The Claret-and-Cobalt won’t be in action, but the entire Real Salt Lake family will be locked into one MLS match this weekend: Sunday’s Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders contest (7:00 p.m. MT; ESPN).
Sunday’s Cascadia Cup game between the Timbers and the Sounders at JELD-WEN Field holds massive Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference title implications, with the result going a long way toward determining whether or not RSL will have a realistic shot at either crown come Monday morning.
Here’s the short story, RSL fans: Root for a tie – hard.
A draw between Portland and Seattle on Sunday would keep RSL in first-place in the West, ahead of Seattle by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker and up one point on Portland. The Claret-and-Cobalt would remain in second-place in the Supporters’ Shield race, one point behind New York, which is also idle this weekend. RSL, New York, Portland and Seattle will all have two regular season games remaining after this weekend.
A win by either side on Sunday would put RSL in a more precarious position in the Shield and West races. A Seattle victory would put the Sounders in first in both the Shield and Western Conference races, two points ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt, which would drop to second in the West and third in the Shield race. A Portland win would vault the Timbers into first in the West and second in the Supporters’ Shield standings, and would put RSL one point behind the Timbers, in second in the West and third in the battle for the Shield.
Reiterating: A draw between Portland and Seattle would lead to RSL’s clearest past to the Western Conference crown and Supporters’ Shield. A win by either side wouldn’t eliminate RSL from either race, but it would make things significantly tougher for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Do up your favorite knot, tune-in to ESPN, and pull hard for a tie between Portland and Seattle this Sunday.
Real Salt Lake’s Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes got a big boost on Wednesday night, with West rivals Seattle losing to Vancouver, Colorado falling at San Jose and Supporters’ Shield foe Kansas City drawing at Houston to keep the Claret-and-Cobalt in the thick of both races.
Vancouver did RSL a major solid by beating Seattle 4-1, with 18-year-old forward Kekuta Manneh notching a hat trick to help the ‘Caps stun the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The result keeps RSL in first in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which now has only one game in hand on the Claret-and-Cobalt. The Sounders will make up that match on Sunday, when they’ll take on Cascadia rival Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 10, 2013
While San Jose’s win over Colorado prevented RSL from securing a sixth-straight playoff berth on Wednesday night, the result was still pretty good for Jason Kreis and Co. The Rapids loss keeps Colorado – which is four points behind RSL – off of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s back, making the prospect of securing an all-important top-three seed in the West that much easier.
RSL would’ve preferred a Houston win over Kansas City, but Wednesday’s scoreless draw between the two sides at BBVA Compass Stadium isn’t all bad. Hard-charging Sporting is now dead even with RSL, with both sides posting a 15-10-7 record through 32 games.
Here’s how the big picture looks for RSL following Wednesday’s games:
- RSL needs two points from its two remaining matches (i.e., one win or two draws) to clinch a playoff spot. A San Jose loss or tie or a Colorado loss in either of those clubs' two remaining matches would also lock up a playoff berth for the Claret-and-Cobalt. RSL’s next chance to clinch a playoff berth will come on Oct. 19, when a win at Portland would secure a postseason spot for the club.
- With 52 points through 32 games, the Claret-and-Cobalt sits in first-place in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which has a game in hand on the Utah side.
- RSL is tied with Sporting Kansas City for second-place in the Supporters’ Shield standings, one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the top spot. RSL, SKC and New York have all played 32 games, while Seattle and Portland – which are two and three points behind New York, respectively – have both played 31 games.
- Real Salt Lake is tied for third with Kansas City in the points per game standings. New York leads the league with 1.66 points per game, Seattle is in second with 1.65 and RSL and SKC are in third with 1.63.
- Pending results in Sunday’s Portland-Seattle contest and LA’s home game against Montreal on Oct. 16, RSL could potentially clinch a top-two seed in the West with a win at Portland on Oct. 19.
It’s setting up to be a wild last month. Buckle up.
Most teams around the league struggle against MLS’s three Cascadian clubs. It’s not hard to see why: Seattle, Portland and Vancouver all have deep pockets, talented rosters, strong support, and play on difficult-to-deal with turf fields.
