New England Revolution
Real Salt Lake is a veteran-laden team with loads of playoff experience. That much is known.
But just how much more experienced in the rigors of the MLS Cup Playoffs than any other team in MLS was on display in the first legs of the Western Conference Semifinal Series that were played over the weekend.
After play in the first legs, Nick Rimando’s 32 career postseason matches was more than the 11 starters from FC Dallas (30), the Columbus Crew (30) and the New England Revolution (29), even after Dallas had played two playoff games this year.
Of the eight Conference Semifinalists, no team comes close to touching the 171 total playoff games from Real Salt Lake’s starting 11 against the Galaxy. LA was the nearest competition with 130 career playoff matches, followed by D.C. United with 94 and Seattle Sounders FC with 87.
Real Salt Lake’s back six alone – Rimando, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Kyle Beckmeran – combine for 127 career postseason matches. That is significantly more than any other team’s starting 11 outside of the Galaxy.
Below is the full chart of the playoff experience for the starting lineups from the Western Conference semifinal first leg matches.
Real Salt Lake – 171
LA Galaxy – 130
D.C. United – 94
Seattle Sounders FC – 87
New York Red Bulls – 78
FC Dallas – 30
Columbus Crew – 30
New England Revolution – 29
Real Salt Lake returns home on Friday, hosting Eastern Conference foe New England Revolution at Rio Tinto Stadium at 8:00 p.m. MT.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Friday’s Independence Day match:
Will U.S. internationals, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando return to the lineup?
Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando returned to the Utah club today after the U.S. bowed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday. The U.S. was knocked out of the tournament after suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time in its Round of 16 match.
Real Salt Lake has missed Beckerman and Rimando dearly, going 1-3-2 in MLS in their absence. The Claret-and-Cobalt also fell 2-1 at Atlanta Silverbacks in the club’s opening U.S. Open Cup match on June 14.
The duo's status is still unclear ahead of Friday's match, with both players likely struggling with the quick turnaround from Brazil. If Beckerman and Rimando don't start on Friday, a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium will still be there to welcome home two of its greatest players.
Can RSL break its winless streak on Friday?
Real Salt Lake is now winless in its last five MLS matches, and six across all competition including the Claret-and-Cobalt’s loss in U.S. Open Cup play. RSL enters Friday’s match on a three-game losing streak across all competition, falling 3-1 at home to Portland on June 7, suffering a 2-1 defeat at Atlanta in the U.S. Open Cup on June 14 and most recently falling 1-0 at Chivas USA on June 28. RSL got off to a great start in 2014, going undefeated for its first 12 games. Hopefully, the Claret-and-Cobalt can return to its winning ways on Independence Day.
Real Salt Lake will look to improve its Independence Day record
RSL will look to improve its rather meager record in Independence Day matches on Friday. The July 4th match will be the Claret-and-Cobalt’s ninth game on the summer holiday in Utah, with RSL posting a 1-1-7 record. RSL and New England Revolution have also met before on Independence Day, playing to a 3-3 draw in 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake undefeated against New England since 2010
The Claret-and-Cobalt has done well against New England in the past four years, going undefeated against the Revs ever since 2010. RSL has recorded four wins and one draw in that time frame. In 2010, RSL thrashed New England 5-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium and then won 2-1 on the road later that year. The Claret-and-Cobalt went on to defeat the Revs 2-0 on the road and draw 3-3 at home the following year. In their yearly meetings in 2012 and 2013, RSL pulled off 2-1 wins in both encounters.
Real Salt Lake's late 2-1 win over New England on Wednesday and the drama involved boils down to three things: Attention to rebounds, substitutes, and a bit of defensive mayhem near the end that could have cost RSL a win.
If ever there was a match that illustrated the importance of following up on the shots of your teammates, it was this one. It's difficult to recall the number of times a shot was spilled by the goalkeeper, but it's easy to recount the two that saw goals. The first came after a rebound from a Sebastian Velasquez shot from the left side of the box, and it was a fine bit of skill in buildup that led to it. Devon Sandoval proved once again his ability to be in the right spot at the right time, and this time, his saw the back of the net.
