RealSaltLake.com is excited to introduce its new World Cup blog contributor, Andy Larsen. Andy will be travelling to Brazil with the American Outlaws, the official supporters group of the United States Men’s National Team, and chronicling his adventures for our Dispatch from Brazil series. All of Andy’s Dispatch from Brazil pieces will be posted on RealSaltLake.com’s The Sovereign and World Cup page.
We look forward to having Andy provide a glimpse into one of the greatest sporting events in the world!
First a little about Andy:
After years with a love for soccer as an RSL season ticket holder, Andy Larsen signed up with the American Outlaws to follow the USMNT around Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. As a writer, Andy is best known for his basketball work as the managing editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN Truehoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. In addition to being the only credentialed Utah Jazz blog, Andy and his team of writers at Salt City Hoops also host a podcast and are featured guests each week on ESPN700.
Before Andy jets off to Brazil this week, he tackled U.S. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial decision to exclude American stalwart Landon Donovan. Check out his first contribution below.
Will Landon Donovan’s absence from the World Cup haunt the U.S. in Brazil?
Last weekend, I attended one of Salt Lake’s fine Brazilian barbecue restaurants (or churrascarias). Naturally, having stacks of fine meat brought to me was delicious, and the experience was a treat.
Then, an irony hit me: in just 2 days, I’ll be visiting actual churrascarias, you know, in Brazil. Meanwhile, Landon Donovan won’t be, left off the 23-man roster to Brazil barring injury. How did this happen?
Let’s look at Donovan’s credentials: He’s MLS’s all-time leading goal-scorer (and impressively, primarily from a midfield position) in both regular season and playoffs. He ranks second in assists. He’s been on MLS’ Best XI 6 times, and he’s captured MVP, Golden Boot, Silver Boot, and Goal of the Year; essentially winning nearly every award there is to win. Importantly, he’s got the team hardware, too: In America’s domestic league, he’s won MLS Cup five times, Supporters’ Shield twice (runner up three times), and the US Open Cup.
Oh, imaginary contrarian, so his MLS resume isn’t enough? Let’s look at what he’s done for the USMNT: he’s the US’s all-time leading goalscorer and assistman, coming in second in appearances. He’s won Gold Cup four times, led the Confederations Cup run in 2009, was the 2002’s World Cup Young Player of the Tournament, and probably single-handedly saved the US from a group-stage exit in 2010 with his goals against Slovenia and Algeria.
In short, as Andres Cantor said after the most famous goal in US soccer history, “Landon Donovan es el major jugador en la historia de los Estados Unidos”.
And lest you think he’s over the hill, his 2013 performance proved otherwise: he was CONCACAF’s MVP for the USMNT’s Gold Cup win, scoring 8 goals in 11 appearances in 2013. That’s the very best yearly strike rate of his career (well, save for his 1-for-1 performance in 2000). And days after being snubbed from Klinsmann’s final roster three weeks ago, Donovan went on to break the MLS all-time goal record, scoring twice against the Philadelphia Union to give him 136 goals. Donovan added another one a week later, scoring against Chicago Fire.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has his own impressive resume, and the USMNT’s 12-game winning streak through 2012-2013 reveals that his tactical style works just as well in America as it did in Germany. But two weeks ago, Klinsmann decided that his vision for the club didn’t include Donovan; reports have suggested that the two haven’t seen eye-to-eye since Donovan’s call to Bayern Munich in 2009.
As a result, what could have been a synergistic relationship between two great international legends working together for US soccer glory has instead transformed into a referendum on Klinsmann’s managerial talents. Now that he’s made himself the unquestioned lead story, Klinsmann fairly will receive the blame should the US struggle in 2014 without Donovan.
Obviously, despite the decision, the World Cup goes on. The USMNT heads to Brazil for its most challenging test ever, and wherever the USMNT goes, so do the American Outlaws, the official supporter group of the team. I’ll be following along with them.
How did this happen? As a longtime RSL season ticket holder and soccer fan, I’d known for a long time I had to find a way to see soccer’s biggest event at some point in my lifetime. In 2012, I decided to start saving money for a trip to Brazil, and that year I put my name down on the already-full waiting list for the American Outlaws all-inclusive package. In January of this year, I got an email saying that a spot was open! I jumped at the chance, sent in my payment, and locked in to follow the USMNT wherever they ended up in the group stages of Brazil.
And what an itinerary! For most of the two weeks of the group stages, the home base of American Outlaws and therefore myself will be Natal: a relatively small Brazilian city in the northeast, famous for its beaches and sand dunes. Naturally, we’ll be there, loud and proud, for the US’s first game with Ghana. Then under a week later, we’ll take a chartered plane to the Amazon jungle to the city of Manaus, witnessing the USMNT battle Cristiano Ronaldo and his 10 Portuguese teammates. Finally, we’ll take a bus to Recife, and watch the US battle Germany, almost certainly for our nation’s World Cup life.
