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07 December 10:06 am

With Real Salt Lake on the verge of the MLS Cup, taking stock of our tactical position is elucidating. Without further ado, how can RSL ensure a match in which they have the best chance to win?

1. Don't succumb to high pressure

Sporting KC play what is best described as a high-pressure system -- they start applying pressure with their forwards, and that translates as the ball moves into their space. This might tempt us into playing risky passes in a bid to escape that pressure, which won't work out in our favor. Risky passing from our side is best utilized when in dangerous positions -- moving into the final third, say -- and we need to maintain that approach.

Hesitancy in attacking positions will stymie our play, and overeagerness in the midfield could lead to Sporting KC on the receiving end of turnover-generated chances. It's a difficult balance to strike.

2. Gain control of the ball quickly when out of possession

The best way to both strike that balance and to ensure that difficult moments aren't turned into goals conceded is to minimize the amount of time we spend without the ball. Sporting KC may be nominally a possession side, but their best moments are likely to come quickly after they regain control of the ball. If we do our part to first minimize the frequency of those events, and to regain possession quickly ourselves, we will find ourselves in the ascendancy.

3. Don't let SKC dictate the pace

Much as we will want to avoid succumbing to SKC's high-pressure system, we'll also want to avoid letting them change the pace of the game. One needs only look back to our 2-1 loss to see a classic example of a team capitalizing on a shift in momentum; when Chris Wingert was sent off that day, they were able to slow the game down at will. Their approach play was patient, and though it took seven minutes of stoppage time, they found a breakthrough goal. And it wasn't because they harried us into submission, but because they shifted their play and we failed to meet their transition.

If we remain proactive and attempt to set the pace of the game ourselves, we will find ourselves in a stronger position already. We are not a side that accepts the opposition's pacing, but one that attempts to set the pace themselves -- at least when we do well.

regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com, Matt Montgomery runs the SB Nation blog RSL Soapbox. Follow Matt on Twitter @TheCrossbarRSL

06 December 8:38 am

Every MLS Cup is special. More so than any other game on the domestic calendar, this is the one where reputations are built and legends are born. With mere hours left before MLS Cup 2013, it's high time we looked at what winning this year's Cup would mean for RSL, its coaches and its players in terms of history.

  • A win would make Real Salt Lake only the fifth team in MLS history to win multiple MLS Cups. This feat would be made even more impressive by the fact that RSL didn't have the chance to win nine of the 18 MLS Cups by virtue of not being in the league until 2005. Of the teams who have multiple MLS Cups to their name, only two of them (L.A. Galaxy, Houston Dynamo) have accomplished the feat since RSL entered the league. The other two multiple winners - San Jose Earthquakes and D.C. United - won their last MLS Cups in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
  • A win would make Jason Kreis only the fifth head coach in MLS history to win multiple MLS Cups, joining Bruce Arena, Dom Kinnear, Sigi Schmid, and Frank Yallop as the only ones to accomplish the feat. Even more remarkable is that it looks like Kreis could still lace 'em up and play on a few MLS squads – the RSL manager will turn just 41 later this month.
  • A win would make three MLS Cup championships for RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Ned Grabavoy, putting them in the rarefied air of MLS legends like Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, and Marco Etcheverry. In addition to their MLS Cups won with RSL in 2009, both players have a title with another team - Rimando won the 2004 MLS Cup with D.C. United, while Grabavoy hoisted the Anschutz Trophy in 2005 as a member of the L.A. Galaxy.
  • A win would give RSL goalkeeper Josh Saunders three consecutive MLS Cups. Saunders started, played the full 90 minutes, and won the Cup final in 2011 and 2012 as a member of the L.A. Galaxy. RSL’s backup goalkeeper won’t have a chance to keep that streak alive this year, having torn his ACL in July.

While the 2013 MLS Cup could cement legacies and add hardware to the mantles of several RSL veterans, it's also tempting to think that this could be the first award for several RSL youngsters. How many trophies can you envision in the future for young talent like Devon Sandoval, Carlos Salcedo, Sebastian Velasquez, Luis Gil, Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia, and others? Maybe we'll see the beginning of some MLS legends being made. Just hours to go until we find out.

05 December 1:13 pm

In two days Real Salt Lake will play its second MLS Cup Final in the club’s nine-season history. Multiple RSL players have lifted the Cup before, both with Claret-and-Cobalt in 2009 and with other teams through the years.

Below is a list of all the Claret-and-Cobalt players that have previously won MLS Cup titles:

Josh Saunders – The currently sidelined goalkeeper is looking to win his fourth MLS Cup title this Saturday. Saunders previously won MLS Cup 2005, 2011 and 2012 with LA Galaxy.

