, but I would be remiss if I let Ned Grabavoy's goals overshadow his excellent overall performance on both sides of the ball.
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.
Four goals for Real Salt Lake in the most open match of the season speaks well of the performance on the night, but the 4-1 scoreline over Chivas USA ignores the task facing the defense on Sunday night — as well as a tactical shift that changed the game in the second half.
Wide open: Defense steps up
The first half and much of the second half against Chivas USA last night saw Real Salt Lake playing in perhaps the most open match they've seen all season. Chances were flying back and forth, and by and large, RSL had the better of the opportunities. But some points of frustration will inevitably emerge the very back-and-forth nature of the match and the fact that it took going up 3-1 for a win to look genuinely secure.
The defense deserves real recognition for the manner in which they dealt with the Chivas attack, with Nick Rimando particularly earning plaudits for two reaction saves in the second half. But Chris Wingert, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, and Tony Beltran all stepped up to the challenge well and compensated for a more attacking mentality from RSL.
Findley on: Dynamic changes
When Robbie Findley came into the match, Chivas USA had just started to pick their heads up and respond to the challenge in front of them. With Plata and Sandoval both looking a bit tired, the home side was controlling play more readily and unafraid to push players forward in search of an equalizer. Findley's arrival on the scene saw him pushing ahead of a high line defense, with through balls and passes over the top being played into him.
With Findley screaming past the defense, they attempted to adapt and were forced back into their earlier look that had seen them concede two goals. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that he changed the dynamic of the match. Now, that's not to say that he shouldn't have scored once, twice or maybe even three times, but when his impact is so palpable otherwise, a little forgiveness is in order.
Wingert up: Interception machine
When Chris Schuler earlier this season picked up 8 interceptions, I batted my eyes a bit with surprise. But after turning to the chalkboards last night, I could scarcely believe my eyes: Chris Wingert, who I'd already thought had a very good match, made 17 interceptions. That means that every five minutes or so, Wingert stepped into the line of a pass and regained possession for RSL. That's no small feat.
Those moments can be somewhat attributed to a poor Chivas side, but it's one thing to be poor and another to be made to look so. Had Wingert played more passively and not stepped into passing lanes, it would have been an entirely different game. Given Chivas had 18 shots — though only six on-target — allowing more opportunities would have been, at best, regrettable.
Real Salt Lake closed out its three-game road trip strongly on Sunday night, getting a brace from midfielder Ned Grabavoy and a goal each from forwards Joao Plata and Robbie Findley to down Chivas USA 4-1 at the Home Depot Center.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s game:
Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy scored two goals on Sunday night, giving him the first multi-goal game of his MLS career. The goals snapped a long goalless streak for Grabavoy, who hadn’t scored since Oct. 29, 2011, when he found the back of the net in RSL’s 3-0 win over Seattle in the first leg of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinal. Grabavoy’s last regular season goal prior to Sunday’s brace came on Oct. 16, 2010, when he tallied in RSL’s 2-0 win over FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium. Grabavoy now has 10 regular season goals in his career.
Real Salt Lake is an impressive 8-2-1 against Chivas USA since the start of the 2009 season. RSL has outscored the Rojiblancos 21-5 during that span.
Real Salt Lake is 5-0-0 in both its last five games at Chivas USA and in its last five games at the Home Depot Center, which serves as the home of both Chivas and the LA Galaxy. RSL’s streak at Chivas dates back to the start of the 2010 season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt outscoring the Goats 14-2 during its 5-0-0 run. RSL’s perfect run at the Home Depot Center began in the 2012 season opener and consists of three wins at Chivas and two wins at the Galaxy.
Forward Joao Plata scored his first goal in a RSL uniform on Sunday night, slotting home past Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to give RSL a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute of the Utah side’s win. Along with his one goal, Plata is tied for the league lead with four assists this season.
Nine Real Salt Lake players have scored goals in MLS play this year. That’s just one less than the 10 players who scored MLS goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2012.
March 26, 2011
Grabavoy’s fourth minute goal was the quickest goal scored by RSL since March 26, 2011, when former midfielder and current Head Scout Andy Williams scored in the second minute of RSL’s 4-1 home win over the LA Galaxy.
Sept. 29, 2012
Prior to Sunday’s match, the last time RSL scored at least four goals in a game was on Sept. 29, 2012, when forward Alvaro Saborio notched a hat trick to power the Claret-and-Cobalt to a 4-0 victory at Chivas USA.
Real Salt Lake has now scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS games dating back to the team’s 2-0 home win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on May 4. The last time RSL scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS matches was in May 2010, when the Claret-and-Cobalt tallied at least twice in five-straight league games. It should be noted that RSL has been without injured leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the entirety of its current streak.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler did not play on Sunday night, bringing the total number of RSL players who have played in all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s MLS matches to zero. Prior to Sunday night, Schuler had played every possible MLS minute for RSL.