Of course, most teams around MLS aren’t Real Salt Lake.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has been dominant against the three Cascadian clubs over the last two seasons, posting a 10-2-4 record in all competitions against the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps since the start of 2012. RSL is unbeaten against the three sides so far this year, posting 4-0-2 record through four home games and two road matches against them in all comps.
RSL has also been very solid when playing on the road at Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, currently riding a four-game unbeaten streak in Cascadia. The Claret-and-Cobalt has a combined 2-1-4 road mark at the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps since the start of 2012.
Jason Kreis and Co. will put their solid run against the Cascadian clubs on the line this Friday, when they take on Seattle Sounders FC in a battle of the West’s top two teams at CenturyLink Field. Friday’s match – which has huge implications for both the Supporters’ Shield race and MLS Cup Playoff seeding – will kick off at 8:00 p.m. MT and will be broadcast nationally on the NBC Sports Network.
Should RSL earn a fifth-straight result in the Pacific Northwest on Friday, it'll have to do it in front of a huge crowd. Seattle – which usually restricts attendance at CenturyLink Field to a little under 40,000 – has opened up the entire stadium for Friday’s affair, with full capacity reaching upwards of 67,000.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) September 11, 2013
One last note: RSL’s 18 road points this year are tied for tops in the league with Kansas City, while Seattle enters Friday’s match on a team record 12-game regular season unbeaten streak at home.
Something could very well give on Friday. Make sure you tune-in to see it all unfold.
Real Salt Lake again proved their offensive prowess on Friday, getting four goals to down the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Friday’s match:
Friday’s 4-2 win and the team’s 4-0 win over Columbus on Aug. 24 mark the first time in RSL history that the team has scored four or more goals in consecutive regular season matches. The Claret-and-Cobalt has now scored a total of 11 goals in its last three matches, with seven of those goals coming against a usually-stingy Portland side.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio scored his tenth goal during MLS play on Friday – only his thirteenth appearance of the season. Saborio’s 0.83 goals per 90 minutes is tops in MLS among players with more than eight games played.
The Real Salt Lake fan base flexed its muscles once more on Friday, with the capacity crowd of 20,252 marking the fifth sellout at Rio Tinto Stadium this year.
By scoring on Friday, RSL midfielder Luis Gil became the sixth Claret-and-Cobalt player to reach the five goal plateau this year. Gil joins Saborio, midfielder Javier Morales, midfielder Ned Grabavoy, forward Robbie Findley and forward Olmes Garcia as the six RSL players who have found the back of the net five or more times during MLS play. RSL only had two players hit the five goal mark in 2012.
Friday’s win marked the club’s 14th victory of the season, most in the league. Real Salt Lake is now one win away from reaching the 15-win, 50-point plateau for a fourth-consecutive year, something that’s never been done in league history. The Utah side is in good position to also set a new franchise record for wins in a season – the record is seventeen, held by the 2012 team.
With his bicycle kick goal past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts on Friday, Morales tied his career-high with seven goals on the season. Morales’ seven goals are good for second on the team – he leads RSL with ten assists in MLS play.
Real Salt Lake’s four goals in Friday’s match increased its league-leading goal total to 52 goals during the 2013 season. The L.A. Galaxy are a distant second, having scored 43 goals on the season.
Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata notched two assists on Friday, giving him a total of eight assists in MLS play, good for fifth in the league. The 21-year-old Ecuadorian finds himself on the assist leaderboard despite only starting in 16 of the club’s 28 games.
It seems like only yesterday that we faced Portland Timbers, and indeed, it sort of was. Or last week, but that's somewhat like yesterday.
Timbers have assumed relatively the same approach match-by-match, and that they do is a testament to Caleb Porter's belief in tactical consistency. By and large, that's a belief shared by Jason Kreis, who has been one of the most consistent coaches in MLS in recent memory. But Jason Kreis has this season showed a newfound tactical flexibility without sacrificing that belief, and he's changed the shape with relative frequency. The beauty, though, is that no matter how he's changed the shape, the approach and philosophy has remained the same.
With that in mind, Jason Kreis could deploy his side with a different shape to make more difficult the jobs of Porter and crew.
