MLS Regular Season
Real Salt Lake color commentator Brian Dunseth had some interesting things to say about RSL’s depth during On Frame on ESPN 700 on Monday night, declaring that the Claret-and-Cobalt – despite all of its offseason changes – is unquestionably the deepest team in MLS.
“This is a much deeper team than it was last season,” Dunseth said. “I know that’s crazy to say, but for me this is the deepest team in Major League Soccer, hands down, no competition anywhere else.”
It’s easy to see where Dunny’s coming from. The Claret-and-Cobalt is stocked at nearly every position this year, going a solid four or five deep at forward, nine or 10 deep in the midfield and eight or nine deep in the defense. RSL even has some solid competition at the goalkeeper spot, with 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup winning ‘keeper Josh Saunders backing up RSL mainstay Nick Rimando.
All of that is a big change from last season, when RSL didn’t have many bench options at any position, let alone at all four.
“You look at over the last three, four years and RSL is one of the best teams in Major League Soccer,” Dunseth said. “Then you add Josh Saunders, who’s played in three out of the last four MLS Cup Finals for the L.A. Galaxy; Robbie Findley comes back; you get Joao Plata, arguably the most dynamic player in CONCACAF Champions League play from a MLS-based team last year; Lovel Palmer, a guy with MLS experience; Khari Stephenson, he’s slid in perfectly with this group; you add Cole Grossman, who’s played some games in Columbus; Rich Balchan, potentially, if he signs, the same thing; Aaron Maund from Toronto.
“Then you get to the draft picks. Devon Sandoval has been very, very good in a short amount of time in preseason. John Stertzer, he’s pro ready and we talked about this right after the draft, this kid can slot in and play. Then you have Olmes Garcia, a young physical talent who has all the capabilities in the world to be a good player.”
And those are just the new players. Dunseth didn’t even mention returnees Sebastian Velasquez – who looked very good in preseason – Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Kenny Mansally and Yordany Alvarez, all players who have proven that they can play in MLS and will get minutes in 2013.
“Right now, I just don’t see how you can argue the point,” Dunseth said. “This is the deepest team in Major League Soccer based on games played and experience.”
Real Salt Lake’s 2013 regular season schedule was released earlier Wednesday, which means it’s time to pull out your best red marker and circle a few dates on the calendar.
Here are a few games that we’re really looking forward to:
RSL at San Jose Earthquakes, March 3, 8 p.m.
The Claret-and-Cobalt open the season at defending Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose. RSL has had past success opening its season at San Jose, downing the ‘Quakes in the team’s MLS opener in 2010 and 2011. The team will have revenge on its mind after losing all three of its matches against the ‘Quakes in 2012 by a combined score of 10-2. This should be a great one.
RSL vs. Colorado Rapids, March 16, 3:30 p.m.
It’s the home opener and the first of three legs in the 2013 Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup series. The Claret-and-Cobalt will be looking to get off on the right foot at Rio Tinto as the team goes for its seventh-straight RMC.
RSL vs. Seattle Sounders FC, March 30, 7 p.m.
It’s been two months, but RSL’s playoff elimination at the hands of Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium in November still stings. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s first chance to get the Sounders back comes on March 30 at Rio Tinto Stadium. The RioT will undoubtedly be rocking for that one.
RSL vs. San Jose Earthquakes, June 1, 7:30 p.m. – RSL vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, June 8, 7:30 p.m. – RSL vs. Seattle Sounders FC, June 22, 7:30 p.m.
The first three weeks of June will be absolutely huge for RSL, which will host Western Conference Powers San Jose, LA and Seattle on June 1, 8 and 22, respectively. Some major moving and shaking in the West table will be done during these games – hopefully RSL will come out on top in all three.
RSL at New York Red Bulls, July 27, 5 p.m.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will get its first and only crack of 2013 at former RSL players Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola on July 27 at Red Bull Arena. Sadly, the Red Bulls won’t make the return trip to Utah in the 2013 regular season. They’ll be back in 2014.
Leg three of the 2013 Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup. Could be a winner take all type match as RSL looks for its seventh-straight Cup. Already psyched to see the traveling faithful take over Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
RSL vs. Portland Timbers, Aug. 30, 8 p.m.
Former RSL midfielder Will Johnson will return to Rio Tinto Stadium for the first and only time of the 2013 regular season on Aug. 30. The national television audience will get a great view of what will likely be a very nice reception given to Will by the RSL faithful.
RSL vs. Chivas USA, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.
Chivas USA isn’t RSL’s biggest opponent by any means, but the Oct. 23 match at Rio Tinto Stadium is the regular season finale. It’ll be a great celebration of RSL’s inevitable Supporters’ Shield win. Make sure you get your tickets now.
