MLS Regular Season
We're now seven games into Real Salt Lake's 2013 campaign and there hasn't been a shortage of things to talk about. Road trips, questionable PK's, Saborio's form, Morales and Wingert and Borchers coming back from injury, the new-look midfield, poor playing surfaces, and oh-my-goodness-Olmes-that-was-amazing have all been worthy topics of discussion. But one topic is perhaps getting lost in the shuffle, and I want to bring it to the forefront: Nick Rimando - who won two Governor's State of Sport Awards on Tuesday - is having an absolutely fantastic start to the year.
In six matches played (Josh Saunders played on March 23 at FC Dallas while Rimando was on international duty), Rimando has only allowed five goals, giving him a goals-against average (GAA) of 0.83. This is a good number by anyone's standard, but honestly I've never liked GAA as a measurement of the quality of a goalkeeper because the defense has a lot to do with GAA. For example, Carlo Cudicini of the Galaxy has a slightly better GAA than Rimando because he has an outstanding defense in front of him - Cudicini has faced less than half as many shots as Rimando has.
A better way to examine the quality of your goalkeeper is to look at save percentage - the number of saves made divided by the number of shots on goal. By the time a shot is on its way to goal the defense is out of the equation and it's goalkeeper vs. ball. Here's where Rimando really shines: His save percentage of 82 percent puts him at No. 1 in MLS among all goalkeepers who have played at least three games. What this tells us is Rimando is having a remarkable year when it comes to stopping shots – 82 percent is by far his best save percentage ever and a whopping 14 percent better than his career average.
So what does this mean on the field? Well, it means that when one of RSL's opponents gets a shot on frame, Nicky is more likely to save it than any other goalkeeper. The issue for RSL at the moment is slowing down the total number of shots on goal; only Chivas USA have surrendered more shots on goal than Salt Lake. I think the reasons for this boil down to two things: First, injuries on the back line and a high amount of lineup turnover related to that, and second, the unbalanced schedule that has seen RSL play five of seven on the road. On the road, opponents are more likely to pin their ears back and attack with abandon, knowing that three points at home is almost a must if you plan to keep up in this league.
I expect the number of shots on goal RSL is facing to decrease as defenders get healthy and the home/away schedule starts to get balanced out over the next two months. This, combined with Nick Rimando's torrid shot-stopping form this season, means we have good reason to believe RSL will be putting up a lot of clean sheets in the near future.
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.
RSL stands with Boston.
Defender Aaron Maund, Boston-area native:
Heartbroken by what's going on in Boston right now. Thoughts and prayers go out to all affected by this.
— Aaron Maund (@Imamaundsta) April 15, 2013
Defender Abdoulie Mansally, New England Revolution player from 2007-2012:
My heart and prayers go out to all the victims of Boston City marathon. What a sad day #Prayforboston
— Abdoulie Mansally (@KennyMansally) April 16, 2013
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, college teammate of New England goalie Matt Reis, whose father-in-law was injured in Monday's bombings:
— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) April 15, 2013
Head Scout Andy Williams, New England Revolution player in 2001 and 2002:
Themarathon bombing was a cowardly act that again shows evil exist in the hearts of the confused & unloved I pray for them #Pray4Boston
— Andy Williams (@bommadog) April 15, 2013
My prayers to everyone everywhere. Imagine going through days like today in the US everyday in other countries. Sad and no one deserves it.
— Kwame Watson-Siriboe (@Kwamekazi) April 15, 2013
Defender Rich Balchan:
The toughest thing for me is to see the big picture through all of this..natural and perpetrated tragedies can happen any second of any day
— Rich Balchan (@RichBalchan) April 16, 2013
Whether today, tomorrow, or several years from now is your last day, life should be lived the same in all...God's purpose-why we even exist
— Rich Balchan (@RichBalchan) April 16, 2013
Forward Robbie Findley:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4#prayforboston
— Robbie Findley (@RobbieFindley) April 16, 2013
Defender Chris Wingert:
2 explosions in Boston at the Marathon??! Hoping and praying everyone is alright
— Chris Wingert (@wingert17) April 15, 2013
My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected in Boston today...