Along the way, I’ll be experiencing the thrill of the World Cup and Brazil – trying out a new language; visiting beautiful beaches, lakes, rainforests, and jungles; interacting with the citizens of Brazil and every other nation imaginable; and of course, trying out the local cuisine, including those famous churrascarias.
It’s just too bad Landon Donovan won’t be along for the ride.
U.S. Soccer recently released a great series of videos highlighting each American player in the final World Cup squad. Each video gives a glimpse into what each player is like on and off the field. Below are RSL's Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando's stories, but make sure to watch the whole series and get to know something about the entire team. Great job by US Soccer to build a connection between players and fans before Brazil.
Here's Kyle's piece:
Real Salt Lake veteran GK Nick Rimando sat down with Brian Dunseth to discuss being named the U.S.'s final World Cup roster. The soon to be 35-year-old will be going to a World Cup for the first time in his extensive and impressive career. Rimando gives some great insight into what it will be like fulfilling his childhood dream. Check out the great interview above.
And if you missed Bill Riley's exclusive World Cup interview with Kyle Beckerman, you can watch that here.
The U.S. begins World Cup play on Monday, June 16 when it takes on Ghana in its first group stage match. The game will kick at 4:00 p.m. MT and will be broadcast live on ESPN.
The USMNT take on Nigeria tomorrow in the final match of its World Cup "Send-Off Series." The Americans have two victories under its belt, defeating Azerbaijan and Turkey in its previous friendlies. Despite the wins, the Stars-and-Stripes are still looking to put in a complete performance. RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman made appearance last weekend against Turkey, subbing on at the start of the second half for midfielder Jermaine Jones, while RSL 'keeper Nick Rimando remained on the bench. Let's hope both players get a look on Saturday in what will be one of the last chances to impress U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. A preview from MLSsoccer.com can be found here.
And check out MLSsoccer.com's video preview with Andrew Wiebe and Greg Lalas above.
Match kicks at 4:00 p.m. MT on ESPN2.
Real Salt Lake returns home to complete one of its toughest stretches of the 2014 season, playing host to Western Conference rival Portland Timbers on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium at 8:00 p.m.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
Will RSL continue its dominance over Portland?
Real Salt Lake has a pretty dominate history against the Portland Timbers, and is currently riding an 11-game unbeaten run against the Cascadia side. Portland’s only win came over three years ago, with the Timbers defeating RSL in April 2011 when the sides first met in MLS. RSL kept the undefeated streak going the last time to two sides met on April 19 at Rio Tinto Stadium, with RSL earning a 1-0 win thanks to a great Ned Grabavoy goal. The Claret-and-Cobalt posts an 8-1-3 mark across all competitions against the Pacific Northwest side and a 5-1-3 all-time regular season record against Portland.
Will Plata make his return on Saturday?
Lethal striker Joao Plata has missed the Claret-and-Cobalt’s last two matches due to a hamstring injury picked up against FC Dallas on May 24. The speedy Ecuadorian has six goals in nine appearances this year, tying him for the team lead with forward Alvaro Saborio. RSL has severely missed the absence of both Plata and Saborio, with no other forwards finding the back of net this season. RSL midfielder Luis Gil snapped the Claret-and-Cobalt’s scoreless streak at 275 minutes on Wednesday, when he scored in the 56th minute against Columbus.
Will RSL’s diverse attack against Portland endure?
Historically, RSL has had a very diverse attack against Portland with ten different players scoring and eight different players assisting on a total of 15 goals in the Utah side’s last seven matches against the Timbers (2013-14). RSL midfielder Javier Morales leads the way for RSL with three goals; followed by Saborio, Plata and Robbie Findley with two goals each; forward Devon Sandoval, midfielders Luis Gil, Cole Grossman and Ned Grabavoy, and defenders Chris Schuler and Nat Borchers all have one tally against the Cascadia club in that time frame. Captain Kyle Beckerman, Morales and Plata lead the way for RSL in assists, with three helpers each; Grabavoy, Gil, Findley, Saborio and midfielder Sebastian Velasquez all have one assist against Portland since the start of 2013.
Will the Claret-and-Cobalt return to the diamond midfield and normal starting lineup?
On Wednesday night in Columbus, Head Coach Jeff Cassar deviated from RSL’s standard diamond midfield for the first time this year, opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation instead. With RSL playing three games in eight days, the road test against the Crew was an opportunity to rest some starters ahead of its clash with Portland. Wednesday’s lineup featured an almost entirely new back line (Rich Balchan, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Schuler, Abdoulie Mansally), and marked the first career start for midfielder John Stertzer. With veteran defenders Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Nat Borchers rested, Real Salt Lake should look a bit more familiar on Saturday.