RSL fans got an early Christmas present today from MLS HQ as the league announced the first three games of RSL's 2013 season. But the league's gift may seem more like a lump of coal to Head Coach Jason Kreis - if he had any hopes of slowly easing his somewhat retooled team into league play, the schedule makers certainly didn't oblige.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will open its ninth campaign on Sunday, March 3 on the road at the San Jose Earthquakes. If you're suddenly having deja vu, it's because RSL opened both the 2010 (a 3-0 win) and 2011 (a 1-0 win) seasons at San Jose as well.
This game promises to give RSL a stern test right away - the 'Quakes were the 2012 MLS Supporter's Shield winners, and despite being shocked by eventual MLS Cup champion L.A. Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs, this team was quality all year. The 2013 edition of San Jose will likely be just as dangerous as they plan to keep their core group together and make another run at multiple trophies. This game will provide an immediate test for RSL's back line sans Jamison Olave. League MVP Chris Wondolowski torched RSL a few times last season, but then again, Wondo torched pretty much everyone in league on his way to one of the most scintillating individual seasons in MLS history. But for RSL observers, this game will serve as an immediate litmus test to show how good this "new" RSL team really is.
Things don't get much easier in Week 2 as RSL will travel to Washington to take on Ben Olsen's D.C. United. Olsen is the latest retired MLS star to take the reins of the franchise he played for and quickly turn them into a contender. D.C. rose in 2012 to third in MLS in the regular season table and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were bounced by the Houston Dynamo. Like San Jose, United is a team clearly trending the right direction, so expect Olsen to do only minor tweaking this offseason as he seeks to take the next step. This is another potential "statement" game for RSL and we should get a good look at where they are in all facets of the game as D.C. is one of the more balanced teams in the league. Finally, cross-country travel is never a good thing, but it might be better to get this trip out of the way before the team gets road-weary later in the year.
The home opener at Rio Tinto won't come until March 16th (Thanks, “Greatest Snow on Earth”) when RSL will face its Rocky Mountain Cup rival, the Colorado Rapids. It's difficult to say how good Colorado will be next year. After struggling mightily in 2012, head coach Oscar Pareja is looking at a major rebuild as he tries to get the Rapids back into the thick of things. Already this offseason he has cast off major contributors Conor Casey and Tyrone Marshall, brought in Edson Buddle, and there will likely be more changes coming. But regardless, it's difficult to bet against RSL in a home opener no matter who the opponent is. As this will be the first chance most RSL fans have to see their team in person, you can't ask for a better match than this one.
2013 promises to be an exciting campaign right from the start. March 3rd can't get here fast enough!
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and will cover the team for ESPN700 AM.
By now you probably know that Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando took home the 2012 MLS Save of the Year for his acrobatic stop on Kansas City forward Kei Kamara in RSL's April 14 game at Sporting.
What you might've missed, however, was Rimando lightheartedly ripping on teammate Nat Borchers when reacting to the honor, thanking his teammate "for losing his man and allowing me to make the save for this year’s award.”
Of course, Nick was only kidding around with Nat. Just gives us all a little window into the fun atmosphere the guys have in the locker room.
Nick's full quote is below:
“Saves are never planned but when you have a chance to help your team it feels great,” Rimando said. “It’s always an honor to be recognized. I also have to thank RSL DF Nat Borchers for losing his man and allowing me to make the save for this year’s award.”
No member of the Real Salt Lake organization was included on the list of 2012 MLS Award Finalists announced by the league on Thursday morning.
This is the first time since the 2009 MLS Cup winning season that RSL hasn’t had a player or coach nominated for an end-of-season award.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was perhaps the team’s most surprising snub, not making the finalist list for Goalkeeper of the Year despite registering 16 wins, 13 shutouts and a 1.03 goals against average in the MLS regular season.
The awards will be released throughout a 10-day period starting on Nov. 19 with the reveal of Xbox Fair Play Individual & Team of the Year, and Rookie of the Year awards before ending with the announcement of the AT&T Goal of the Year, MLS Save of the Year, and Volkswagen Most Valuable Player award on Nov. 29.