4-2-1-3: Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy; Morales; Plata, Saborio, Findley
Good: In this shape, we'd see Plata and Findley tasked with keeping busy Portland's fullbacks, Harrington and Powell, on the left and the right, respectively. Those two generally are important players, as Porter is well aware of the same thing as Kreis: To succeed in an attacking system with no focus on long ball antics, getting one or even both full backs involved in the attack is essential. By pushing back on those two, a big part of the Portland attack is mitigated.
Bad: We lose something in midfield pressure, leaving Grabavoy and Beckerman to carry more of the pressing weight than they otherwise would. If Portland plays a packed midfield, there's a risk this could get overrun.
4-3-2-1: Rimando, Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Grossman; Gil, Morales; Saborio
Good: Here, we have introduced an additional midfielder to the mix. I've pointed to Cole Grossman as the option, because we have here three midfielders involved in defending. This would mitigate any risk of the midfield being overrun. Gil and Morales would both play in a wider arrangement, and perhaps Grabavoy would step further forward to fill in the gaps. Saborio is left as the sole striker, largely to play the midfield into the attack, which would be essential.
Bad: We lose a wide man in attack, which has been important for us. When we have a striker on the wing, we introduce a more dynamic attacking option that forces the defense to rethink their plans. Against an attacking Portland Timbers side, there should be space there — it would be good for us to take advantage of that.
4-4-2: Rimando, Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Morales; Plata, Findley
Good: Rather than taking the hold-up approach with Saborio, which brings us plenty of joy, we could give him a rest and allow him an opportunity off the bench, leaving Plata and Findley as the starting strikers. Those two would be tasked with both going wide, leaving the center for the midfield to run into — perhaps they'd start in a central position and move wide. It's difficult to say. This would give us plenty of attacking width and would surely be strong in transition.
Bad: Well, we'd lack a player to hold up the ball, which we've done before. If, as I picture it, we push Plata and Findley into wide positions, we'd be found sorely lacking in the middle, too, I'm afraid. In essence, it could end up looking like a poor parody of a strikerless system.
MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek took a look at tonight's RSL-Portland matchup on their always interesting feature, The Scouting Report. Give it a watch above.
Real Salt Lake will take on the Portland Timbers for the third time in 24 days on Friday, when it will host the Cascadia club in a nationally-televised match at 8:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL is unbeaten against Portland this year, beating the Timbers 2-1 in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 7 before scoring a 93rd minute goal to tie 3-3 at Portland on Aug. 21.
Highlights from both of those matches are above. Check them out.
Real Salt Lake pulled off an improbable come-from-behind draw on Wednesday night, getting a 93rd minute goal from substitute midfielder Cole Grossman to tie the Portland Timbers 3-3 at JELD-WEN Field despite playing the final minutes with just 10 men.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Wednesday’s match:
Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers and Cole Grossman both scored their first goals of the season on Wednesday night, giving RSL 14 different players that have found the back of the net in league play this year. That total is tied for tops in the league with Chivas USA and Montreal Impact. RSL has had 16 different players score in all competitions this year, six more than the 10 Claret-and-Cobalt players that scored in MLS, U.S. Open Cup and CONACACAF Champions League action in 2012.
Wednesday’s three goal performance gives RSL 25 MLS road goals this year, tops in MLS. Only one other team in the league has as many home goals as RSL has away goals, with Vancouver Whitecaps FC notching 25 goals at home thus far. In addition to leading the league in road goals, RSL is in first place in MLS in road goal differential (+2) and total goals (44).
Wednesday’s result moves RSL to 5-6-3 on the road this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s 18 road points is tied with Sporting Kansas City for most in the league.
Wednesday’s result extended RSL’s unbeaten run on turf to five games. RSL is 1-0-2 on turf this season, tying Vancouver 1-1 at BC Place on April 13 and beating New England 2-1 at Gillette Stadium on May 8 before tying Portland on Wednesday. RSL will play on turf three more times this year, taking on Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 13, traveling north of the border to take on Vancouver at BC Place on Sept. 28 and returning to Portland to take on the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field on Oct. 19.
