The Real Salt Lake-Academy U-17’s won their Generation adidas Cup final round opener on Monday, getting goals from Josh Doughty and Sebastian Saucedo to defeat Toronto FC 2-1 in Dallas. New RSL Homegrown signing Justen Glad played the full 70 minutes in RSL’s victory on Monday, as he continues to help the Academy teams close out their season before heading up to Salt Lake City full-time this summer.
The win puts RSL in a tie for first in Group B of the tournament’s International Division, tied on top with a youth side from English Premier League club Stoke City. The premier bracket at the GA Cup, the International Division features three groups of four teams, with each group featuring three MLS sides and one international team.
Widely considered one of the tournament favorites, RSL will continue GA Cup play on Tuesday night, when it will take on Stoke at 7:00 p.m. MT in a battle of the top two teams in Group C. Tuesday’s match will be streamed live on MLSsoccer.com. RSL will conclude GA Cup Group B play on Thursday, when it will take on LA Galaxy at 5:00 p.m. MT.
The three International Division group winners and the top second-place team in the International Division will advance to the Semifinals, which will be played on Friday. The GA Cup Final will take place on Sunday.
Real Salt Lake will take on yet another high-profile team on Saturday, hosting a revamped Toronto F C side at 7:30 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium .
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Can RSL slow down new-look TFC?
Bolstered by the high-profile offseason additions of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Julio Cesar and Gilberto, Toronto FC has started 2014 with a bang, winning its first two matches for the first time in club history. Defoe has been particularly hot for the new-look Reds, scoring all three of the team’s goals in his first two games in the league. Of course, RSL has an unbeaten record of its own to protect on Saturday, entering the match with a 1-0-2 record through its first three regular season games.
Beckerman looks to continue climb up MLS record books with more success against TFC
RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman has the most success of any RSL player against Toronto FC, tied for the team lead with two career goals against Toronto and leading RSL with three career assists in 11 career regular season games against the Reds.
Beckerman will also likely continue his climb up the MLS record books on Saturday. A start for the Claret-and-Cobalt captain would make him just the seventh player in league history to hit 300 career regular season starts. One of the six players in MLS history to hit the 300 start mark before Beckerman? RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who has 349 career starts.
How will RSL fare without Plata?
Real Salt Lake will be without dynamic forward Joao Plata on Saturday for the first time this season, with the Ecuadoran forward set to miss the game due to a hamstring injury suffered in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw against the Galaxy. Plata was fantastic in RSL’s first three matches, scoring two goals and adding two assists before leaving last week’s match in the first half after suffering his injury.
Expect Olmes Garcia to fill-in for Plata alongside striker Alvaro Saborio up top on Saturday. The two will have a tough test against a TFC backline that has been stingy so far this year, allowing just one goal in its first two games.
World Cup players on display
A few players from each team could very well be making big news in Brazil this summer, with RSL's Beckerman, Rimando and Saborio and TFC's Bradley, Defoe and Cesar all looking like decent bets to make it to the World Cup for their respective national teams. You'll have a chance to see all of them - along with RSL's darkhorse candidate for Brazil, midfielder Luis Gil - in action in one place on Saturday, a rare opportunity that more than likely won't present itself again this season.
Real Salt Lake will face a number of challenges against Toronto FC on Saturday, but of particular interest will be two types of moments from which we have been vulnerable.
Watch the counter
It is no secret that Toronto FC are going to try to beat us on the counter attack. It is what they’ve done twice this season to good effect, and it’s something they might see as something of a weakness in our constitution.
If you need convincing it’s something we can suffer from, look no further than this screenshot from Saturday’s draw against LA Galaxy.
Chris Wingert has just lost control of the ball and is struggling to get back in time. Nine players are inside the opposition half here, including Nat Borchers. Chris Schuler is only just inside our half and is not visible in this screenshot, but he’s there. The only remaining player is Nick Rimando, who, despite being the best goalkeeper in MLS, cannot defend an entire LA Galaxy attack on his own. The ensuing play is something we don’t need to repeat, but there is something strange about the way we’ve approached this one.
The solution isn’t to drop into incredibly deep positions at all times, but as a general rule, having nine players inside the opposition half when you’re playing a side with Robbie Keane in it is probably unwise. We all want to see attacking soccer, and we want to see our players committed in those moments. But what we don’t much want to see is anybody going one-on-one with Keane — or, in tomorrow’s match, Jermain Defoe. These are notably difficult players to defend.