— Devon Sandoval (@Big_Dev49) April 15, 2013
Defender Lovel Palmer:
— Lovel Palmer (@lovelpalmer7) April 15, 2013
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) April 16, 2013
Goalkeeper Lalo Fernandez:
So sorry about what happened in Boston! My prayers go to all affected #Prayforboston
— Lalo Fernandez (@Lalofernandez_1) April 15, 2013
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella:
Horrible news out of Boston. Thoughts and prayers with everyone involved. These types of stories are happening way too much
— Jeff Attinella (@Jeff_Attinella1) April 15, 2013
Thoughts and prayers with victims and families affected by this horrible act. #staystrong
— jeff cassar (@jeffcassar) April 16, 2013
Forward Olmes Garcia:
Que triste que pasen cosas así como lo sucedió en Boston, Fortaleza para la todas las personas implicada en el echo.
— Olmes Garcia (@Olmesgarcia13) April 16, 2013
Real Salt Lake played Vancouver Whitecaps FC to a hard-fought 1-1 draw at BC Place on Saturday.
Here are a few interesting numbers from this weekend’s match:
Real Salt Lake just completed a stretch that saw the team play five of its first seven games on the road. Four of those seven games came against teams that qualified for the 2012 MLC Cup Playoffs, with one against the defending Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose, one against Eastern Conference Finalist D.C. United, one against Western Conference Finalist Seattle and one against Western Conference Wild Card Vancouver.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will play seven of its next 10 MLS matches at home. RSL is unbeaten in the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium so far this year, tying Colorado 1-1 on March 16 and beating Seattle 2-1 on March 30.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia scored in the 66th minute on Saturday, curling a 20-yard effort from the left side into the top right corner. The world class finish was Garcia’s first goal in three appearances for RSL since signing a five-year deal with the team in preseason.
Garcia’s goal broke RSL’s 275-minute road scoreless streak. The Claret-and-Cobalt hadn’t scored on the road since Alvaro Saborio found the back of the net in the 85th minute of RSL’s 2-0 season opening win at San Jose on March 3.
If RSL maintains its current averages of 2 points per game at home and 0.8 points per game on the road for the rest of the season, it will finish the season with 47.6 points. While 47.6 points isn’t technically possible – last time we checked, there aren’t any partial points handed out – the rounded-up total of 48 would have comfortably qualified for last year’s Western Conference Playoffs. Should note that we're not trying to get carried away - there's a long, long, long way to go - just having a little fun with numbers.
I could literally watch this all day. Here's to you, Golmes.
Real Salt Lake relied heavily on Nick Rimando to take a result on the road despite taking heavy fire from Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, but the influence of Olmes Garcia is hard to forget.
On the road (again)
We could harp on about refereeing inconsistency and bad penalty calls, and maybe there's a place for that, but it stands to reason that allowing 16 shots on Saturday — 7 on-target, 7 off-target, 2 blocked — meant Real Salt Lake was dangerously closing to suffering from a less controversial decision. But for incredible goalkeeping from Nick Rimando, RSL would be walking away with zero points. Now, road matches are always going to be difficult in MLS, and there's plenty to be happy about from Saturday, but allowing repeated opportunities puts a side in real danger.
It's difficult to pinpoint a specific problem point, though — whether it's a problem that might be solved by the return of Chris Wingert is difficult to say, but playing a young center back in Chris Schuler alongside a young or inexperienced left back doesn't always lead to fantastic team defending. Wingert's arrival back to action — he went 90 minutes for the reserves — could add some essential stability.
Defending the flanks
It's fair to say that Real Salt Lake's weakest defensive position is left back, and as such, it stands to reason that teams will try to seek out any inconsistency in the position. Lovel Palmer was targeted — much as Mansally was last match — and did well, but not without the help of his teammates. Yordany Alvarez covered well when needed, Ned Grabavoy put in an efficient effort on the left, and Chris Schuler stepped over when Palmer went forward to build in attack.
Schuler's ability to step left and defend the flanks is perhaps in part a result of his deployment in 2011 and 2012; it's not his natural position, but when RSL is in possession and our left back pushes forward, having an able body to shore things up can make a world of difference.
Olmes Garcia's goal marked a lot of things: The sighting of potential, the excitement of youth, the unyearning need at Real Salt Lake for players who step up and make a difference. Jason Kreis will be delighted by what he saw: After only an hour of playing time with Real Salt Lake, the exciting kid from Colombia made his first major impact on a match.
But Kreis is continually faced with one bigger thing: Who starts, and who makes the bench? Once Robbie Findley returns to fitness, the fight for minutes starts in earnest: Alongside the speed demon, Plata, Garcia and Sandoval have each shown well; Plata has two assists and has looked dangerous, Garcia scored that brilliant goal and has looked freakishly talented otherwise, and Sandoval seems to be shaping into a real rookie surprise.
