MLS Regular Season
Real Salt Lake faces Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday with a bit of a quandary on their hands: Play a weakened side and risk a loss, or play a strong side and risk losing the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday?
Return to approach
The first and perhaps foremost thing Real Salt Lake must focus on for Saturday's match is returning to the approach that's brought them so much joy through the season. Too often, they've set out to do something, but, after finding themselves down a goal, looked to force the occasion. It's not what they train week-in, week-out to do, and as a result, they're not particularly good at it.
So at the top of Jason Kreis's list will be convincing his side that, if the going gets tough, they must continue to attack in sane, non-panicky ways: Keep the ball on the ground, build connective play, and work as a unit. The individualistic approaches showcased last weekend was not the solution to our ills, and though they might be natural and somewhat sane reactions to the compact defense we saw, they were ineffective.
The necessity of rotation
This is no time in the season to be rotating, but we've found ourselves in a situation where it's necessary. That's a good thing, as the impetus is the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday (ahem, buy tickets, et cetera), which, we'll all agree, is a good thing to have happen. And it's at home, which is even better, as you won't be able to watch it otherwise. But with Saturday on the road, a two-games-in-three-day stretch might be too much to ask of even the most seasoned of players.
Should we lose Saturday, we're in a precarious position for the playoffs. Should we lose Tuesday, we'll have missed another chance at a trophy. Obviously enough, the goal is to lose at neither asking, but the approach required is difficult. We can't put too many of those likely to start Tuesday out there on Saturday — or indeed, even on the plane today — lest we risk tiring them out prematurely.
So a much-changed lineup is inevitable. Balancing those players who might be able to play in both matches with those who might be on the bench is a difficult task. But sending Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales? I wouldn't count on that. Those players are ostensibly the core of our soccer identity, but we'll need to rely on our much-vaunted depth to make it through this difficult stretch.
It's a funny thing when a future match dictates a match immediately at hand, but that's the nature of playing for trophies. It's difficult, it's arduous, and it comes bundled with a great deal of risk. But if we want to stand a fighting chance to continue in both, it will take some real work.
Briefly, a slew of young players will likely see the pitch on Saturday. Sebastian Velasquez can be expected to play at the top of the diamond, where he's continually impressed for the reserves. Yordany Alvarez should be at the base of the diamond, and his strong passing and breakup play will be strongly needed against this Whitecaps side hunting for a playoff spot. Brandon McDonald could be called into action for the first time since the 3-3 draw against Portland (particularly as he's cup-tied and can't play Tuesday).
It'll be a mixed lineup, no doubt, but one imminently capable of putting a two-game losing streak behind this side. It's all about depth, isn't it?
The MLS regular season is winding down and RSL have got yet another compelling stretch of three games in eight days ahead of them – two important league games a week apart with Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup Final wedged in the middle. We’ve seen plenty of 3-in-8’s roll around this season, but it’s doubtful that any of them are as important as this one. If RSL plays out of their minds and wins all three games, they will find themselves with a major trophy in hand, a CONCACAF Champions League berth (and all the ancillary benefits that come with it), and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. But if they crash and burn, they could find themselves without a trophy and on the outside of the playoff race. So if you’re Jason Kreis, the question is how do you manage these games?
The first consideration has to be priorities – which games are most important to win? I think it’s fair to say that the number one priority is the U.S. Open Final for the reasons the RSL blog crew have hashed out for months. So no matter what Kreis chooses to do in the other games, it’s clear that he needs his first-choice team to arrive ready and rested on Tuesday night. After that game the priorities are not as clear-cut, but for me it’s the FC Dallas game on October 5. It’s a home game and represents the better opportunity to get three points.
That’s not to say that Saturday's game at Vancouver game is a throwaway by any means. It’s still important – especially given the low point that Salt Lake is going through right now – that they at least show up and compete well. Going into the Open Cup Final on a three-game losing streak would be less than ideal from a confidence standpoint. With that in mind, there are going to have to be some lineup changes against the Whitecaps. Considering the Tuesday game and the fact that Vancouver plays on turf, it makes sense to consider resting the legs that have the most miles – season and/or career – on them.
I would consider resting guys like Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy because they’re definitely going to be in Tuesday’s plans, so it might be unwise to risk an injury to one of them. Lovel Palmer, Brandon McDonald, Yordany Alvarez, Khari Stephenson and Sebastian Velasquez are certainly capable of replacing them without a big drop in quality. That’s the beauty of being probably the deepest team in the league.