Last MLS match before World Cup break
Saturday’s match will be Real Salt Lake’s final MLS regular season match until June 28 when the Claret-and-Cobalt travel to California to take on Chivas USA at StubHub Center. That isn’t to say RSL won’t be busy in June though, since it will play its first Open Cup match against NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks on June 14 in Georgia. But with the upcoming regular season break, RSL will want to end on a high note at home. Will RSL leave it all on the line on Saturday?
Real Salt Lake has announced that it will be hosting a special “Yoga on the Pitch” event at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, June 26.
In conjunction with We Are Yoga in Salt Lake City, RSL fans will have the opportunity to participate in an hour-long yoga session led by renowned instructor Jami Larson on the field at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert will also be partaking in the class and will hold an autograph session afterwards. The Yoga on the Pitch event is open to people of all ages and levels.
Admission to the Yoga on the Pitch event on June 26 will be included in a purchased ticket to Real Salt Lake’s July 4th home match against New England Revolution. Fans can purchase their ticket(s) here using the promo code: YOGA.
*Please bring identification to check into the Yoga on the Pitch event. Only those who have purchased tickets to the July 4th tickets using the YOGA promo code will be admitted into Rio Tinto Stadium. Families or groups that have purchased tickets together will able to check-in under one name.
Timeline for Yoga on the Pitch
Thursday, June 26 at Rio Tinto Stadium
5:30 - Doors open; check-in begins at the west side entrance of the stadium
5:45 - Field access
6:00 - Yoga session begin – yoga mats are permitted
7:00 - Yoga session ends
7-7:30 - Autograph session with RSL defender Chris Wingert and Leo the Lion. Participants will be limited to having one item signed.
The last time Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew met, RSL punished the Crew 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 24, 2013. But now the tables are turned and RSL will be facing the Ohio club on its home turf at Crew Stadium.
RSL’s romp last year saw a brace from Captain Kyle Beckerman - his first multi-goal game since April 2008 - and goals from forward Devon Sandoval and midfielder Luis Gil. Sandoval and forward Olmes Garcia started up top together which is likely to be the case tomorrow as well. Get pumped for tomorrow’s match by reliving all the action from last summer’s goal-fest.
Real Salt Lake will look to bounce back after suffering its first defeat of the 2014 season last week against Seattle. RSL travels to Columbus on Wednesday to face the Crew at 5:30 p.m. MT at Crew Stadium.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s clash:
How will RSL react after suffering its first loss of the season?
With Real Salt Lake ending its 12-game unbeaten run last Saturday with a disheartening 4-0 loss at Seattle, many will be looking to see how the team responds after its first non-result. With only three days between Seattle and Columbus, the Claret-and-Cobalt hasn’t had much time to dwell on the defeat. With the focus now on the Crew, RSL will have an opportunity to showcase its character in the way the team comes out on Wednesday night.
How will RSL’s toughest stretch of games – three in eight days – affect Wednesday’s lineup?
Real Salt Lake is currently facing its toughest stretch of games this year, playing a total of three matches in eight days. The Claret-and-Cobalt face Columbus only three days after playing a tough road match in Seattle. RSL will have another quick turnaround after Wednesday, hosting Western Conference rival Portland Timbers on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Head Coach Jeff Cassar will have to choose whether or not to rest some tired legs in Columbus ahead of what always tends to be a heated and physical affair between RSL and Portland.
RSL currently facing a lack of options at midfield and forward
With Captain Kyle Beckerman, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and forward Alvaro Saborio’s absences continually looming over RSL, it couldn’t have been a worse time for the injury bug to bite. RSL forward Joao Plata, who has scored six goals and notched three assists in nine appearances this year, reinjured his hamstring against FC Dallas a little more than a week ago. The dynamic and speedy Ecuadorian did not travel to Seattle and is still doubtful for Wednesday’s match at Columbus. Cassar’s only option could be the up top pairing of Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia – the same duo that started against Seattle.
Will RSL be able to find the back of the net?
With a scoreless draw against FC Dallas and getting shutout at Seattle, Real Salt Lake has now gone 219 minutes without finding the back of the net. With the news of RSL forward Alvaro Saborio’s broken foot (which will keep him out 3-4 months) and the ongoing recovery of Plata, RSL’s forward depth will be tested for longer than originally planned for. Wednesday’s match against the Crew couldn’t be a better time for Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia to gain a little confidence and find the back of the net for the Claret-and-Cobalt for the first time this year.