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.
It’s been well documented that tonight’s U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between RSL and Portland will be Timbers Captain Will Johnson’s first game at Rio Tinto Stadium since he was traded from the Claret-and-Cobalt to Portland last December.
Johnson went on OnFrame on Tuesday night ahead of tonight’s match, saying some really interesting things about his time in Salt Lake, life in Portland and comparisons between the two clubs.
Here are a couple of highlights from the conversation, the entirety of which can be heard by clicking here.
On how RSL’s and Portland’s fan bases compare:
“There’s more similarities than differences. They’re both very good faan bases and both have treated me exceptionally. I’m very proud to have played in front of both sets of fans…. The fan base in Salt Lake is still very special to me. They treated me exceptionally, they always had my back no matter what. Playing good, or playing bad, through all the ups and downs, they always had my back so they’ll always have a special place in my heart and I think that probably goes both ways for the majority of the RSL faithful.”
On making his return to Rio Tinto Stadium in such an important match:
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. My return here was always going to be special, regardless of the circumstances, but now with it being a cup game, a knockout game with the winner hosting the final, obviously there’s a little added incentive. I’m excited, can’t wait to get back out there and see all those familiar faces, regardless of if they’re razzing me a little bit more than previous times when I played at Rio Tinto. I’ll always have I think a mutual admiration and relationship between myself and the fans, so I can’t wait to get back out there. I think it’ll be a great spectacle and an entertaining match for everybody to see.”
Kickoff is at 7:30. Get your tickets here.
Real Salt Lake continues its road in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tonight, when it will take on the Portland Timbers at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium in the tournament’s semifinals.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s match:
The return of Will Johnson
Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson will be making his return to the RioT for the first time since being traded from RSL back in December 2012. The Rose City captain has led the side to its best start in the club’s short MLS history with 35 points in 22 games. The former Claret-and-Cobalt stalwart appeared in 120 regular season games with RSL, including all 14 of the Utah side’s playoff matches. In 2009, Johnson hoisted the MLS Cup Championship with Salt Lake as a main contributor.
The first of many clashes
Wednesday’s match will be the first of at least four meetings between the two clubs this year. Three of the four meetings will come in the next three weeks, with RSL hosting Portland tonight in the Open Cup, Portland hosting RSL on Aug. 21 and the Claret-and-Cobalt taking on the Timbers at the RioT on Aug. 30. The sides will wrap up their regular season series against each other in the Pacific Northwest on Oct. 19. That may not be the last RSL-Portland meeting of the year, however; with RSL in first in the West and Portland not far behind in second, a potential playoff matchup could be on the horizon.
Home Final on the line
The winner of Wednesday’s match will not only advance to the U.S. Open Cup Final, they’ll host it, too, taking on the winner of tonight’s Chicago-D.C. semi in the title game this fall. It would be the first time either state has entertained an Open Cup Final – the all-important CONCACAF Champion’s League birth that goes to the tournament winner would only serve to ratchet up the stakes.
Morales a maybe
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis was forced into a precautionary substitution in the 24th minute of the club’s match against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, bringing midfielder Javier Morales off with a right adductor injury. Whether or not Morales features on Wednesday night will play a big role in the outcome of the match.
Kreis v. Porter
Wednesday’s matchup will pit two of the brightest young American coaches against each other in RSL’s Jason Kreis and Portland’s Caleb Porter. Known for their possession brands of soccer and fiery attitudes, both Kreis and Porter have been complimentary of each other in the press this week, both saying that they’ve been looking forward to the first RSL-Portland matchup all year.
Really awesome video piece from MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle on the statistical similarities between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers ahead of tonight's U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between the sides at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Check out Matt's breakdown of the Claret-and-Cobalt and the Timbers above. Click here to check out Matt's OnFrame interview from Tuesday night's show.
Real Salt Lake's magical Open Cup run is nearing its culmination: Whether that end-point is a final at Rio Tinto Stadium or a semifinal against Portland Timbers tonight is difficult to predict.
Stay aware of opportunities created in the middle
Real Salt Lake must be entirely aware of opportunities being created through the middle; while most opportunities created against us are from the flanks, Portland Timbers are clearly not like most sides in MLS. They'll pass along the ground, move the ball, and exercise a modicum of patience. It's a bit like we are, and we've not really faced a side like that to this point.
One good look in the mirror
Playing against Portland Timbers will bring to light some of our positive qualities and, indeed, some of our more negative ones. Our weakness in set piece organization is in line with the issues Timbers have displayed with set pieces, while our propensity for attacking through creativity and passing movement will be mirrored by Timbers. This is surely the first time we've faced a side this season that mirrors that desire. The battles will be as physical as ever, but we shouldn't count on Portland resorting to simply lumping the ball long out of the back. That it's taken until August to see this opposition — and not even in league play at this point — is regrettable, given we will now play them in a more condensed period.
In what will surely be one of the key story lines of the night, both sides have young managers who are passionate about their methodology, and that's not likely to change on the night. Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter squaring off should be a thing of broadcasters' dreams. The unpredictability of both managers — combined with the relative predictability of both sides' approaches — will be part of an ever-intensifying evening.
But what could change?
Jason Kreis's side has displayed some very encouraging signs that they're capable of being deployed in multiple formations, and the boss has used that to good effect. Whether it's rolling out a third forward late in the match to maintain high pressure or to contain the high pressure of the opposition, or deploying five midfielders to focus on building attacks in wider positions, there is a newfound element of unpredictability that only helps the general effectiveness of our tried-and-true midfield diamond.
Magic of the cup?
Managing a single-leg knockout competition is rather different than managing a league match or even a double-leg knockout series. Every mistake will be under the microscope after the fact. It's difficult to really make it through on luck alone, but stymying the opposition — perhaps with the aid of one unbelievably good goalkeeper — will be key to securing a U.S. Open Cup Final at Rio Tinto Stadium.