The full list of Award Finalists is below:
Rookie of the Year Finalists
Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
Nick DeLeon (D.C. United)
Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Xbox Individual Fair Play Finalists*
Ante Jazic (Chivas USA)
Logan Pause (Chicago Fire)
Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls)
Xbox Team Fair Play Finalists*
New England Revolution
Defender of the Year Finalists
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
MLS W.O.R.K.S. Humanitarian of the Year Finalists
Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City)
Michael Lahoud (Philadelphia Union)
Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)
Referee of the Year Finalists
Assistant Referee of the Year Finalists
Coach of the Year Finalists
Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City)
Frank Yallop (San Jose Earthquakes)
Comeback Player of the Year Finalists
Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes)
Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Finalists
Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA)
Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
Newcomer of the Year Finalists
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
Volkswagen Most Valuable Player Finalists
Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Ready for Friday night’s MLS Cup Playoff opener at Seattle?
We are too. Unfortunately, there's still over 48 hours left 'til the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals kicks off on NBC Sports Network at 8 p.m. MT.
You'll just have to let the above 2012 season highlight package tide you over until then. Go ahead and enjoy the doozy of a video with your favorite candy bar. It is Halloween, after all.
Any time you've got 90 minutes with no goals, there's a chance the match was a bit on the boring side — Real Salt Lake’s scoreless draw against Vancouver on Saturday was no big exception. But with plenty of lineup changes and some interesting substitutions, there was plenty of tactical interest to be had.
With backup goalie Kyle Reynish on for regular ‘keeper Nick Rimando, and Chris Wingert and Kwame Watson-Siriboe as the central defenders in front of him, there was always a slight risk that continuity could be disrupted and defensive posturing rendered obsolete. Much to their credit, the slightly makeshift back line did well to snuff out chances before they started — all while both outside backs Tony Beltran and Kenny Mansally were both able to get forward with ease and aplomb.
With Javier Morales out and Will Johnson not starting, the midfield did struggle a bit to create clear chances, but Jonny Steele's defensive contribution (4/4 tackling, 3 interceptions) was a bright spot. Luis Gil failed to inject himself fully in the tip of the diamond, but Ned Grabavoy was in fine passing form and Kyle Beckerman was his usual strong self.
With the game bordering on boring through most of the first and second halves, late substitutions promised at least some sort of shift in momentum. For Real Salt Lake, the arrival on the scene of Sebastian Velasquez, Will Johnson and David Viana did just that.
The most notable was certainly Sebastian Velasquez, who took the opportunity, as they say, with both hands. With late runs into the box, exciting dribbling ability, and a demand for the ball, he showed a hunger and drive that set things alight late on.
Will Johnson, on the other hand, didn't have too much to do — set up as a right back in a shift from his usual left back spot (when moving into a defensive position), with Tony Beltran going to the left, he got forward well but wasn't able to really change the affair in a substantial way. With only 12 minutes on the pitch, that wasn't entirely surprising.
David Viana came on and played 19 minutes in his home debut, but he, like most, didn't show anything entirely too exciting. As a newcomer to the system, the fact that he's getting minutes at all speaks well of his ability, but if he is handed another chance in 2012, he'll want to be more of an impact.
Heading into the playoffs, RSL has done as well in the last five games of the season, gaining more points in the last five matches of the regular season (11) than in any other season. Whether this affects the long-term viability of the playoff campaign is difficult to say definitively, but Jason Kreis is a firm believer that form carries over. It's hard to see it not having at least some impact.
Be one of the first 5,000 fans into Rio Tinto Stadium for tomorrow's regular season finale against Vancouver Whitecaps FC to snag an awesome Kyle Beckerman bobblehead.
Pair him up with the Nick Rimando bobblehead you got last year. Every bobble needs a friend and those two are sure to be best buds.
Bouncing back from a painful cup exit is a difficult thing to do for any side, but the Claret-and-Cobalt will want to avoid the "continental hangover" effect against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
With the match the final regular season contest before the start of MLS Cup playoffs, three questions will be on the top of Jason Kreis's mind: How does RSL approach the match? What personnel should be used, and who is available? And, finally: How does regular season form sit in the priority?
As detailed in Thursday's post on The Sovereign, there's plenty left to play for, even when we're just talking about the regular season. The pain of losing against Herediano is still there, but as it so often does, time marches on and the Claret-and-Cobalt are being pushed into another meaningful match. Despite the subdued build-up — it's hard to imagine it's easy to escalate after this week — it could still potentially affect RSL's ability to host the MLS Cup and to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League.
As such, finding the right balance will be critical for Jason Kreis. As much as fans have had a hard week, the players will feel it doubly so, and whether that's best solved by putting them in a high-pressure scenario or by having them relax a bit and just play is hard to really say effectively. This is, as they say, why he's paid the big bucks.
With two additional injury concerns coming out of the Herediano match, Jason Kreis has more than the approach to the match to worry about. Both Will Johnson and Chris Schuler came out of the match because of injury, and with Jamison Olave and Ned Grabavoy kept out of proceedings altogether on Tuesday, pickings are looking slim.
