A late surge saw a vaguely veteran Real Salt Lake side eke out a 3-2 win over New England Revolution on Wednesday night, earning a spot in the Desert Diamond Cup Final.
The First Team Resurgence
Late resurgences are always a joy to watch, but deconstructing how exactly they came into being can be a bit difficult. It's easy to point at New England Revolution last night and accuse them of not seeing out the match, but that largely ignores the quality of the play that led to the goals.
The first of the two in the late surge came about through fantastic play by Alvaro Saborio, whose maneuvering on the edge of the box from a Ned Grabavoy pass positioned him to score a fantastic goal. The second came from Khari Stephenson — again from a Ned Grabavoy pass from the right channel. Grabavoy's ability to find space on the right flank was crucial, though perhaps a bit subtle.
Certainly New England could have defended the build-up more effectively, but their inability to hold on to the lead was down more to Real Salt Lake's first-team quality than other concerns.
The Viana Free Role
David Viana was deployed in the first half in a nominally striking role — a position which he's been dropped into at times later on in matches, but starting as a striker is a different sort of affair.
Viana came out in a quintessential free role role, with his primary roles on the pitch as a second-striker role behind Devon Sandoval and — more often — as a winger, primarily on the left flank. However, with this move, his influence was cut substantially: He saw less of the ball in dangerous attacking areas than in previous Desert Diamond Cup matches, serving more in build-up play from deeper positions.
The Velasquez Diamond
Sebastian Velasquez was handed his first real opportunity at the top of the diamond in preseason, filling a role played by Grabavoy, Viana and Stephenson so far, among others. It's a more natural position for the youngster, but I suspect he's being given more time in the outside of the diamond simply because it's where he'll undoubtedly see the most time in 2013.
He was effective in attack, and it was his shot from distance which led to the tap-in for Devon Sandoval. He also showed flashes of absolute brilliance on the ball, dribbling around players with the utmost of ease, cutting through the mess of midfield and creating opportunities. He didn't run the show as a playmaker, but he was incredibly bright on the ball.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Real Salt Lake will play its final FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup Group Stage match on Wednesday night, taking on the New England Revolution at 5:00 p.m. MT at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Claret-and-Cobalt is currently 0-1-1 in the Desert Diamond Cup after tying New York 2-2 last Wednesday and falling to Seattle 1-2 on Saturday. That mark puts RSL in a tie for third-place with the Red Bulls, two points behind second-place New England and five points back of first-place Seattle, which has already clinched a spot in Saturday's DDC Final.
RSL still has a good shot to qualify for the DDC Final against the Sounders. A win over New England on Wednesday night combined with a New York loss or tie to Seattle on Wednesday night would put the Claret-and-Cobalt through. If New York beats Seattle, RSL would need to beat New England and maintain its one goal edge over the Red Bulls in goal differential to advance to Saturday's DDC Final. Should RSL and New York finish tied on points and on goal difference, the team with the most goals scored would advance to the Final.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis won't be too worried about that, though. He'll be more interested in seeing how his players perform in their penultimate preseason match than he will be in the result.
If he sticks to pattern, Kreis will run out a reserve-heavy starting lineup on Wednesday, playing the group about 60 minutes before bringing in first-teamers to close out the match. The Claret-and-Cobalt regulars should start again on Saturday.
Wednesday's RSL-New England match will be streamed live on both RealSaltLake.com and MLSsoccer.com. The New York-Seattle match will kick off at 7:00 p.m. MT and will also be streamed live on MLSsoccer.com.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Real Salt Lake announced earlier on Tuesday that rookie forward Devon Sandoval has signed with the first team. Sandoval, who trained with RSL for a week last summer, was absolutely thrilled to join the Claret-and-Cobalt, calling signing with the team "a dream come true."
Sandoval had another good anecdote about signing that didn't quite make it into the release:
"I was actually FaceTiming with my girlfriend when I [put pen to paper]," he said. "She wanted to take pictures and everything, so I got my iPad set up and took some pictures of it when I signed."
A self-described family guy, this isn't the first time that Sandoval has used technology to share a big moment with his loved ones. There was a camera rolling at the Sandoval home during the broadcast of MLS SuperDraft and - predictably - the place went nuts when RSL selected Devon. We're still trying to track down that video. Figure it'd make for pretty good viewing.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Injured Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers did his first on-the-ball work of the preseason on Monday, putting his cleats on for the first time and running through some simple cutting and passing drills with RSL's training staff.
Borchers, who had surgery on a tendon in his left quad this offseason, traveled with the Claret-and-Cobalt to Tucson on Feb. 11. Conservative estimates have the veteran center back returning to game action by mid-April. Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe have been the first choice center backs in Borchers' absence, with the pair expected to start RSL's 2013 MLS regular season opener at defending Supporters' Shield winners San Jose on March 3.