Cole Grossman’s last appearance with the first-team prior to his shift on Wednesday came 141 days earlier, when he started and played 77 minutes in RSL’s 2-0 loss at FC Dallas on March 23. Grossman suffered a concussion in that match and – though he had made several appearances in the 18 since – had not appeared in a game since. His eight minute cameo on Wednesday was Grossman’s second appearance with RSL after he was acquired by the team this offseason.
Real Salt Lake's travels to Portland force the league-topping side into a difficult position against a strong team, with the loss of Kyle Beckerman a particularly sore point.
No Captain (or is it "No, Captain!"?)
The returning Yordany Alvarez should step in for Kyle Beckerman, which, on the face of it, is a slightly terrifying prospect, but the reality of it is a bit less daunting. Alvarez is clearly no direct, one-for-one replacement, and I don't think anybody suspects he is. But he does present some valuable attributes, especially when we consider his passing game. He surely won't be getting forward in the same way, but he still manages to get himself into advanced positions quite readily.
Surprisingly, the thing we'll miss most from Beckerman is his creative play. Do we say that a year ago? Two years ago? I don't know, but he's had a distinct shift in his approach this season, and it's one that has benefited our play.
Our shifts in formation have startled opponents somewhat, as they now feel uncertain as to what we'll play on any given match day. This, despite very heavily playing in that 4-4-2 — so what's got them scared? Simply, it's the flexibility they thought we didn't have. In all honesty, our three core formations we've played this season — the 4-4-2 diamond, the 4-2-1-3, the 4-5-1 — all function in largely the same way: We maintain pressure with our forwards and attacking midfielders, we stretch play with midfield runs, and we maintain possession in the middle.
It's the understanding we've built in the squad over years of play that allows us to easily switch formations, and that, in its own right, is a bit unintuitive. By being dogged in our formational approach, we've enabled ourselves to be flexible in our … formational approach. Funny how these things turn out.
Maintaining midfield pressure
As we saw against Portland in the US Open Cup, it's important that, if we're to be successful again against this side, we have to maintain a similar approach. This means being systematic in our pressure from the midfield and the front, but we must do so without leaving substantial gaps between our defenders and our midfield. This is the difficulty of the approach, but key will be restricting the possession and passing of Portland Timbers in less dangerous areas. Less key is winning the ball back quickly, because as we've seen, they hardly thrive in deeper positions.
It all takes a degree of caution, but this is the sort of thing on which the result will pivot.
Real Salt Lake advanced to its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday night, beating the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the USOC Semis at Rio Tinto Stadium to advance to the tournament’s title game on Oct. 1 at home against D.C. United.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Wednesday’s match:
Wednesday’s win moved RSL into its first ever Open Cup Final. The Oct. 1 final against D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium will be the first final ever contested or hosted in the state of Utah. Tickets are expected to go on sale to the game next week – get yours early and fill the RioT.
Wednesday’s crowd of 14,742 was the largest ever to see a U.S. Open Cup Semifinal in the modern/pro era, breaking the previous mark of 12,129 set by the minor-league Rochester Rhinos in 1996. Wednesday’s crowd was only the third semifinal in the modern/pro era to break the 10,000 mark.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio scored in the seventh minute of Wednesday’s game, heading a Kyle Beckerman cross off the post and into the back of the net to give the Claret-and-Cobalt the early lead. The goal was Saborio’s fifth in three games since returning to RSL from international duty ahead of the July 27 loss at New York. The Costa Rican international also had an assist in Wednesday’s match, giving him 10 goals and two assists in 12 appearances across all competitions this season. Real Salt Lake is now a dominant 33-6-8 in all competitions when Saborio scores.
Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo returned from injury to play the full 90 on Wednesday night. The 19-year-old center back turned in another solid shift for the Claret-and-Cobalt, helping the Utah side improve to 8-0-2 in his 10 appearances – nine of which have been starts – across all competitions this year.
Real Salt Lake has now won four games in this year’s Open Cup, doubling the two total wins it had in previous iterations of the tournament proper. RSL had other wins in Open Cup play in games, but only two in the tournament proper prior to this year.