Nick Rimando – The RSL veteran goalkeeper has won two MLS Cup titles – MLS Cup 2004 with D.C. United and MLS Cup 2009 with Real Salt Lake

Ned Grabavoy – RSL’s dynamic midfielder has lifted the MLS Cup trophy twice before – first with LA Galaxy in 2005 and then in 2009 with Real Salt Lake

Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert, Javier Morales and Robbie Findley all won MLS Cup 2009 with Real Salt Lake

The experience and leadership that comes with Real Salt Lake’s core group of veterans will surely come into play on Saturday, when a re-tooled and – in places – young squad looks to win the club’s second title at Sporting Kansas City.

05 December 9:06 am

For RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Khari Stephenson, Saturday’s MLS Cup at Kansas City will be a bit of a trip down memory lane. The Claret-and-Cobalt teammates both played the last time Kansas City advanced to MLS Cup, with Rimando manning the net for D.C. United and Stephenson starting and playing 45 minutes for the Wizards in a 3-2 D.C. victory at the Home Depot Center.

Stephenson’s Wizards took the lead in the sixth minute with a goal from defender Jose Burciaga Jr., but D.C. responded with three straight goals, including an own goal, scored in a seven minute span. D.C. forward Alecko Eskandarian scored the first two goals in the 19th and 23rd minutes, before Kansas City defender Alex Zotinca put one into his own net in the 26th minute. The score line remained the same until the 58th minute, when D.C. midfielder Dema Kovalenko received the first red card ever given in a MLS Cup match for blocking a shot with his arm on the goal line. Kansas City forward Josh Wolff converted from the penalty spot to pull the Wizards within a goal, but it wasn’t enough to stop D.C., which beat the Wizards 3-2 to lift the club’s fourth MLS Cup.

Let’s hope that Kansas City goes home disappointed again on Saturday. RSL and Sporting kick off at 2 p.m. MT at Sporting Park. The match will be broadcast on ESPN, UniMas and ESPN 700 AM.

04 December 11:54 pm

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Chris Kamrani and Kurt Kragthorpe have been providing great RSL coverage all week, comprehensively covering the Claret-and-Cobalt as they march towards MLS Cup 2013 at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

Their strong coverage continued on Wednesday, with the pair of SL Trib writers sitting down with Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen. Kamrani wrote up Part I of II of a transcript of their interview with Hansen for SLTrib.com on Wednesday night, and he’s graciously allowed us to post a few highlights of the conversation below. Check out Part I of the transcript in its entirety here.

And if you haven’t already, make sure to check out Kamrani’s excellent stories on RSL’s 2013 re-tool and Robbie Findley and Kragthorpe’s column on RSL’s place in the Utah sports landscape.

A couple of highlights of Hansen’s interview with the pair are below:

On the status of contract talks with RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis, whom Hansen said requested to wait until the end of the season to figure out his status with the club following the pair’s last round of negotiations before the Oct. 1 Open Cup Final:

Hansen: "I trust Jason will make the very best decision for his family and what mountain he needs to climb," he explained. "He’s climbed some pretty big mountains."

"Jason is remarkable," Hansen continued. "The cool part being Jason at this point in his career, at 40, having six years to the playoffs — no one’s done more — having competed now twice for the national cup — if he wins, he’ll be one of five — you have to stand back and say, ‘What’s his next mountain?’ And I honestly think if we win, and CONCACAF [Champions League] is possible, I think that gives us a teetering edge that there’s an objective for him to accomplish.

"I think as you get to be a great man, and Jason early in his life is, you start saying, ‘What mountains are there for me to climb?’ I really think it is that — I don’t think it’s a money issue whatsoever. I think it’s what mountains can you put in front of me? Maybe one of Jason’s goals is he wants to be men’s national team coach some time. What resume do you need to build to do that? I give Jason a lot of credit, he’s very thoughtful about how he does it. He’s totally focused on the game — he’ll think about that after the game."

On his favorite story from RSL’s Western Conference Championship series second leg win at Portland on Nov. 24:

Hansen: "Nat Borchers and his beard came up to me with fire in his eyes and said, ‘I love taking a win on somebody else’s field. It was just like a Viking had come onto that field, and was not going to let it go," 

We don’t want to steal too much of Kamrani’s post, so that’s all for here. Just go read the whole thing – trust us, it’s worth the time.

04 December 12:15 pm

Starting with a highly physical preseason game in 2011 that was called off because of a brawl, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City matchups have always tended to be testy affairs. The only game this year between the sides was no exception, with the teams combining for one red card, seven yellow cards and 26 fouls in a heartbreaking 2-1 RSL defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 20.

RSL took the lead in the 56th minute of that match, when Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen mishandled a free kick taken by Claret-and-Cobalt maestro Javier Morales, allowing forward Robbie Findley to head a close-range effort into the back of the net. Ten minutes later, RSL defender Chris WIngert was shown a controversial second yellow card and ejected after pulling down Sporting KC’s Soony Saad on the right wing. Sporting Kansas City immediately took advantage, with Saad finding the equalizer off of the ensuing free kick. Sporting scored the game-winner in the 97th minute, as Ike Opara headed home a Graham Zusi corner seconds before the final whistle.