Real Salt Lake is set to close its three-game road trip this Sunday, when it will take on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center.
RSL has played Chivas USA once this year, getting a goal from midfielder Javier Morales and a penalty kick save from goalkeeper Nick Rimando to beat the Southern California side 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 20. Check out the highlights from that match above and make sure to tune in to CW30 at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night for this weekend's match.
Learn a few fun facts about each Real Salt Lake defender in the latest Soccer Smarts with Professor Leo video presented by Western Governors University.
After a successful 13-year career in MLS and across Europe, former Real Salt Lake defender Robbie Russell announced his retirement today. Best remembered by RSL fans for hitting the clinching penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup, the 33-year-old Russell will now head to Georgetown University's Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program.
Russell came to RSL in July 2008, signing with the Claret-and-Cobalt after spending the first eight years of his career in Scandinavia. The Duke University product spent three-and-a-half seasons in Utah, making 78 appearances for RSL before he was traded to D.C. United ahead of the 2012 season.
Russell and several Real Salt Lake personalities shared their thoughts on Russell's career in a nice article on DCUnited.com, with Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis, Captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando singing the praises of the former RSL man. Defenders Nat Borchers - who recently told American Soccer Now that Russell is his closest friend in soccer - and Chris Wingert also had a nice quotes about Russell, though theirs didn't make it into the article.
Here's what they all had to say:
Russell: "Salt Lake was a great time for me. It is a club that is very close to my heart. Any club that you have a lot of success with, you feel an extra bond to. But it was also a really special group of guys."
Kreis: "He will be forever remembered for his 2009 MLS Cup-winning penalty kick, but his true contributions were much more thorough, impressive, and long-lasting that that one kick. His legacy at RSL... will never be forgotten."
Beckerman: "Not only was Robbie a great player, but he [is] an even better person. He'll always have a place in the hearts of the RSL family for the hard work he put in and of course for his penalty he took to win the MLS Cup 2009."
Rimando: "[Robbie is] one of the smartest, most unselfish, and worst-dressed players I ever played with. And although his last PK in 2009 was memorable, it was his Brandi Chastain celebrations that I'll miss. Good luck in your next adventure bud."
Borchers: "Robbie was a major part of our success from '09-'11. He brought a lot of high-level experience to this team and he knew how to win. He fit in everywhere... I think the only position he never played was striker! I'll never forget the PK he took in '09 to win us the MLS Cup. He was so calm when everything was on the line for us. He was a winner in soccer and I have no doubt he will be a winner in the next phase in life."
Wingert: "Robbie Russell is definitely one of the best teammates you could ask for as an athlete. Great player, great locker room guy, and somebody that will have just as much success outside of soccer as he has had in it. Congrats on a great career Robbie!"
Congrats Robbie, and best of luck at Georgetown.
Rather than harping on about the things that went wrong in RSL's 3-2 loss at Montreal on Saturday — and there certainly were a few — it might be more interesting and productive to talk about some of the things that went right and how they contrast with some problems.
Early attack: RSL controls the match
The mentality was right from the outset of the match, and an early goal — albeit an own-goal scored by an Impact player — speaks to that. But more tellingly, In the first 30 minutes of the match, RSL's central defenders rarely touched the ball, with Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe attempting only six passes in the defensive half (only one one went astray.) Lovel Palmer and Chris Wingert were both involved, and a cross from Palmer forced the early Matteo Ferrari own-goal.
Indeed, most of Kyle Beckerman's touches came further up the pitch, and Ned Grabavoy played almost as a left-sided attacking midfielder, Sebastian Velasquez a central one, and Javier Morales as the roving attacking midfielder. It brought Morales some success, completing three passes leading directly to shots, and it led to some dangerous opportunities for Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval.
The match wears on: Shifts define things
Velasquez took a more right-sided approach, but struggled to get as involved as he was in the first 20 minutes of the match. Beckerman continued stepping further forward, but he was hardly seen in the final 20 minutes of the match. Morales remained vitally involved throughout and covered perhaps more ground than any other RSL player on the pitch — an indication that age and injury hasn't hurt his mobility, even if he's not quite as quick as he was in his late 20's.
Possession from this point forward flowed through Javier Morales, but the players around him did much work to afford him space. Ned Grabavoy controlled the left flank (22/22 in passing) alongside Chris Wingert, while Kyle Beckerman proved an incredible positive influence, allowing RSL to build play from the back.