The Houston Dynamo beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday evening to extend their home unbeaten run to 35 games across all competitions. The win moved the Dynamo past RSL and into sole possession of the MLS record for home unbeaten streaks.
RSL's 34-game home unbeaten run across all competitions ran from 2009 to 2011. The Claret-and-Cobalt is still tied with Houston for the home unbeaten record across MLS play at 29 games.
Real Salt Lake is 1-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year. Head Coach Jason Kreis and the boys will look to extend that home unbeaten streak to three games on Saturday, when they'll take on Western Conference upstart Chivas USA in Sandy.
Both Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are battling poor form heading into Saturday's matchup (2 p.m. MT; ABC4), but if Jason Kreis's side doesn't adapt and learn from recent failures, they'll be getting in just enough of a mess as to be irritating.
With the news that Sebastian Velasquez is set to miss the match after suffering a broken hand, Real Salt Lake is certain to see yet another altered starting midfield four. It'll be the fourth different midfield lineup — in seven matches. This lack of continuity is inevitably difficult for a side to deal with, but if Javier Morales is ready to start, it'll start to take on a more definitive appearance.
A disjointed midfield makes Kyle Beckerman's job as captain and general midfield organizer that much more difficult, and the list of fully fit players is small: Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Alvarez, Martinez, Stertzer. Three of those players would expect to start most matches; the drop-off toward the end is a bit severe as experience is concerned.
Individual mistakes have proven costly for Real Salt Lake in 2013, which is likely a function of the relatively low cooperative inexperience of the group, which is to say that they haven't been together for long enough. Extra focus to cut out these mistakes will be essential, especially as Martin Rennie might be instructing his players to target those specific weaknesses. Clearing balls on first opportunity, stepping up during the offside trap, and making immediate, simple passes will be necessary if RSL is interested in clearing up the errors that have plagued these early matches.
We saw last week that Colorado took very specific aim at RSL's left side and Abdoulie Mansally; whether he is a defensive liability or not — and that's very much up for discussion — it's hard to deny that other coaches seem to think so. When one player is targeted frequently, they're more likely to make costly mistakes; Mansally and his teammates will need to be wary of the modes of attack employed.
Despite the uncertainty created by an ever-rotating cast of midfielders, Jason Kreis's side have made creating chances look a bit easy. His squad's averaged a surprising 14 shots per match in the early weeks and attempting more forward passes per match (175, if you're wondering) than any side, excepting Portland.
Robbie Findley's still out, so he doesn't get a chance to finish; Joao Plata may be close to a return, and Alvaro Saborio is still recovering from knee swelling. With the two fully healthy forwards remaining — Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia — rather untested and still learning the system, the midfield will need to step up in creation to an extent not seen in some time.
Things didn't go so well for Real Salt Lake last time it played at Vancouver, with the Claret-and-Cobalt losing 2-1 to the 'Caps at BC Place on Aug. 11, 2012.
Check out the highlights of that match above and make sure you tune-in to ABC4 at 2 p.m. MT on Saturday to see if RSL can avenge last year's defeat at Whitecaps FC.
My Dad was a professional goalkeeper in Mexico so I moved around a lot growing up. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and moved to Morelia, Mexico City and Veracruz, really all over the place. When my Dad retired from playing soccer my family moved to El Paso, Texas, his hometown. I was there until I was 15, when I went to Chivas Guadalajara for two years. After that I went to the RSL Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz. for a year and then I went off to Uruguay for six months.
I played for a club called Peñarol in Uruguay. I loved it down there. The Uruguayan people are incredible, they’re really great people and Peñarol is a big team so the atmosphere was great.
After six months in Uruguay I came back to Real Salt Lake. I had been in the academy and I knew the coaches and the team really well already. I really felt comfortable when they brought me in for preseason and I always wanted to be here. It’s nice that I’m closer to my family now and it’s great to be on a team that’s always fighting for MLS Cup.
Even though my Dad was a professional, my parents never pressured me to play soccer. They put me in a bunch of different sports, they put me in karate, they put me in track they put me in a lot of stuff that they thought I would like before they put me in soccer. I always wanted to play, though. I started out being a forward and ended up being a goalie because one of my teammates couldn’t go to one game and I filled in for him. I had the idea because my Dad would always talk to me about goalie and I ended up doing well. I stuck with it and then my Dad started coaching me and that really helped me a lot.