Watch set pieces
Defending set pieces is a tough gig. We know that, and we certainly made sure LA Galaxy knew that with Alvaro Saborio’s goal last weekend. Marking individuals is never easy when they’re top quality, and we have two examples — one for and one against — that help illustrate that.
In our first example, Chris Wondolowski scores from a set piece thanks to some fine movement from him and a nice ball sent into the box.
San Jose has sent men forward to confuse our marking, and it certainly worked. This is sort of in their DNA, but it’s not some exclusive club that only hoof-and-run sides can get into.
In our second example, we have Alvaro Saborio as the scorer, with Joao Plata grabbing the assist. These two set pieces occurred roughly in the same part of the field, which is not entirely coincidental.
Plata’s pass to an unmarked Saborio was fantastic, but it was the movement of Saborio — or lack thereof — that confused the LA Galaxy defense and gave us our opportunity.
Both instances involve confusion in the box, and although they’re of different orders of magnitude, they come from the same place. Unexpected actions, whether it’s intelligent movement around a defender or simply letting defenders move away from their marking, are dangerous.
We’re facing a Toronto FC side who may try to capitalize on that. Our set piece defense has not been spectacular, but by the same token, it hasn’t been miserable. If we watch the fouls in these positions, we can cut out the most dangerous element, but it won’t always play out that way.
It will be important for defenders and, indeed, anyone marking on set pieces to stay aware and — to use a bit of a truism, “expect the unexpected.” After all, Michael Bradley’s not bad at those passes, and Toronto FC do have one or two very good strikers who will want to test us in these moments.
Toronto FC Head Coach Ryan Nelsen had a bit of a go at Real Salt Lake on Tuesday, telling reporters at TFC’s media availability that he thinks that Claret-and-Cobalt forward Alvaro Saborio should be suspended for his challenge on LA’s A.J. DeLaGarza (video above) in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
Nelsen’s the latest to hop in on the debate, which began on Saturday when LA’s Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez called for Saborio to be suspended in postgame comments after the RSL-LA match at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Nelsen commented on Saborio after fielding questions about TFC midfielder Jackson, who Nelsen predicted will likely get suspended for this elbow to DC’s Davy Arnaud.
“That could have broken his leg,” Nelsen said of Saborio’s challenge in a report by Sportsnet’s John Molinaro. “If Jackson gets suspended, you’d like to hope that a [player] who has nearly broken a guy’s leg is going to get suspended as well. You never know, though. I don’t make up the rules.”
Nelsen also commented on TFC’s early season schedule on Tuesday, calling it “probably the toughest start of any team in the whole of the league.”
Here’s Toronto’s start: at Seattle, v. DC, at RSL, at Columbus, v. Colorado, at Dallas.
Here’s RSL’s: at LA, at San Jose, v. LA, v. Toronto, at Kansas City, at Philadelphia.
And, just for good measure, here’s Colorado’s: at New York, v. Portland, v. Kansas City, at Vancouver, at Toronto, v. San Jose.
We’ll let you be the judge.
Real Salt Lake will host a revamped Toronto FC side on Saturday, welcoming the 2-0-0 Canadian club to Rio Tinto Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The match will feature a battle of two of the best central midfielders in MLS, with RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman facing off against TFC Designated Player Michael Bradley.
While Bradley is widely considered the better of the two players – he starts ahead of Beckerman on the U.S. Men’s National Team – one RSL player sees things a little bit differently. Claret-and-Cobalt defender Nat Borchers thinks Beckerman is the better than Bradley, and said as much during his Monday appearance on “The Bill and Hans Show” on ESPN 700.
Nat’s full quote is below. Click here to listen to his full interview.
“I think Bradley is a very similar player to Kyle Beckerman, except I think Kyle’s a better player. Both of those players are getting paid to score goals, assist on goals and to do the dirty work defensively. You look at Bradley, he’s not afraid to track runners back into his own half, not afraid to press defenders forward into their half. He’s all over the place and he can cover an amazing amount of ground. To quantify what he does on the pitch is really more about wins and losses than goals or assists. He just does so much for his team, just like Kyle Beckerman does for us.”
Well said, Nat.
The Washington Post’s Steven Goff came out with some interesting info yesterday, breaking the news that U.S. Men’s National Team Manager Jurgen Klinsmann will be at Rio Tinto Stadium when Real Salt Lake hosts Toronto FC this Saturday.