After the comeback: Morales bright
As the match wore on, RSL's players struggled for involvement. After going 2-1 up in the 77th minute, key members of Real Salt Lake were kept roundly off the ball. Morales remained involved as ever, but excepting him, the nine outfield players combined for 27 passes with about 66 percent accuracy. Morales completed 10 of his 14 passes during that same period. Despite the problems facing the side, it's clear that RSL's playmaker has as much of a knack for controlling play and possession as ever.
Real Salt Lake lost a tough one on Saturday, conceding two late goals to fall 3-2 to the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
There is now only one Real Salt Lake player – defender Chris Schuler – who has played in every MLS match this year. Schuler has played every minute this season for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Midfielder Luis Gil had started all 11 of RSL’s MLS matches prior to Saturday, but was rested and did not make it off the bench in the loss at Montreal.
Real Salt Lake has never won in Canada, moving on Saturday to 0-6-4 in 10 matches across all competitions north of the border. The Claret-and-Cobalt will get two more cracks at its first win in Canada this season, taking on Toronto FC at BMO Field on June 29 before facing off against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sept. 28 at BC Place.
Real Salt Lake has scored two goals in three-straight MLS matches. The Claret-and-Cobalt accomplished that feat twice last year, scoring multiple goals for three-straight MLS games from May 26-June 20 and Sept. 22-Oct. 6.
Montreal defender Matteo Ferrari scored in the 93rd minute of Saturday’s match to give the Impact the 3-2 victory. The stoppage time winner was the latest game-winner allowed by RSL since Sept. 6, 2012, when then-Houston midfielder Colin Clarke buried a 93rd minute penalty kick to give the Dynamo a 1-0 win over RSL at BBVA Compass Stadium.
July 14, 2012
RSL conceded three goals on Saturday for the first time since July 14, 2012, when the 10-man Claret-and-Cobalt lost 5-0 at the San Jose Earthquakes. RSL conceded three or more goals just three times in the 2012 regular season.
April 29, 2012
The seventh-minute own goal scored by Ferrari on Saturday was the first own goal scored for RSL since April 28, 2012, when Toronto defender Richard Eckersley put one in the TFC net in RSL’s 3-2 win over the Reds at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Jason Kreis will have a series of questions on his mind tonight as he prepares his side for a match against Montreal Impact. They all revolve around selection. We'll look at three of these and attempt to answer whether he should look at continuity or change, and what exactly the tactical implications are for each.
Who starts up front: Joao Plata or Olmes Garcia? It's certainly possible that both will start, but Devon Sandoval presents a tactical option neither Garcia nor Plata fulfill. He's scored his first goal, too, and he'll be hopeful to push on. Plata offers more guile on the ball and a better cross, but Garcia is going to push forward more and get into the box. His influence has been undeniable every time he's been on the pitch. While starting Garcia would mean losing a little continuity, the rewards outweigh the risks. At any rate, Plata could make a good impact sub if necessary. Best option: change, Garcia for Plata.
Who starts in midfield: Luis Gil or Sebastian Velasquez? Luis Gil has had some fantastic moments in 2013, and those two goals of his are good indicators of that. But he's also had some struggles, some of which are attributed to a lingering ankle injury. The injury is apparently not so bad as to necessitate his exclusion from the side, so it would seem the prognosis is such that playing through it would be the best option. Sebastian Velasquez has had some great moments on the ball, but he's still yet to find his first goal — although his parried shot on Wednesday saw a goal eventually scored. With Gil still in the side, we retain consistency and allow him more time to get back to his best. We also get a potent option in front of goal. With Velasquez in the side, we get a player who runs non-stop when he's on the pitch, fights for every ball, and has an uncanny knack for keeping possession. Gil is undeniably more direct as a player, and that affects his passing rates. Best option: continuity, Velasquez on the bench for an early second-half sub.
Who starts in back? Carlos Salcedo or Kwame Watson-Siriboe? Carlos Salcedo has had his red card rescinded and is eligible to play, making this an option at all. Kwame Watson-Siriboe has traveled to Montreal for the match after becoming a father recently. The weighing pan would seem to tip slightly toward Salcedo in this regard, as he's been training fully for the last week, but Watson-Siriboe is a more experienced defender with more playing time in the system — although the two joined at around the same time last year. This is probably the hardest question of the three facing Kreis. Salcedo proved himself capable on Wednesday and did nothing to deserve being dropped, but the nature of the game means he could step to the side while the more experienced player starts. But at the same time, Kreis let Palmer continue after Wingert came back from injury — until he had a poor match — and that speaks to a willingness to give new players a chance. Best option: Salcedo continues, Watson-Siriboe on the bench.
Check out this great video of Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez taking us through his match day routine ahead of last Saturday's win against Vancouver. Clearly the routine worked for Seba, who assisted on the second goal in RSL's 2-0 victory over the 'Caps.
Nice beard, by the way.