Seattle Sounders FC
Real Salt Lake will take on Seattle for the third and final time this regular season on Friday, facing off against the Sounders in an absolutely crucial Western Conference battle at 8:00 p.m. MT (NBC Sports Network) at CenturyLink Field.
RSL is 2-0-0 against Seattle so far this year, getting goals from Robbie Findley and Luis Gil to topple the Sounders 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 30 and notching strikes from Kyle Beckerman and Findley to power past the Cascadia side 2-0 at home on June 22.
Check out highlights from both of RSL's 2013 wins over Seattle below:
March 30 - RSL 2-1 Seattle
June 22 - RSL 2-0 Seattle
Real Salt Lake put in an incredibly professional performance on Saturday night against Seattle, bossing the game and beating the Sounders 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Real Salt Lake now has 30 points this season, tied with Portland for the most in MLS. The Claret-and-Cobalt – which, it’s worth noting, has played more games than most teams in the league – has more wins than Portland and is technically in first-place in the league.
Saturday’s win was RSL’s fifth straight across all competitions dating back to its 3-2 victory over the NASL Atlanta Silverbacks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third-round on May 28. RSL is now unbeaten in its last seven games across all competitions.
Real Salt Lake outshot Seattle by the ridiculous margin of 17-2 on Saturday. Sounders FC’s first shot didn’t come until the 73rd minute; the Cascadia club’s only shot on goal was in the 82nd.
RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman became MLS’s all-time leader in fouls committed on Saturday night. He now has 478 career fouls in regular season play, one more than previous record holder/former MLS midfielder Jesse Marsch.
The number of team’s remaining in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Real Salt Lake will look to move into the tournament’s final four on Wednesday night, when it will host the second-division Carolina RailHawks at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium. Get your tickets here.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle have formed somewhat of a rivalry over the years, and though it's no longer in its nascent stages, there's bound to be plenty of talk about it. But despite the familiarity of the two opponents, some things this time around are a little different.
Seattle is a familiar enemy, but without the likes of Osvaldo Alonso, they'll take on a different look. Since 2010, Alonso has missed only one MLS match against Real Salt Lake; he'll miss his second tonight, according to reports. Without their hard-tackling, short-passing midfielder Real Salt Lake should have a little more freedom to play through the middle, but any relaxing on our part would be remiss.
Still, while Alonso's absence bodes well (but not so well as to allow us a moment to relax), it does rather sting when we know we once again won't be able to see Alonso and Beckerman going at it in the midfield. Remember, if anybody asks you which of the two is better, simply point to a passing chart and ask how many of Alonso's are forward-moving compared to Beckerman's. It quite clearly illustrates the distinction between the two. (Here's a number: Beckerman's passes are 43 percent forward-moving; only 26 percent of Alonso's are.)
Injuries and adjustment
With RSL playing up the middle — which, if we're to be honest, isn't unusual — the deeper midfielders will have greater responsibility. Undoubtedly, Javier Morales will still move into wide positions, and the outside-diamond players will make diagonal runs to and from the flanks, but it's when they're closer to their starting spots that they'll have the best options emerge. Seattle is a team that notably plays well out wide, with Alonso covering huge swathes of ground in the middle. They'll miss that.
Without Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler, another chance for young defender Carlos Salcedo has been created; he'll be looking to put in a good shift with some questions about the necessity of an acquisition looming. Expect his partnership with Nat Borchers to see Borchers stay deeper and Salcedo to step slightly further forward, particularly as we look to win long balls in the air. This match will almost certainly see plenty of those.
In a sense, we're somewhat lucky that Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando consistently join with the national team only to not play. They are, one would imagine, less fatigued than those players who put 90 minute shifts in. Though we missed no MLS matches with those two gone this time, there's still a palpable sense of relief at their uninjured return. Seattle does receive Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson back from United States duty and Mario Martinez from Honduras, but the two former played high numbers of minutes and may be in doubt for the match so as to allow some recovery time for the pair.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC don't have the longest history, but - despite its relative brevity - the rivarly between the Claret-and-Cobalt and the Rave Green is full of great moments. Saturday's match between the two Western Conference powers figures to be another solid meeting. Until then, enjoy these four "Signature Moments" in the RSL-Seattle series.