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) March 24, 2014
As Goff reported, Klinsmann will be in town to watch RSL’s Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman and TFC’s Michael Bradley ahead of the U.S.’s friendly against Mexico in Phoenix next Wednesday. Klinsmann will likely also be keeping a close eye on Claret-and-Cobalt midfielder Luis Gil, who received his first cap with the senior national team on Feb. 1 against South Korea.
By our count, this will be Klinsmann’s fourth time at Rio Tinto Stadium since last June. The USMNT manager was in town for the June 18, 2013 World Cup Qualifier against Honduras, the July 13, 2013 Gold Cup Group Stage match against Cuba and the Oct. 1 RSL-D.C. United U.S. Open Cup Final.
Real Salt Lake won again on Saturday, getting a first half goal from midfielder Yordany Alvarez to beat Toronto FC 1-0 at BMO Field.
Here are some interesting numbers from the match:
The number one had plenty of significance for RSL on Saturday. The win was RSL’s first in 11 tries in Canada across all competitions; Alvarez’s goal was his first in MLS play for the Claret-and-Cobalt and the team’s first MLS goal at BMO Field; defender Aaron Maund turned in a solid performance in his first MLS start for RSL; and the victory keeps RSL in first-place in both the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races.
Saturday’s win was RSL’s seventh-straight across all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 9-0-1 in its last 10 matches across all comps and 10-1-1 in its last 12 games in all competitions since the start of May. RSL has outscored its opponents 31-11 since the start of May, good for a +20 goal differential.
This weekend’s victory was RSL’s 99th in MLS regular season play. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 99-103-68 in regular season action. The Utah side is 68-43-35 in regular season action since the start of its MLS Cup winning season of 2009.
Saturday’s shutout was the 105th of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s career. Rimando – who has six league shutouts this year – needs seven more shutouts to pull even with Kevin Hartman’s 112 for the all-time MLS clean-sheet lead.
Saturday’s clean-sheet was the Claret-and-Cobalt’s third-consecutive in all competitions. RSL hasn’t given up a goal in 372 minutes, last conceding in the 18th minute of its 120-minute 5-2 U.S. Open Cup fourth-round win over the Charleston Battery on June 12.
By scoring on Saturday, Alvarez became the 11th RSL player to score in MLS play this year, surpassing the 10 players that scored for the Claret-and-Cobalt in league action in 2012. Counting Open Cup play, RSL has had 13 players score goals this season.
Maund became the 24th RSL player to start a league game this year on Saturday. Considering the Claret-and-Cobalt’s first-place standing, that’s a remarkable show of depth. RSL started 23 different players in league action in all of last season.
Real Salt Lake returns to MLS action on Saturday, when it will take on Toronto FC at BMO Field. Saturday's match will kickoff at 11:00 a.m., but - due to FCC regulations - will be shown on CW30 on a tape delay, with the television broadcast kicking off at 12:00 p.m.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday's match:
On the road again
Saturday's game will be RSL's first road contest since its 4-1 win at Chivas USA on May 19. The Claret-and-Cobalt just finished a highly succesful seven-game home stand with Wednesday night's 3-0 US Open Cup Quarterfinal win over the NASL's Carolina RailHawks. RSL was dominant during its extended run in Sandy, posting a 6-0-1 record in MLS and USOC play. The Utah side has been good on the road this year, earning a solid away mark of 3-4-1 and winning two of its last three games away from the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has always struggled in Canada, going winless in its 10 matches north of the border. RSL is 0-1-1 in the Great White North this season, tying Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-1 at BC Place on April 13 and losing a 3-2 heartbreaker at the Montreal Impact on May 11. RSL is 0-3-2 in MLS play at Toronto FC and has never scored a goal in regular season play at BMO Field.
Saturday's match is RSL's third in a stretch of four games in 12 days. Given the short turnaround and the long trip the team took following Wednesday's Open Cup victory - not to mention the absences of Alvaro Saborio and Luis Gil due to international duty - it wouldn't be a stretch to see a bit of a different lineup take the field on Saturday. We'll see what Head Coach Jason Kreis rolls out at BMO Field, but don't be surprised if we see a few new faces in the First XI.
Bye, bye Beckerman, Beltran and Rimando
RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Tony Beltran and goalkeeper Nick Rimando will all leave RSL for U.S. national team Gold Cup duty immediately following Saturday's game. The trio could be gone a while; the U.S. is expected to make a deep run in the Gold Cup, which doesn't end until July 28.