If Schuler and Olave are both out, it seems likely that Kwame Watson-Siriboe would be used if fit — but at this point, that may be a fairly substantial "if." The only other immediate option would be to push Chris Wingert inside, dropping Kenny Mansally in at left back.
If Grabavoy is indeed out, Luis Gil (if sufficiently recovered from mid-week and from illness) would almost certainly take his place; if Will Johnson is out, it's hard to look past Jonny Steele — if just for defensive contribution. Steele has, to my mind, received a lot of criticism for his play, some of it justified — but his work rate and defensive ability are the closest available in midfield next to Will Johnson's.
It's often bandied about that form is the deciding factor moving into playoffs, sometimes with some evidence, other times with significantly less than that. Regardless, RSL will want to keep Vancouver's form spotty — in their last nine matches, they've won just once, a solitary 4-0 victory over Western Conference whipping boys Chivas USA. Further, it seems odd, but with a win, RSL could find their best form since June.
After Real Salt Lake failed to win their last six matches to end 2011, there were concerns about the ability of the squad to respond positively in the playoffs. A strong win at home against Seattle aside, there wasn't much momentum to carry forward.
Regardless of the statistical realities (or irrealities, as the case may be) of form leading into playoffs, it stands to reckon that keeping his troops injury-free will be high on the priority list for Jason Kreis. If he's to go into playoffs with only one recognized center back available, an overwhelming sense of deja vu will pass over all of Utah. That may be as much an influencing factor as anything.
Tuesday night’s scoreless draw against C.S. Herediano may have eliminated Real Salt Lake from this year's CONCACAF Champions League, but the team still has plenty left to play for before the MLS Cup Playoffs begin next week.
RSL will take on Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in the MLS regular season finale on Saturday (Kickoff at 7 p.m. MT on CW30), and playoff seeding, potential MLS Cup hosting and qualification for next year’s CCL could very well all be on the line.
We’ll start with playoff seeding. The Claret-and-Cobalt currently sits in third-place in the Western Conference, tied on points with Seattle but trailing Sounders FC by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker. Barring a big blowout win on Saturday, RSL won’t be able to make up the five goals it trails Seattle by to win the tiebreaker. That means that the Utah side needs to get a better result than Sounders FC does this weekend – the Cascadia club plays at L.A. on Sunday night – in order to finish with the West's second-seed.
Finishing second in the West would mean that RSL would host the second-leg of its Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle. Finishing third would mean the team would host the first-leg and travel to the Pacific Northwest for the second.
Hosting MLS Cup
The league made a change to the MLS Cup format this year, switching the host site from a neutral venue to the home stadium of the team with a higher point total. If RSL should make it to Cup, it would need to have a higher point total than the Eastern Conference champ in order to host the final at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The only team in the East that RSL cannot finish above is Sporting Kansas City, which is seven points ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt. Things are a lot tighter with D.C., Chicago, New York and Houston, all of which could finish above or below Real Salt Lake depending on how things go this weekend.
Here’s how it breaks down: If RSL beats Vancouver on Saturday, it will finish the season with 59 points. That will automatically put the team ahead of New York and Houston. It won’t, however, necessarily put the team ahead of Chicago or D.C., which play each other at Toyota Park on Saturday.
D.C. would finish one point ahead of RSL if both teams win, Chicago – which right now has one fewer goal scored than RSL – would tie RSL if both win, and RSL would finish ahead of both D.C. and the Fire should those two teams draw.
RSL could finish behind all five Eastern Conference teams – thereby eliminating any chance of hosting MLS Cup – should it lose on Saturday.
Two of the four American slots for the 2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League have already been filled. The first was taken by Kansas City, which qualified by winning the U.S. Open Cup in August. The second was filled by the San Jose Earthquakes, which nabbed a spot by winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
The two remaining American CCL spots will go to the teams that qualify for MLS Cup. Because San Jose and Kansas City have already qualified for the CCL, if either/both of those teams make it to Cup, the remaining CCL spot(s) – one or two, depending on if one or both make it to Cup – would go to the team(s) that finished with the next highest regular season point total.
All of that means that RSL - currently fifth in the league table - can qualify for the 2013/14 CCL by: A) Making it to MLS Cup B) Finishing third in the MLS regular season standings with one of San Jose or Kansas City making MLS Cup or C) Finishing third or fourth in the MLS regular season standings with both San Jose and Kansas City making MLS Cup.
Got all that? Great.
We'll be back next week with a full rundown of how everything shook out.