March 30, 2013: Luis Gil scores a fantastic diving header in RSL's 2-1 win over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Nov. 2, 2012: Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando turned in a performance for the ages in RSL's scoreless draw at Seattle in the first leg of the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, making incredible stop after incredible stop - even after suffering a broken nose in the second half - to keep the clean sheet.
Nick had so many good stops in the game that we thought it'd be unfair to single out just one. The full highlights - featuring all of Rimando's fantastic stops - are below:
Nov. 2, 2011: Tony Beltran had one of the best goal-line clearances we've ever seen in the second leg of RSL's Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle, acrobatically heading away a Jeff Parke volley to keep the game scoreless. The Claret-and-Cobalt went on to lose the match 2-0, but advance past Seattle and into the West Final 3-2 on aggregate.
Oct. 29, 2011: RSL ran rampant in the first leg of the 2011 West semis against Seattle, downing the Sounders 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium to take a hefty lead into the series' second leg. Alvaro Saborio had the first two goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt - his second was particulary impressive, with the Costa Rican striker showing just how skilled he is with an incredible back-heeled goal.
MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Dan Haiek gave Saturday's Real Salt Lake-Seattle Sounders FC matchup the Scouting Report treatment. Give it a watch ahead of tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. kick at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Remember the last time Real Salt Lake played Seattle? Yeah, that was fun. Let's do it again on Saturday.
MLSsoccer.com took a closer look on Wednesday morning at RSL's spectacular set play goal against Seattle, with Jason Saghini breaking down Luis Gil's first half strike in the site's "Anatomy of a Goal" series.
Saghini does a great job of breaking down the play, which RSL midfielder Javier Morales - who wasn't even in the game for the goal - drew up in practice last week.
Real Salt Lake took down Seattle 2-1 on Saturday, scoring two goals from set pieces and looking rather like the well-oiled machine that seemed absent through most of 2012. It's hard not to focus on those two goals, because they're indicative of something the squad's been missing for some time.
It's just as Alexi Lalas says: "Set pieces." I'm sure there's more to that statement, and it probably relates to what we saw on Saturday. Luis Gil scored from a corner, and Robbie Findley scored from a throw-in. The nature of their goals being as different as they were — one a well-planned attack that caught a defense ball-watching, the other a quick finish that came from awareness up front — it's easy to see how important set piece planning can be.
If there's been a major criticism of Real Salt Lake in attack this year — and perhaps longer than that — it's been a lack of threat from set pieces. Saturday changed that, but it came from a shift in mentality. The first goal saw Tony Beltran thrust a ball into the mix from a throw-in, and the strength of Devon Sandoval kept Seattle from making an easy clearance. Robbie Findley's awareness paid dividends, and not a moment too soon, as he was taken off injured hardly minutes later.
For the second goal, rather than sending a corner straight into the center of the Seattle box, where they were well covered, a touchline-searing ball from Velasquez to Grabavoy set up Luis Gil for a strong header to the far post. Too often, defenses can crowd Real Salt Lake in the middle of the box, but creative play and danger from multiple areas will give defenses pause for thought.
It's perhaps no surprise that Jason Kreis confirmed that more time was spent on set pieces than in the past. When it becomes less about power and strength (particularly with the departure of Jamison Olave) and more about finesse, Real Salt Lake, with its array of short midfielders, will be a natural benefactor.
It's difficult to say what the proper tactical approach would have been in the second half, but with Seattle putting RSL on the back foot for the first 15 minutes of the second half, Abdoulie Mansally and Tony Beltran tucked in to cover runs from attacking midfielders. On the conceded goal scored by Brad Evans, the defense had become so narrow as to allow Seattle right back DeAndre Yedlin all the time in the world to cross, and as such, a goal was scored.
The return of Javier Morales and the rise of Sebastian Velasquez
Javier Morales looked closer to the Javi of bygone days than he has in some time. Claims that he's a slow, old player are overblown: The breakaway, on which he should have been awarded a penalty kick after being hauled down by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, showed that.
Whether it was planned that Luis Gil would come off for Morales or not, there was something incredible about seeing the playmaker-in-chief lining up with the talented Sebastian Velasquez for 30 minutes. Whether that continues depends on how Luis Gil fares in training sessions, but it seems Kreis has every reason to be impressed with the rat-tailed kid. He's been one of RSL's best players in the early days of the season, and his hard work is a sure factor in that.