The second came after a rebound from a Kyle Beckerman shot from distance, and my word — it was a fantastic shot. But fantastic or not, the rebound fell back to the defenders in the box, and Olmes Garcia wasted no time beating a defender to it and finishing desperately at the near post with a trickling shot. Neither goal was beautiful, but both were the product of hard work and a dedication to seeing out the play.
The first substitution of the match is the one that is always most telling: Sebastian Velasquez, in for Luis Gil, added the ability to maintain possession under the worst circumstances. In the process, he helped to change the dynamic of the match in the second half. He won free kicks in good positions and, importantly, got the shot off that rebounded to Devon Sandoval. Also a vital substitution was, of course, Olmes Garcia, who scored a fine goal and forced defenders to think about the match in a different way.
Those are inevitably the best substitutions a side can make: those that force a change in approach. Olmes Garcia always does just that, even when he doesn't score. Sebastian Velasquez, too, changed the approach of defenders, who now had to worry more keenly about the midfield keeping possession after being tackled.
It's hard tactically to account for poor decision making on the part of referees, but it's rather easy to account for clearances in dangerous areas. In the build-up to the late, late penalty decision, RSL failed to deal with a number of balls from New England, and as a result, a dangerous opportunity presented itself. Carlos Salcedo and Tony Beltran ended up getting mixed in with a group of Revs and the developing play invoked a decision from the referee, albeit an incorrect one. Had the ball been cleared earlier, there wouldn't have been an issue with which to deal.
Clearances weren't problematic after the penalty, though, and the awareness of Kyle Beckerman deserves all available plaudits alongside those of Nick Rimando. The save was good, and Rimando's uncanny knack for those even better, but Beckerman stepped in at the right moment and made no mistake with his clearance, preventing a clear opportunity for onrushing attackers.
Relive the big three moments from RSL's 2-1 win over New England on Wednesday in this quick-hitting video from RSL videographer Nick Lamping. Goals from Devon Sandoval in the 77th minute and Olmes Garcia in the 89th and a penalty kick stop from Nick Rimando in the 92nd.
Defensive questions reign ahead of today's match against New England Revolution, and with Nat Borchers having taken ill, those questions are sure to be more poignant and pressing.
We're likely to see Chris Wingert out there again, and there's something refreshing about that. Wingert is, as we know by now, an important defensive piece. While he may not be the most attacking full back in the league — we probably have that piece available, too, with Abdoulie Mansally — he brings organization and positional awareness to the side. With a more attacking midfield group this season, Wingert's calming presence is helpful. We saw the very palpable benefits of his presence on Saturday, and if he plays again, we'll be in a strong position.
With news that Nat Borchers could be out for the match with illness, Wingert's presence could be essential. He'd be a stabilizing presence at the back — and with a young center back likely to start, that could be the difference between conceding a handful and keeping a clean sheet.
The question then turns to who starts at the back alongside Chris Schuler: The most immediate option is Kwame Watson-Siriboe, but given that he's a new father as of Friday, there's a thought that he may be unavailable. Watson-Siriboe presents himself as a player similar to Borchers, though he's not to that level. He's as capable athletically as anyone, and he can step into the right positions to win the ball. Perhaps more importantly, he's very good in the air, and against a New England side that's still unsure what their attacking style looks like, that could be essential.
Carlos Salcedo, who was handed his debut on Saturday, has a chance as well. The young academy graduate a bit more of an unknown quantity, but he's been impressive for RSL's reserves and is an immaculate worker. He cuts an aggressive figure, and though he's inexperienced, he wouldn't necessarily be out of his depth in the lineup. Again, though, he presents plenty of unknowns and has a lot to prove. Interestingly, Salcedo is more likely to cary the ball out of defense when the options are open, and he's very good in the pass. This gives us a look we haven't really seen — both Schuler and Borchers are capable, but more frequently they pass the ball off to a full back or to Kyle Beckerman.