RSL next plays on Wednesday night, when it will take on the New England Revolution at 5:00 p.m. MT at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in the club's final FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup Group Stage match. The match will be streamed live on both RealSaltLake.com and MLSsoccer.com.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and the U.S. Under-20 national team will kick off the CONCACAF U-20 Championship with a Group A match against Haiti on Monday. U.S. Soccer produced a solid video preview of the tournament featuring Gil and U-20 Head Coach Tab Ramos.
Check out the video above and make sure to tune in to Fox Soccer Channel at 4:30 p.m. MT to see Gil and the U-20's take on Haiti.
Although Saturday's 1-2 loss to Seattle in the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup was perhaps a bit disappointing, there are some interesting points to be taken from the deployments of RSL's midfielders and forwards.
Flattening the diamond
With Ned Grabavoy as the point man in the midfield diamond, the look changes rather significantly. This is, I think, by design. The wider players in the diamond — in this case, Sebastian Velasquez and Yordany Alvarez — pushed up to be nearly level with Grabavoy.
This enforced a more flat top of the diamond — especially in comparison to a Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Ned Grabavoy triumvirate in front of Kyle Beckerman. Creativity came from all three players in basically equal measure. With Grabavoy at times dropping deeper than Velasquez and Alvarez, the system almost took on a less diamond-looking approach, too.
It's notable because it helps destabilize the notion that Jason Kreis is a strict tactician who refuses to vary his approach. It was a bit subtle, but we see something a bit more untested with Grabavoy up top there.
Alongside the flattening of the diamond come some interesting decisions on player placement. It starts of course with Grabavoy in the top of the diamond, where he plays well as a linking distributor and less that magician. It continues: Yordany Alvarez on the side of the diamond, where he looked surprisingly creative, and Enzo Martinez in the deep-lying role, where he looks more of a playmaker than a destroyer, are the two standouts.
But tossing David Viana up top in the 75th minute is interesting, too: Robbie Findley, still being rested, remains uninvolved, and getting at least a player in the forward position was necessary. It's clearly not Viana's best position, but his ability to run at players with the ball at his feet and beat them on the dribble changes the dynamic of matches. It's something that, after the departure of Fabian Espindola, our current group of forwards lacks — except maybe Olmes Garcia, the unknown quantity — and having that tactical flexibility is essential.
It's a bit strange when the ostensibly first-team players are having trouble scoring goals, but it's what's out there right now. With that set of players — or something resembling that set — we've scored just once since since Oct. 6 against the LA Galaxy, and that was from Ned Grabavoy against the … LA Galaxy in a preseason match on Feb. 8. It's not a pressing issue, but it's one to scratch one's head about. If it continues into the season, there will be trouble, but that's a rather big "if" at this point.
It is worth noting that some of these younger guys have looked particularly bright: John Stertzer, Cole Grossman, Joao Plata — they've all looked better than perhaps first expected, and all three have scored goals.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Real Salt Lake will take on Seattle Sounders FC in Round 2 of the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup on Saturday. The match will kick off at 4:00 p.m. MT at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium and will be streamed live here on RealSaltLake.com and on MLSsoccer.com.
RSL drew its first Desert Diamond Cup match, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead on Wednesday against New York before letting the Red Bulls claw back for a 2-2 draw. Seattle won its first DDC game, beating New England 2-0 in Wednesday's early match.
Both RSL and Seattle are expected to run out strong lineups on Saturday. It should be a good match between the Western Conference rivals - they're certainly won't be any love lost. RSL and Seattle matches are traditionally chippy, and the Sounders already seem to be in a bad mood. Seattle got into it on a pair of occasions on Wednesday against New England, recieving six total cards and one ejection against the Revs.
Oh, by the way, a certain "Striker X" may feature for RSL on Saturday afternoon. Tune in at 4:00 p.m. to find out.
TUCSON, Ariz. - Former Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy standout Jordan Allen will return to RSL preseason camp on Friday. Allen, a University of Virginia commit, trained with the Claret-and-Cobalt first team during the team's camp in Casa Grande, Ariz. from Jan. 21-28.
Allen left the RSL-AZ Academy in December to return home to Rochester, N.Y. The 18-year-old forward/defender is scheduled to remain with RSL for the duration of the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, which will run until next Saturday, Feb. 23.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will take on Seattle Sounders FC in both sides' second Desert Diamond Cup match on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. MT at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. The match will be streamed live on RealSaltLake.com and MLSsoccer.com. RSL drew New York 2-2 in its tournament opener on Wednesday night.