Real Salt Lake picked up its first home win of the season on Saturday night, beating Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders FC 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
20,359 RSL fans packed a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium to the rafters on Saturday night. Saturday’s game was RSL’s eighth-straight non-playoff sell-out and seventh-straight MLS regular season sell-out.
The number of days between RSL goals for forward Robbie Findley, who opened the scoring for the Claret-and-Cobalt in the eighth minute on Saturday night. Findley’s last RSL goal came on Nov. 6, 2010 in the Western Conference Semifinals second leg against FC Dallas. The 27-year-old speedster left RSL after that match, spending 2011 and 2012 with English Championship side Nottingham Forest before rejoining RSL this offseason.
Findley’s last regular season goal for RSL came 973 days ago on Aug. 7, 2010 at Kansas City.
Findley’s goal broke Real Salt Lake’s 408-minute scoreless streak against Seattle. The Claret-and-Cobalt hadn’t scored in its previous four matches against Sounders FC, last scoring against the Cascadia club in the 50th minute of its 1-0 win at Seattle on May 12 of last year.
RSL midfielder Javier Morales entered Saturday’s match in the 62nd minute to make his 2013 season debut. Morales – who entered the game to a raucous standing ovation from the RSL faithful – had missed the Claret-and-Cobalt’s first four matches while recovering from preseason knee surgery.
Real Salt Lake outshot Seattle 25-8 on Saturday night. The total was RSL’s highest mark of the season and vaulted the Claret-and-Cobalt from seventh in the league in total shots to third.
CCL-bound Seattle Sounders FC is in town (7:00 p.m. on Saturday; CW30), and once again, the nascent rivalry looks set to continue its growth. Managing the match presents a tricky puzzle — how will Jason Kreis adapt his squad to the challenge?
Reintegrating full-back width
Working the international players back into the side will be an undoubtedly easy endeavor: Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando each step in for their backup counterparts, and the roles don't change significantly.
Abdoulie Mansally should step in at left back, and he does present something different and perhaps important. Along with Beltran, Mansally certainly gets up the pitch — we could talk about attack all we wanted — but as important as that is the ability to win the ball in the midfield on the flank, squashing attacks early. Certainly there's a risk in pushing both of your full backs up the pitch: Expect one of Beltran and Mansally to drop back while the other goes forward. It allows the defense to adapt more easily to threats.
Javier Morales is back! Well, maybe. Jason Kreis has indicated that Real Salt Lake's playmaker-in-chief could be set for an appearance, and whether this is off the bench or a start depends on highly on his fitness levels. Kreis — as most reasonable managers would — won't start Morales if there's a chance he'll have to take him off for fitness issues. It rather forces the hand of the coach, and when things may be going well, that's a tough thing to take.
Regardless, should Javier get in, it means a significant shift in the midfield. The sort-of-wide midfielders in the lineup and the central playmaker have been playing a relatively flat line, with the attacking midfielder — Luis Gil, say — dropping a little more than Morales, and with the wide midfielders — Grabavoy and Velasquez, perhaps — pushing up a little further. Morales would certainly play centrally, but he'd get the normal latitude to move in other attacking areas. The rotation among the midfielders would serve him well.
As a starter, Morales generally presents an opportunity to assert himself on the match early; as a substitute, he presents a spark and a chance to find joy late in the match. He'd be very unlikely to go 90 minutes, so either option will be working its away around Kreis's head.
Seattle and CCL
Remember when Real Salt Lake was in the CONCACAF Champions League? Yeah, so do I. Seattle Sounders are, and good for them, I suppose. They've got Santos Laguna on Tuesday and could well put out a weakened lineup in preparation for one of the bigger matches in their history. While jealousy does sometimes get the better of me, I suppose it's hard to fault them. It might give us a better chance at a win — but as we've seen before, young, eager guys can sometimes get the better of a more experienced side.
Coming off the back of a rough patch, RSL will need to be ready for Seattle to fling essentially everything at them; if they do roll out a young side, there'll be no huge expectation of winning, and those circumstances are notoriously difficult to manage.