Chris Wingert could also move centrally, which he did at times last year with some success. He played centrally frequently early in his career, but he's been a full back with us for long enough that it's easy to forget that. He's not a perfect option, but you know what you get with Wingert in the middle. More pressingly, missing him at left back could be troubling.
A late surge saw a vaguely veteran Real Salt Lake side eke out a 3-2 win over New England Revolution on Wednesday night, earning a spot in the Desert Diamond Cup Final.
The First Team Resurgence
Late resurgences are always a joy to watch, but deconstructing how exactly they came into being can be a bit difficult. It's easy to point at New England Revolution last night and accuse them of not seeing out the match, but that largely ignores the quality of the play that led to the goals.
The first of the two in the late surge came about through fantastic play by Alvaro Saborio, whose maneuvering on the edge of the box from a Ned Grabavoy pass positioned him to score a fantastic goal. The second came from Khari Stephenson — again from a Ned Grabavoy pass from the right channel. Grabavoy's ability to find space on the right flank was crucial, though perhaps a bit subtle.
Certainly New England could have defended the build-up more effectively, but their inability to hold on to the lead was down more to Real Salt Lake's first-team quality than other concerns.
The Viana Free Role
David Viana was deployed in the first half in a nominally striking role — a position which he's been dropped into at times later on in matches, but starting as a striker is a different sort of affair.
Viana came out in a quintessential free role role, with his primary roles on the pitch as a second-striker role behind Devon Sandoval and — more often — as a winger, primarily on the left flank. However, with this move, his influence was cut substantially: He saw less of the ball in dangerous attacking areas than in previous Desert Diamond Cup matches, serving more in build-up play from deeper positions.
The Velasquez Diamond
Sebastian Velasquez was handed his first real opportunity at the top of the diamond in preseason, filling a role played by Grabavoy, Viana and Stephenson so far, among others. It's a more natural position for the youngster, but I suspect he's being given more time in the outside of the diamond simply because it's where he'll undoubtedly see the most time in 2013.
He was effective in attack, and it was his shot from distance which led to the tap-in for Devon Sandoval. He also showed flashes of absolute brilliance on the ball, dribbling around players with the utmost of ease, cutting through the mess of midfield and creating opportunities. He didn't run the show as a playmaker, but he was incredibly bright on the ball.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Real Salt Lake will play its final FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup Group Stage match on Wednesday night, taking on the New England Revolution at 5:00 p.m. MT at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Claret-and-Cobalt is currently 0-1-1 in the Desert Diamond Cup after tying New York 2-2 last Wednesday and falling to Seattle 1-2 on Saturday. That mark puts RSL in a tie for third-place with the Red Bulls, two points behind second-place New England and five points back of first-place Seattle, which has already clinched a spot in Saturday's DDC Final.
RSL still has a good shot to qualify for the DDC Final against the Sounders. A win over New England on Wednesday night combined with a New York loss or tie to Seattle on Wednesday night would put the Claret-and-Cobalt through. If New York beats Seattle, RSL would need to beat New England and maintain its one goal edge over the Red Bulls in goal differential to advance to Saturday's DDC Final. Should RSL and New York finish tied on points and on goal difference, the team with the most goals scored would advance to the Final.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis won't be too worried about that, though. He'll be more interested in seeing how his players perform in their penultimate preseason match than he will be in the result.
If he sticks to pattern, Kreis will run out a reserve-heavy starting lineup on Wednesday, playing the group about 60 minutes before bringing in first-teamers to close out the match. The Claret-and-Cobalt regulars should start again on Saturday.
Wednesday's RSL-New England match will be streamed live on both RealSaltLake.com and MLSsoccer.com. The New York-Seattle match will kick off at 7:00 p.m. MT and will also be streamed live on MLSsoccer.com.