RSL midfielder Sebastian Velasquez made a big change late last week, breaking our hearts by cutting his signature rattail last Thursday.
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) January 17, 2014
Velasquez has had a wild ‘do since being drafted by RSL in 2012, with his trademark bleached Mohawk/rattail combo earning plenty of love – and a little consternation – across the Wasatch Front. His hair even earned him a nickname among the RSL faithful, with fans dubbing him Rufio in honor of a look-alike character from the early-90’s movie Hook.
Here’s another peek at Velasquez’s new look:
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) January 19, 2014
We’ll talk to Seba – and his teammates – about rattail-gate when preseason opens later this week. Stay tuned...
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jeff Cassar stopped by ABC 4's Real Sports Live on Sunday night, sitting down with ABC 4's Wesley Ruff for an interview.
Cassar and Ruff rapped for a few minutes, with RSL's new boss chatting about his hiring process, his desired style of play, his initial thoughts on the job and a few of his favorite things. Check out the full interview up above.
RSL's commentary team of Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth also chatted about RSL, breaking down a few things ahead of the team opening preseason camp on Saturday. Give their segment a watch here.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s Chris Kamrani wrote a very nice piece Thursday afternoon on RSL first round SuperDraft pick Ryan Neil. The piece is a great introduction to the Cal-Berkeley product, who projects as a defender for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Give it a read here.
Neil shared several interesting details with Kamrani, with one of the more interesting tidbits coming at the end of the piece. As Kamrani notes, Neil has ties to Utah, with his older sister having attended BYU, often going to RSL matches at Rio Tinto Stadium when she lived in in the Beehive State. The 22-year-old California-native visited his sister in Salt Lake on multiple occasions, and quickly became a fan.
Here’s the money quote, as told to Kamrani: “I’ve been to Salt Lake many times,” Neil said, “and I love it.”
And for those of you wondering, no, Neil is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. His sister, however, is LDS.
@pupusa no but my sister is!
— Ryan Neil (@_Ryanneil) January 16, 2014
Real Salt Lake selected defender Ryan Neil in the first round of Thursday's 2014 MLS SuperDraft , drafting the University of California outside back with the 18th overall pick.
Check out highlights from Neil's four-year career at Berkeley above.
(And yeah, we're aware he's listed as a midfielder in the video. He'll line up as a defender for RSL.)
Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey had his weekly interview on ESPN700’s “The Bill & Hans Show” on Wednesday, spending a portion of his interview talking with the guys about RSL’s assistant coaching hires.
Here’s what Lagerwey had to say on the Claret-and-Cobalt’s new assistants Andy Williams, Daryl Shore, Paul Dalglish and Craig Waibel. Check out Garth’s entire interview here.
On RSL’s new assistant coaches:
“I’m really excited about them, really excited to have Paul and Andy and Craig and Daryl Shore on our team, and really excited to continue the direction that we’ve had and the philosophy that we’ve had as an organization.”
“When looking at the staff as a whole, we were really trying to get the feeling we had back in 2008. We’re hopeful that we’ve done that and we’re excited to get to work with all these guys.”
On Andy Williams:
“Andy has done a great job for us as our head scout over the last couple of seasons, but he really wanted to try and join the coaching staff full-time, so we promoted him. We expect him to do a great job with the young players in [the midfield] position, specifically Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez while still being able to relate to the veterans he played with in Kyle, Ned and Javi.
On Daryl Shore:
"With Daryl, he’s a guy with 10 years of experience in the league, he has head coaching experience – which I think was important to Jeff as a new head coach – and he’s someone that’s trained a number of MLS All-Stars and MLS Goalkeepers of the Year in his previous stint.”
On Paul Dalglish:
“Paul’s a guy who has an incredible pedigree. He was Coach of the Year in the PDL last year, played for the Houston Dynamo and won a couple of MLS Cups there, [has head coaching experience], and is a very experienced guy, who’s been involved with youth development. Those were things that we wanted to have across all of the candidates.
On Craig Waibel:
“Craig Waibel was a longtime defender in the league, he won four titles and the staff as a whole has now won eight titles total. That was something we cared about, having a coach for each position was something we cared about, we wanted coaches with experience developing young players, and we wanted coaches with head coaching experience, and we’ve got all of that.”
With the announcement of Jeff Cassar as Real Salt Lake head coach, we've all waited with baited breath to see what his first move would be. That first move came Wednesday as Cassar named four assistant coaches - Daryl Shore, Craig Waibel, Andy Williams, and Paul Dalglish. Obviously a lot remains to be seen, but on the surface these look like very intelligent hires by Cassar.
Cassar continued Real Salt Lake’s philosophy of having position-specific coaches (think coordinators in American football), finding assistants with professional coaching and playing experience to help out at all four levels of the field.
Daryl Shore (goalkeepers) was a professional goalkeeper for six years, a head coach in the lower leagues, and was goalkeeper coach with the Chicago Fire for 11 years, mentoring several great shot-stoppers while in Chicago. Craig Waibel (defenders) was a solid MLS center back during his 11-year career, best known as a key piece of that great Houston Dynamo era of the mid 2000's. His background should remind RSL fans of past defensive coaches Robin Fraser and C.J. Brown. Andy Williams (midfielders) is likely the most familiar name in the bunch for RSL faithful as he's been involved with the team since the beginning, and he was a pretty good MLS midfielder to boot. Paul Dalglish (strikers) had a long career at forward in England and Scotland before moving to MLS where he won two MLS Cups alongside Waibel in Houston. Since then he's done a stint as an MLS academy coach and had two head coaching gigs in the NASL and USL PDL.