For the U.S. Open Cup game, there will be no holding back. Perhaps this game could even see the return of injured forward Alvaro Saborio. In any case, there’s no way Kreis fields anything less than his best available group. Nobody should underestimate D.C. based on the admittedly horrible MLS season they’ve had. If anything, the disappointment of their league play will further motivate them since Open Cup is the last thing they have to play for this year. United will be a desperate and motivated team, and last week we saw what a desperate team is capable of.
With the Open Cup game behind them (and hopefully with a trophy in tow), RSL can return its focus to the Dallas game and playoff positioning. In the past Kreis has shown no reservations about trotting out guys who played 90 minutes just days before, so his lineup choices will probably be based on how players are feeling after the previous two games and who’s most in form.
This three-game stretch is one of the last opportunities for the team to get their form right before the playoffs, and some less-used players are going to have to step up and play big.
The latest Kickin' it with Kwame is here! Check out RSL's Kwame Watson-Siriboe as he talks with some fans and fellow defenders Nat Borchers and Aaron Maund at last week's RSL Meet the Team Event at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake lost its second match in a row on Saturday, falling 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few facts and figures from Saturday’s match:
Rio Tinto Stadium was sold-out on Saturday night, with 20,504 fans packing the RioT to capacity for the sixth time this season. The sellout – the second consecutive full house in Sandy – was the fourth largest crowd in Rio Tinto Stadium history.
Despite dropping two consecutive matches, the Claret-and-Cobalt is still in the Supporters’ Shield race – albeit on the fringes – just three points behind the first-place New York Red Bulls and two points back of Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC.
All three goals in Saturday’s contest were scored within a 3 minutes and 5 second span in the first half. Steven Lenhart opened the scoring, nodding San Jose ahead at the 17:03 mark. Javier Morales equalized for RSL, finding the back of the net at the 18:44 mark. Lenhart scored the winner scarcely a minute later, again heading home to put the Quakes up 2-1 at the 20:08 mark.
Morales continued his dominance over San Jose on Saturday, with his 19th minute tally marking his seventh career goal against the Quakes. RSL’s Argentine maestro now has seven goals and six assists in 13 career regular season games against the Bay Area side.
While the team wasn’t able to pick up a result, RSL did completely control the run of play on Saturday, registering 69.5 percent possession and out shooting San Jose 17-8.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and forward Olmes Garcia were both named to MLSsoccer.com's fourth-annual 24 under 24 list this week, with Gil clocking in at No. 2 on the rankings and Garcia coming in at No. 19.
While Gil and Garcia are both highly deserving of the honor, there are a few worthy RSL players that didn't make the list. 21-year-old forward Joao Plata and 19-year-old defender Carlos Salcedo have been particularly strong for the Claret-and-Cobalt this season, with Plata notching three goals and eight assists in league play and Salcedo performing admirably as a surprise starter alongside Nat Borchers in the center of RSL's back line.
Plata's exclusion from the 24 under 24 list is particularly curious. The diminuitve Ecuadorian, as mentioned above, has been very strong for RSL this year, but he's also been better than numerous forwards who made teh 24 under 24 list. Plata has better numbers than LA forward Gyasi Zardes (No. 7) and Jose Villarreal (No. 11) as well as Vancouver forward Darren Mattocks (No. 12). Alas, on-field performance isn't the only criterion used in the 24 under 24 voting, with the slightly-vague "Marketability/Personality" category carrying 20 percent of the weight, equal to the other four metrics used in tabulating the rankings.
Plata's plight was significant enough that it was noted this morning by MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle in his column highlighting the five biggest 24 under 24 snubs this season.
RSL has a pair of of other youngsters who also merit mention in this discussion, with 22-year-olds Devon Sandoval and Sebastian Velasquez performing nicely for the Claret-and-Cobalt as spot starters this season.
This Saturday (7:00 p.m. – CW30, ESPN700), Real Salt Lake looks to retake the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race as they host a desperate San Jose side. But that’s not all that is noteworthy ahead of this weekend’s clash. Rio Tinto Stadium is close to notching its sixth sellout of the season— only Maverik Mayhem Corner seats and Standing Room Only tickets remain — while going head-to-head with Utah’s biggest rivalry game: BYU vs. Utah.
The near-sellout has proved to be especially noteworthy, garnering an article in the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis sees the near-sellout as a sign of soccer’s growing influence in Utah.
"We’ve done this in the past, a near-sellout or sellout,” he told media when asked about going up against the BYU vs. Utah game. “I think it’s a pretty clear indicator of where we are in our sport and where we are with the support in this community. I think all of us feel extremely proud and extremely pleased with that support.”
The BYU vs. Utah game might be the biggest sports rivalry in Utah, but RSL fans aren’t letting this weekend’s critical match go unnoticed.
The players are having a little fun with it too, sharing their favorite sports rivalries in the video above ahead of Saturday's likely sellout at Rio Tinto Stadium and college football clash in Provo.
Real Salt Lake’s Supporters’ Shield hopes took a hit on Friday night, with the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 2-0 loss at Seattle dropping the Utah side out of first place, one point behind Sounders FC in the Western Conference and Shield races.
Seattle’s points lead and its two games in hand on RSL place the Sounders firmly in the driver’s seat for the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference crowns. But that doesn’t mean the Claret-and-Cobalt is out of either race – far from it, in fact.
We’ve broken down the Supporters’ Shield race, analyzing the schedules of the top-five teams based on points per game. Check it out:
1 – Seattle Sounders FC
Current points: 49
Current points per game: 1.81
League standings: 1st
Points per game standings: 1st
MLS games remaining: 7
Maximum possible points: 70
Opponents’ average points: 43.14
Remaining schedule: Sept. 21 at LA, Sept. 29 v. NY, Oct. 5 at COL, Oct. 9 v. VAN, Oct. 13 at POR, Oct. 19 at DAL, Oct. 27 v. LA
Rundown: Seattle took charge in the Supporters’ Shield race by beating RSL, with the Sounders now controlling their own destiny with a maximum of 70 possible points. While Seattle is the current front-runner, the Sounders do have a very tough schedule down the stretch, with all seven of its matches coming against teams still fighting for their playoff lives. Among the Rave Green’s toughest remaning matches are this Saturday’s contest at LA, the Oct. 5 game at Colorado, the Oct. 13 match at Portland and the Oct. 27 regular season finale against the Galaxy.
2 – Montreal Impact
Current points: 45
Current points per game: 1.67
League standings: 4th (Ahead of KC, COL on tiebreaker)
Points per game standings: 2nd
MLS games remaining: 7
Maximum possible points: 66
Opponents’ average points: 37.14
Remaining schedule: Sept. 21 v. VAN, Sept. 25 v. HER**, Sept. 28 at CHI, Oct. 4 at HOU, Oct. 12 v. NE, Oct. 16 at LA, Oct. 19 v. PHI, Oct. 26 at TOR
Rundown: One of the surprise teams of the season, Montreal has put itself in a good spot to take home the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. The Impact’s seven remaining games are tied with Seattle for most in the league, and its 1.67 points per game average is second only to the Sounders. Montreal also has a relatively easier schedule compared to the other Shield contenders, with its opponents’ average of 37.14 points higher than only RSL’s and Kansas City’s totals. One potential stumbling block for the Impact could be fixture congestion: Marco Di Vaio and Co. will play eight times before the season ends, including a crucial CONCACAF Champions League match against Guatemala’s CD Heredia on Sept. 25.
3 – Real Salt Lake
Current points: 48
Current points per game: 1.66
League rank: 2nd (Ahead of NY on tiebreaker)
Points per game rank: T-3rd
MLS games remaining: 5
Maximum possible points: 63
Opponents’ average points: 37
Remaining schedule: Sept. 21 v. SJ, Sept. 28 at VAN, Oct. 1 v. DC*, Oct. 5 v. DAL, Oct. 19 at POR, Oct. 23 v. CHV
Rundown: RSL has one of the easier schedules among the Supporters’ Shield contenders, with its opponents’ average points clocking in at 37, second-lowest only to Sporting Kansas City. The downside: RSL only has five matches remaining in which to gain points, two fewer than fellow contenders Seattle and Montreal, one less than Kansas City and even with New York.
4 – New York Red Bulls
Current points: 48
Current points per game: 1.66
League standings: 3rd (Trailing RSL on tiebreaker)
Points per game standings: T-3rd
MLS games remaining: 5
Maximum possible points: 63
Opponents’ average points: 41
Remaining schedule: Sept. 22 v. DAL, Sept. 29 at SEA, Oct. 5 v. NE, Oct. 20 at HOU, Oct. 27 v. CHI
Rundown: New York is streaking at the moment, having won three matches in a row over DC, Houston and Toronto. While they’re hot, the Red Bulls have a difficult schedule remaining, with the five matches left on the schedule all coming against teams still in the playoff race. New York’s toughest remaining match is also the most important for its Supporters’ Shield hopes: Sept. 29 against the Sounders at CenturyLink Field.
5 – Sporting Kansas City
Current points: 45
Current points per game: 1.61
League standings: 5th (Trailing MTL on tiebreaker)
Points per game standings: 5th
MLS games remaining: 6
Maximum possible points: 63
Opponents’ average points: 31.83
Remaining schedule: Sept. 21 at TOR, Sept. 27 v. PHI, Oct. 5 at CLB, Oct. 9 at HOU, Oct. 18 v. DC, Oct. 23 v. OLI**, Oct. 26 at PHI
Rundown: Kansas City has a bit of work to do to climb closer to Seattle in the Supporters’ Shield race, needing wins on the road – Sporting plays four of its remaining six MLS matches away from home – to challenge the Seattle’s of the world. Thankfully for KC, its schedule is probably the easiest of the five teams listed, taking on lowly Toronto on Saturday, playing at Columbus on Oct. 5 and hosting league cellar-dwellers DC on Oct. 18.
MLSsoccer.com is in the midst of its annual 24 under 24 week, and, in honor of the occasion, published a "Between the Lines" video on the new wave of attacking talent in MLS. Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil features in the video, with MLSsoccer's Matt Doyle breaking down his game, along with those of Portland's Darlington Nagbe, Vancouver's Russel Teibert and New England's Kelyn Rowe.
Doyle breaks down the 19-year-old Gil beginning at the 4:45 mark of the video. The entire piece is worth a watch, though. Check it out above.
Real Salt Lake lost a tough one at Seattle on Friday, falling 2-0 to the Sounders at CenturyLink Field.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Friday’s crowd of 55,107 at Seattle was the largest crowd RSL has ever played in front of. Seattle is now 6-0-0 when playing in front of home crowds of at least 55,000 people.
Friday’s shutout broke RSL’s streak of 23 consecutive games across all competitions scoring a goal. The last time Real Salt Lake was shutout prior to Friday night was on April 27, when the Claret-and-Cobalt fell 2-0 to the LA Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL still leads MLS in goals scored with 52 through 29 regular season games.
Friday’s loss broke RSL’s five-game unbeaten streak on artificial turf. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s last loss on turf came on Aug. 11, 2012, when RSL fell 2-1 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Friday’s loss dropped Real Salt Lake out of first place in both the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races. RSL now trails Seattle by one point in both the West and MLS races, with the Sounders holding two games in hand on the Utah side.
RSL’s five remaining MLS opponents have an average of 37 points this year. That total would place behind eight teams in the Western Conference and would be tied for 15th in the league table.
With a nearly full-strength side, Real Salt Lake travels to Seattle for a match that could tilt the scales in MLS, with effects cascading down the table should RSL lose out. Jason Kreis's side, then, has a difficult task in front of them, in a difficult stadium, against a difficult side.
It is important for RSL to notch a win against Seattle, but this will be one of the more difficult MLS matches for Kreis to manage. Should his side adopt an overly defensive posture, it might be difficult to grab that win — constitutionally, we're not a side that thrives when sitting back in an organized fashion. Should they adopt an overly offensive posture, it might be difficult to preserve any goalscoring advantage maintained. Thus, striking that balance will be the impetus laid before Kreis.
This largely becomes the role of the midfield to maintain that balance: The match ebbs and flows by the actions they take. The forwards are important in that they must follow the lead of the midfield and adapt their play, and the defenders are important in that they must respond to the threats that emerge as a result of the balance. But it is the role of the midfield to dictate it, and with three veterans certain to start, that shouldn't be too difficult.
Kyle Beckerman: He is the player through which all things must pass, whether it is directly (passes to and from him) or indirectly (play being dictated by him, whether by literal communication or by his movement). He'll be important in relaying play to wide players, and ensuring that play circulates through the midfield.
Ned Grabavoy: He is the player tasked with perhaps the most work of the three veterans, and he'll be required to both help out defending against wide players and to push play through the midfield. His ability to maintain possession will be vital here, particularly against the Sounders midfield; this will give all other players more time to adapt off-the-ball and to provide new outlets.
Javier Morales: He is the player responsible for creating the deadliest of chances and to stretch play laterally both through his movement and through his distribution to forwards. This will open room for the other midfielders — Grabavoy and the other central midfielder in the diamond, perhaps Luis Gil — and the forwards in the areas in which they can do the most damage.
No player has an easier job than any other on the night, but by ensuring that their responsibilities are fulfilled, the collective burden will be lifted, and the wall of 55,000 fans in Seattle can be disappointed once again.