I feel like I’m developing pretty well as a player. Last year was tough; I felt like I was progressing until I broke my wrist in July. Even though that injury kept me from playing goalie, it did help with my foot skills and my strength and fitness. This year I feel a lot stronger and a lot more confident. I feel the group has accepted us young guys more and they’ve given us confidence to show our talents, to show our skills and I really feel like I’m playing better.
I think we have a really unique situation here with our goalies. You’ve got Nick [Rimando] as the starter, he’s a national team player, he’s a leader in our locker room and I learn a lot from him. He talks to me about angles and a bunch of simple stuff that might not seem like that big of a deal, but when you put it into practice it really does make a big difference. Then on the other hand you have Josh [Saunders]. He won the last two MLS Cups for L.A. and he’s different than Nick but he’s really good too. I try to take the best things from both of their games. I’m also always talking with Jeff [Attinella] and working with him after training, too. With help from all three of those guys and of course from [RSL Goalkeeper Coach] Jeff Cassar, I think I’ve really started to develop more and more.
I’m roommates and good friends with [RSL defender] Carlos Salcedo. He and I knew each other from Guadalajara, he’s from there as well and we played together at Chivas. He’s a year younger than me and he’d play in the third division and sometimes I would go down there to get some games and he would be there and we’d always talk. Him being here is a big help for me because I have someone to relate to, someone who knows my culture and really understands where I come from.
I’m also close with a number of other guys on the team like Enzo [Martinez], Seba [Velasquez], David [Viana] and now [Joao] Plata and Olmes [Garcia]. Our relationship here in the locker room and outside the locker room is great; we hang out all the time. Enzo is married and we’re close with his wife. We go to their house all the time and we were there when Enzo’s daughter was born last year. That was a great experience; those are things you will never forget. Now we’re all like a family. They’re all great people and that really helps us all, it makes the group a lot stronger when we’re all comfortable and hopefully we can grow together.
I grew up with [No. 1 pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and Vancouver forward] Omar Salgado. We played on the same club teams growing up in El Paso and he came to Chivas a few months after I started there. We Skyped earlier this week and I’m excited to hopefully see him this weekend when we play Vancouver. Hopefully we get to play each other in the Reserve Game on Sunday – that’d be really awesome. Growing up we always used to compete against each other, I’d always trash talk him, tell him he was my son because I’m the type of goalie that likes to talk to the forwards to try and get in their minds. He made a big step coming from Guadalajara to MLS and that was part of the reason why I wanted to come here. I saw how much he was progressing here and he was getting a lot better, getting more opportunities and I felt like coming to Salt Lake would help me like going to Vancouver helped him.
- One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’ve played for youth national teams for both Mexico and the U.S. With Mexico I went through the whole qualifying process for the  U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. In the end I didn’t get the call-up to the final team, and that was a little bit disappointing, but that opened up other doors. That’s when the U.S. came to me with a chance to play for the U-20’s in 2010 and I took the opportunity, took a lot of pride in it and it was an awesome experience.
Real Salt Lake's errors against Colorado were many and frequent, but the sole goal scored was less a tactical failure and more a series of individual mistakes.
Aside from the fairly obvious answer — Real Salt Lake conceded an early goal and couldn't recover — there's something more interesting to be taken from the goal scored. Three things happened, and only one of those could rightly be blamed on Abdoulie Mansally. Nat Borchers allowed Edson Buddle to hold up the ball deep in the box, Schuler slipped, allowing his man through and disrupting the defense, and Mansally left his man to attempt to correct for the individual mistake, giving former RSL man Atiba Harris a clear opportunity.
Why'd it happen?
Does Abdoulie Mansally allow for a weakness in Real Salt Lake's defense? Mansally is obviously an attacking full back, and as such, sides may feel they have good opportunities at RSL's wide left position. This seems fairly obvious, the slightly left-leaning bent of RSL's central defenders corrects for that in some important ways. Although he — and plenty of others — were culpable in that early goal from Colorado, it was because of several individual failures in defending and less because of a systemic tactical failure.
How can it be corrected?
It's difficult to tactically correct for individual errors, save for a defensive strategy that provides more defensive cover in all areas. This is fundamentally in conflict with Jason Kreis's strategy for the side, although certain sorts of players can provide some types of fixes. Take, for example, Jamison Olave, whose ability to recover and prevent an attack was used as a solution to this problem. But without a player like Olave, the defense is often left in a situation where a greater responsibility from everyone is required. Single mistakes are inherently more likely to be punished.