With these hires, Cassar has sent a clear message about his philosophy and vision of RSL. As players, the four assistants fit well into the RSL mold: Down-to-earth, hard-working, team-first guys who were respected and liked within their teams. What these hires tell me is the core principles that have made RSL such a successful small-market team aren't going to change much. The team will continue to be the star, and the chemistry in the locker room will continue to be paramount.
Obviously Jeff Cassar still has a long ways to go toward proving himself, but the assistant coach hires he just made are an excellent first step.
Real Salt Lake lost the Desert Diamond Cup Final 0-1 to Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday, giving up a goal from a counterattacking ball over the top. In a match in which the Claret-and-Cobalt dominated early proceedings and should have put at least a goal or two on the board, the story is less about winning and losing and more about preparation for the season's opener, now less than a week away.
Pacing the match
The first half saw both Real Salt Lake and Seattle creating chance after chance, with Marcus Hahnemann demonstrating that perhaps 40 isn't too old to play in goal in this league. Those chances came from across the field of play, with long shots nearly again making the difference. It's funny how that works.
The early pace of the game was frenetic, but it also saw three clear-cut chances for Real Salt Lake. Two of those were created from hopeful shots — one from Sebastian Velasquez and one from Kyle Beckerman — and the other was created from an Alvaro Saborio header. Inevitably, the side tired late on as many of them played their first consecutive 90 minutes of preseason — with the season roaring into view, that's essential.
The pacing suffered as a result, but the more important consideration was getting a fit group of players ready for a match on Sunday. Losing the Desert Diamond Cup stung ever-so-slightly — to our oft-repeated foes, no less — but in the end, the most important thing wasn't winning.
Defending the counter attack
Once again, we've seen this side fall to a counterattacking goal by Seattle, caught on the break with our defenders rather left to dry. A long ball over the top sprung Seattle, a spate of individual errors gave them an opportunity, and a good finish sealed the match.
It's a storyline that's been told and retold over the last few years. It's the danger of pushing men forward in attack, the inevitable downside of high-line defenses and high pressure. A little switch, perhaps, that would cue fullbacks in to those very dangerous moments would be magnificent here, but that hardly seems forthcoming. A bit more recognition of the danger posed by Seattle on the counter would have gone a long way.
Stepping up: The Velasquez 45
Sebastian Velasquez had perhaps the strongest 45 minutes of preseason he had so far — a good sign considering it was his final 45 of the preseason, and improvement over time is never a bad thing — impressing throughout with his ability on the ball and his still-developing vision.
Playing at the top of the diamond, where he's likely to start on Sunday, Velasquez ran the show. Plain and simple, he controlled the tempo, pacing and direction of Real Salt Lake's attack. His departure at the half gutted the side — a statement that speaks well of him and perhaps less so of the players who remained.
With just over a week to go before starting their 2013 MLS campaign, Real Salt Lake's opening-day roster is finally taking shape as the Claret-and-Cobalt have officially added GK Josh Saunders and MF Khari Stephenson to the mix. In an offseason where RSL brass clearly focused on adding young talent, Stephenson and Saunders bring a healthy dose of veteran leadership and experience to the team. Let's take a look at who these players are, what they bring to the table, and what roles they could fill throughout the year.
Stephenson is a 32-year-old attacking midfielder who has been playing professionally since he was picked 28th overall in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft by the Fire. After a brief stop in Kansas City, he decided to try his luck overseas and spent several years in Scandinavia with a couple of clubs. In 2010 he came back to MLS with San Jose and spent a total of three seasons there. He was a regular for the 'Quakes, appearing in 69 matches over three seasons and helping them win the Supporter's Shield last season.
The first thing you notice about Stephenson is that he doesn't look like an attacking mid - without knowing his position, you would probably guess he's a #9 or a center back. That's because, at 6'2", he towers over most creative mids. His size means he's difficult to separate from the ball, something that's not a strength of most MLS #10's. He has the good vision and solid technical ability requisite for his position, and he is willing and able to shoot from distance. We got our first taste of that a few nights ago as he struck a well-hit game-winner from 18 yards.
Stephenson is a versatile player who should be able to play three of the four midfield spots for RSL, and even fill in at striker in a pinch. He could be one of the first players off the bench for Jason Kreis, especially in matches where RSL is leading and needs to salt the game away. His strength on the ball and intelligent possession play should make him a valuable asset in those situations.
The 31-year-old Saunders is a guy who is well known by RSL fans - it was he who came into the 2009 MLS Cup final for L.A. in place of Donovan Ricketts. Of course, RSL came away victorious via penalties in that match, but it's hard to fault Saunders who saved two of seven RSL penalties. If it weren't for an even better performance from Nick Rimando, Saunders would have walked home a champion and a hero to L.A. fans. He didn't have to wait long, though; by 2011 Ricketts was gone and Saunders was the go-to guy, backstopping them to consecutive MLS Cup wins in 2011 and 2012.
Josh Saunders is your prototypical goalkeeper - huge (6'4"), athletic, and a vocal organizer of defenses. But what you have to love about Saunders - and no doubt appeals to Kreis too - is Saunders is a winner. As a pro he's been successful at the highest levels. Of course, soccer is a team sport and he's been fortunate to be on some great teams, but don't discount the confidence and attitude you get from a proven winner.
Saunders will be the clear No. 2 goalkeeper behind Nick Rimando. Obviously we hope Rimando stays healthy enough to play all year, but there are no guarantees, plus Rimando may miss some time if he gets called up by the U.S. national team for World Cup Qualifiers or this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. I would expect Saunders to get a handful of games this year in relief of Rimando. The addition of Saunders makes RSL's goalkeeper position the strongest in MLS in my opinion. How many other teams can say their backup GK has played in three MLS Cup finals, and won two of them?
How much of an impact Khari Stephenson and Josh Saunders make remains to be seen, but they will bring some needed experience and veteran savvy to this very young RSL squad.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM