Vancouver Whitecaps FC
With Vancouver coming to Rio Tinto Stadium tomorrow, Real Salt Lake will be looking to establish a strike partnership to carry forward with Alvaro Saborio out with injury.
Striking up a partnership: Olmes at the core
Leading scorer Alvaro Saborio is out for at least a few weeks, and that's certain to add a bit of stress to the RSL strike force. As a result, it's important that a partnership be struck up between the strikers available — whether this is Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval or Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata is difficult to say. It seems likely, though, that Olmes Garcia is at the center of considerations at this point, such have been his displays in this still-early season.
He presents different advantages with each option: Alongside Sandoval, Garcia could play a little deeper and more central, picking up on balls shook loose by the big man. Sandoval's also a disruptive figure, and we've seen him getting some joy with his ability to hold off an opponent. Alongside Plata, Garcia could be a more central figure around which Plata would pivot. The options are boundless.
There's always a chance Garcia doesn't get the start, but if he's fit, the odds seem pretty good. He's the most flexible option of the three potentially available, and with RSL's attack still developing and building anew, that flexibility may be enough to sway considerations. He's also the only one of the three with a goal, and in every match he's played, he's looked dangerous and likely to score further goals.
We're not unfamiliar with how Vancouver Whitecaps FC is looking this season, largely because we played against them only — what — three weeks ago? It's a funny thing, this somewhat-randomized intra-conference play. As a result, there shouldn't be any real surprises — and hopefully no strangely decided penalty kicks with which to contend. This should be particularly useful when considering Vancouver's attacking options. Truth be told, RSL looked pretty good against Vancouver, but improving on that will be a high priority.
First to the gates
Something like that, right? The onus is on Real Salt Lake to control the proceedings and to score first. It's an obviously desirable thing, but as we've seen, this side has trouble breaking down teams defending deep. Particularly without Alvaro Saborio out there to disrupt defenders through hold-up play, there's an inherent difficulty in breaking down those walls — unparking the bus, as it were. Scoring first and early forces Vancouver to abandon any designs to sit back and defend.
You’ve seen the poster and you’ve seen the Twitter pictures; you may have even spotted him at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Until now, though, you may not have known the identity of Real Salt Lake’s favorite bounty hunter, Garrett Davis. A RSL season ticket holder since the inaugural season in 2005 and a huge Star Wars fan, Davis attends every Claret-and-Cobalt home match in a full-body, RSL-themed Boba Fett suit.
With that sort of commitment to both club and Empire, you can imagine how excited Davis was when he first heard that RSL would be hosting Star Wars Day at Rio Tinto Stadium for this Saturday’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
“I have a hard time describing it,” he told RealSaltLake.com on Tuesday. “My wife said it perfectly: Just saying I’m excited about Saturday’s match is an understatement. It’s definitely two of my passions, it’s a match made in heaven. It’s like peanut butter and jelly, having RSL and Star Wars together. I’ve seen other teams in different leagues do something like this and I always thought it’d be great to have here and I’m really excited to be a part of the festivities. My brother called me to let me know I was on the poster and I was absolutely ecstatic to be a part of it.”
For those who don’t know, Boba Fett is a villainous bounty hunter who first appeared in the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. Davis began putting his Fett costume together last season, when he bought his helmet, painted it Claret and Cobalt and started wearing it to games. He even got it signed by most RSL players at last year’s “Meet the Team” event, several of whom – most notably noted Star Wars fan Tony Beltran – got a kick out of the head gear.
He took things up a notch this season, buying the full-body suit to match his helmet. And, despite his character’s evil tendencies – Boba Fett pals around with Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt in George Lucas’s iconic series – Davis has been embraced by RSL fans, who often pose for pictures with him at home games.
“It’s been incredible,” he said of the fan reaction to his costume. “Even last year when I just had the mask it was great. This year, with the full suit, it’s just been incredible. It’s been really fun to take pictures with other fans and the reception’s always great when I’m walking into the stadium with friends and family.”
Davis – who said he’s “a little nervous” about wearing the suit to the stadium in the summer heat – will participate in Saturday’s “May the 4th be with you” festivities as the RSL Season Ticket Holder of the Game. You’ll have a chance to catch him on the Rio Tinto Stadium big screen before the match as he leads the Parade of Kings out onto the field.
“It’s a fun way to combine two passions of mine and a fun way to express my fandom to the club,” he said. “Putting together the costume with the RSL colors and logo shows some extra passion, I guess. Luckily, it hasn't driven away my wife and she still comes to games with me."
Real Salt Lake played Vancouver Whitecaps FC to a hard-fought 1-1 draw at BC Place on Saturday.
Here are a few interesting numbers from this weekend’s match:
Real Salt Lake just completed a stretch that saw the team play five of its first seven games on the road. Four of those seven games came against teams that qualified for the 2012 MLC Cup Playoffs, with one against the defending Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose, one against Eastern Conference Finalist D.C. United, one against Western Conference Finalist Seattle and one against Western Conference Wild Card Vancouver.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will play seven of its next 10 MLS matches at home. RSL is unbeaten in the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium so far this year, tying Colorado 1-1 on March 16 and beating Seattle 2-1 on March 30.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia scored in the 66th minute on Saturday, curling a 20-yard effort from the left side into the top right corner. The world class finish was Garcia’s first goal in three appearances for RSL since signing a five-year deal with the team in preseason.
Garcia’s goal broke RSL’s 275-minute road scoreless streak. The Claret-and-Cobalt hadn’t scored on the road since Alvaro Saborio found the back of the net in the 85th minute of RSL’s 2-0 season opening win at San Jose on March 3.
If RSL maintains its current averages of 2 points per game at home and 0.8 points per game on the road for the rest of the season, it will finish the season with 47.6 points. While 47.6 points isn’t technically possible – last time we checked, there aren’t any partial points handed out – the rounded-up total of 48 would have comfortably qualified for last year’s Western Conference Playoffs. Should note that we're not trying to get carried away - there's a long, long, long way to go - just having a little fun with numbers.
The Real Salt Lake Reserves dropped their first match of 2013 on Sunday, losing 2-0 at Vancouver to fall to 2-1-1 on the Reserve League season.
The Claret-and-cobalt Reserves return to action on Monday, April 22, when they'll take on USL Pro side Phoenix FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Get your tickets to the April 22 match now.
Check out the highlights to Sunday's game above.
Both Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are battling poor form heading into Saturday's matchup (2 p.m. MT; ABC4), but if Jason Kreis's side doesn't adapt and learn from recent failures, they'll be getting in just enough of a mess as to be irritating.
With the news that Sebastian Velasquez is set to miss the match after suffering a broken hand, Real Salt Lake is certain to see yet another altered starting midfield four. It'll be the fourth different midfield lineup — in seven matches. This lack of continuity is inevitably difficult for a side to deal with, but if Javier Morales is ready to start, it'll start to take on a more definitive appearance.
A disjointed midfield makes Kyle Beckerman's job as captain and general midfield organizer that much more difficult, and the list of fully fit players is small: Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Alvarez, Martinez, Stertzer. Three of those players would expect to start most matches; the drop-off toward the end is a bit severe as experience is concerned.
Individual mistakes have proven costly for Real Salt Lake in 2013, which is likely a function of the relatively low cooperative inexperience of the group, which is to say that they haven't been together for long enough. Extra focus to cut out these mistakes will be essential, especially as Martin Rennie might be instructing his players to target those specific weaknesses. Clearing balls on first opportunity, stepping up during the offside trap, and making immediate, simple passes will be necessary if RSL is interested in clearing up the errors that have plagued these early matches.
We saw last week that Colorado took very specific aim at RSL's left side and Abdoulie Mansally; whether he is a defensive liability or not — and that's very much up for discussion — it's hard to deny that other coaches seem to think so. When one player is targeted frequently, they're more likely to make costly mistakes; Mansally and his teammates will need to be wary of the modes of attack employed.
Despite the uncertainty created by an ever-rotating cast of midfielders, Jason Kreis's side have made creating chances look a bit easy. His squad's averaged a surprising 14 shots per match in the early weeks and attempting more forward passes per match (175, if you're wondering) than any side, excepting Portland.
Robbie Findley's still out, so he doesn't get a chance to finish; Joao Plata may be close to a return, and Alvaro Saborio is still recovering from knee swelling. With the two fully healthy forwards remaining — Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia — rather untested and still learning the system, the midfield will need to step up in creation to an extent not seen in some time.
Things didn't go so well for Real Salt Lake last time it played at Vancouver, with the Claret-and-Cobalt losing 2-1 to the 'Caps at BC Place on Aug. 11, 2012.
Check out the highlights of that match above and make sure you tune-in to ABC4 at 2 p.m. MT on Saturday to see if RSL can avenge last year's defeat at Whitecaps FC.
Any time you've got 90 minutes with no goals, there's a chance the match was a bit on the boring side — Real Salt Lake’s scoreless draw against Vancouver on Saturday was no big exception. But with plenty of lineup changes and some interesting substitutions, there was plenty of tactical interest to be had.
With backup goalie Kyle Reynish on for regular ‘keeper Nick Rimando, and Chris Wingert and Kwame Watson-Siriboe as the central defenders in front of him, there was always a slight risk that continuity could be disrupted and defensive posturing rendered obsolete. Much to their credit, the slightly makeshift back line did well to snuff out chances before they started — all while both outside backs Tony Beltran and Kenny Mansally were both able to get forward with ease and aplomb.
With Javier Morales out and Will Johnson not starting, the midfield did struggle a bit to create clear chances, but Jonny Steele's defensive contribution (4/4 tackling, 3 interceptions) was a bright spot. Luis Gil failed to inject himself fully in the tip of the diamond, but Ned Grabavoy was in fine passing form and Kyle Beckerman was his usual strong self.
With the game bordering on boring through most of the first and second halves, late substitutions promised at least some sort of shift in momentum. For Real Salt Lake, the arrival on the scene of Sebastian Velasquez, Will Johnson and David Viana did just that.
The most notable was certainly Sebastian Velasquez, who took the opportunity, as they say, with both hands. With late runs into the box, exciting dribbling ability, and a demand for the ball, he showed a hunger and drive that set things alight late on.
Will Johnson, on the other hand, didn't have too much to do — set up as a right back in a shift from his usual left back spot (when moving into a defensive position), with Tony Beltran going to the left, he got forward well but wasn't able to really change the affair in a substantial way. With only 12 minutes on the pitch, that wasn't entirely surprising.
David Viana came on and played 19 minutes in his home debut, but he, like most, didn't show anything entirely too exciting. As a newcomer to the system, the fact that he's getting minutes at all speaks well of his ability, but if he is handed another chance in 2012, he'll want to be more of an impact.
Heading into the playoffs, RSL has done as well in the last five games of the season, gaining more points in the last five matches of the regular season (11) than in any other season. Whether this affects the long-term viability of the playoff campaign is difficult to say definitively, but Jason Kreis is a firm believer that form carries over. It's hard to see it not having at least some impact.
Bouncing back from a painful cup exit is a difficult thing to do for any side, but the Claret-and-Cobalt will want to avoid the "continental hangover" effect against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
With the match the final regular season contest before the start of MLS Cup playoffs, three questions will be on the top of Jason Kreis's mind: How does RSL approach the match? What personnel should be used, and who is available? And, finally: How does regular season form sit in the priority?
As detailed in Thursday's post on The Sovereign, there's plenty left to play for, even when we're just talking about the regular season. The pain of losing against Herediano is still there, but as it so often does, time marches on and the Claret-and-Cobalt are being pushed into another meaningful match. Despite the subdued build-up — it's hard to imagine it's easy to escalate after this week — it could still potentially affect RSL's ability to host the MLS Cup and to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League.
As such, finding the right balance will be critical for Jason Kreis. As much as fans have had a hard week, the players will feel it doubly so, and whether that's best solved by putting them in a high-pressure scenario or by having them relax a bit and just play is hard to really say effectively. This is, as they say, why he's paid the big bucks.
With two additional injury concerns coming out of the Herediano match, Jason Kreis has more than the approach to the match to worry about. Both Will Johnson and Chris Schuler came out of the match because of injury, and with Jamison Olave and Ned Grabavoy kept out of proceedings altogether on Tuesday, pickings are looking slim.
If Schuler and Olave are both out, it seems likely that Kwame Watson-Siriboe would be used if fit — but at this point, that may be a fairly substantial "if." The only other immediate option would be to push Chris Wingert inside, dropping Kenny Mansally in at left back.
If Grabavoy is indeed out, Luis Gil (if sufficiently recovered from mid-week and from illness) would almost certainly take his place; if Will Johnson is out, it's hard to look past Jonny Steele — if just for defensive contribution. Steele has, to my mind, received a lot of criticism for his play, some of it justified — but his work rate and defensive ability are the closest available in midfield next to Will Johnson's.
It's often bandied about that form is the deciding factor moving into playoffs, sometimes with some evidence, other times with significantly less than that. Regardless, RSL will want to keep Vancouver's form spotty — in their last nine matches, they've won just once, a solitary 4-0 victory over Western Conference whipping boys Chivas USA. Further, it seems odd, but with a win, RSL could find their best form since June.
After Real Salt Lake failed to win their last six matches to end 2011, there were concerns about the ability of the squad to respond positively in the playoffs. A strong win at home against Seattle aside, there wasn't much momentum to carry forward.
Regardless of the statistical realities (or irrealities, as the case may be) of form leading into playoffs, it stands to reckon that keeping his troops injury-free will be high on the priority list for Jason Kreis. If he's to go into playoffs with only one recognized center back available, an overwhelming sense of deja vu will pass over all of Utah. That may be as much an influencing factor as anything.
RSL started last Saturday's 2-1 loss at Vancouver well. Tactically, there was nothing to be upset about, despite a lack of goals: Vancouver's speed on the wings was never particularly threatening before the 56th minute. But a simple clearance scuffed into the back of Chris Wingert (the wrong place at the wrong time if there ever was one) rebounded to Camilo, who slotted home with ease. Tactical error? Hardly.
But from that point forward, the shape changed. Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran emerged from their deeper positions, the midfielders dropped a little deeper, and Nat Borchers began pushing even further forward than most strikers.
It wasn't that new tactical approach that faltered when Dane Richards found the net: Chris Wingert (again, though I don't' hold him accountable in the least for the first goal, and with this second goal, it's a tough scenario) stood off the winger, and Richards took a long, curling shot that fizzed past Nick Rimando. Again, not a tactical error, but an error nonetheless.
Though the tactical approach had us set up well, abandoning it made it seem that we initially hadn't set up to find a goal. It wasn't, I suppose, a comfortable approach for RSL's full backs, sitting back like they did. The attack was somewhat neutered: To compensate for the lack of width, Johnson and Grabavoy took up wider positions and stayed a bit more on their sides — while recently, Johnson has been seen darting around the midfield picking up loose balls and making vital tackles, he was a bit more left-sided today, providing more emphasis on attack. But the simple, easy balls played from the full backs just inside were missing, and as a result, we didn't have much chance to build up play on the outside.
As a result, too many times, Espindola was forced to drop deep or very, very wide to help build play, leaving Saborio on a bit of an island. It is hard to say if Javier Morales remaining in the game for 60, 70 or even 90 minutes might have helped rescue something from the match. An ineffable bit of magic from Javier Morales, absent from the proceedings after the half, might have been enough.
The goal to close things out from Nat Borchers provided an interesting piece of the story, though, as Paulo Jr. — in his first match back from loan — found space efficiently and neatly, and further swung in a rather brilliant cross for the defender to get a head on. As they say, there is a silver lining. The other big silver lining? Kwame Watson-Siriboe, who was tidy, strong and safe the whole match. And to think, we picked him up for only just more than the cost of a loaf of bread (or something to that effect, right?) Watching this kid grow in our system has been exciting, and it promises to continue in that direction.tgo