Sporting Kansas City’s win snapped Real Salt Lake’s 11-game unbeaten streak across all competitions. RSL was 9-0-2 during its unbeaten run from May 19-July 13, outscoring its competition 30-9 in that stretch.

The match was just as physical and temperamental as previous encounters, as Real Salt Lake picked up four yellow cards – two given to Chris Wingert and one each to Morales and midfielder Luis Gil. Sporting KC received three yellow cards of their own - one each for Oriol Rosell, Aurelien Collin and Lawrence Olum.

Both sides were without important players in the first meeting, with RSL missing four players – Captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Tony Beltran, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and forward Alvaro Saborio – due to international duty and Sporting KC without MLS Best XI defender Matt Besler.  

MLS Cup 2013 will surely be another highly physical and emotional affair between the two clubs on Saturday, with Real Salt Lake looking to achieve the best form of revenge – winning MLS Cup 2013 on Sporting Kansas City’s home soil. 

03 December 4:32 pm

Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Tuesday afternoon, answering a wide-range of questions from fans around the league ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup at Sporting Kansas City.

Below are a few highlights from Beltran’s AMA, which you can find in its entirety here.

Reddit user Misplays4days: Hey Tony! I’m curious, what is the most memorable game you've played in??

Beltran: Hmm. Two years ago we played Seattle away in the first round of the playoffs. We had a three goal lead and ended up losing 2-0 but advancing. That was by far the most exhausting game I have ever played in. We were under it for 90 minutes. Playing Brazil in the U-20 WC is up there. My debut for the senior national team, and this year beating the Galaxy at home in the playoffs. Rio Tinto is always loud but the last ten minutes was off the charts.

Reddit user amazingcube: Tony, some RSL fans call you "Slater" due to your resemblance to Mario Lopez (who played AC Slater on the TV show "Saved by the Bell"). Were you aware of this? Also, would you be angry with fans if you heard them shouting for you to "do it for Jesse?"

Beltran: Wow. I have never heard the chant "Do it for Jesse" but that is hilarious. I don't get mad when people make that comparison, I've been getting that and Prince ever since freshman year of high school.

Reddit user EbilSmurfs: I was wondering if you wanted to go out drinking Friday night. If you are interested give me a message, I may even buy your drinks all night.

Beltran: Going to have to pass mate!

Reddit user zarigia: Tony - I remember reading that you performed with Ballet West a few years back. What was the experience like and would you do it again?

Beltran: It was the most stressful experience of my life, but so much fun. I did a full on three minute routine with two ballerinas incorporating juggling a soccer ball and trying to do ballet moves. I had a blast and would do it over again in a heartbeat. Most incredible athletes I have ever worked with.

Reddit user sporkwaffles: Who are some of the young players in the league you're excited to watch develop/grow? (I'd guess Devon Sandoval is one of them?)

Beltran: Sandoval is certainly near the top of the list. It is remarkable that in his first year he has transitioned so well into being a professional. Not only off the field, but in his approach to the game and professionalism. I have no doubt he will succeed. I would also have to say Luis Gil is a TALENT. Sky is the limit for the lad. Outside of RSL, Fagundez from NE is quite fun to watch, Zardes and Yedlin as well.

Reddit user lawyerdup: What has been your most memorable interaction with a fan?

Beltran: I have had numerous memorable interactions with fans. It's quite moving when meeting who people are so enthusiastic about RSL and my play. A year ago I visited a young man in the hospital who was stricken with illness just before his senior year of high school. Getting to know him and following his recovery was very special. He was so passionate about soccer and motivated to get better in order to make it back to play for his high school one more time...

Reddit user Drunken_Economist: If you could pick one non-soccer-related person to be the next RSL coach, who would it be?

Beltran: Wow, great question. I am thinking someone who is a natural leader would be adept as a coach. Knowing the game is huge but also managing and motivating grown men can prove to be a challenge for some. How about Christopher Nolan? He directs/organizes people for a living. His creativity would be limited but that certainly would be interesting to watch!

Reddit user il-re: What's your favorite Pokémon?

Beltran: Probably Gengar. I always thought he was so cool for some reason.

03 December 4:04 pm

Real Salt Lake was eminently familiar with its first two MLS Cup Playoff opponents, having played LA three times prior to beating the Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinals and facing Portland on four occasions before squaring off with the Timbers in the Western Conference Championship series.

RSL and MLS Cup 2013 opponent Sporting KC are far less acquainted, with the sides meeting just once this year, a 2-1 SKC win at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 20. It's difficult to learn much from that game, which was played without four RSL regulars who were away on international duty and with Sporting using a makeshift lineup.

With that, let's take a look at Kansas City and what makes them tick:

The formation

Sporting typically plays a 4-3-3 formation, lately playing U.S. international Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong on the wings with Dom Dwyer in the middle. The midfield suffers from a numerical disadvantage but there's plenty of talent. Oriol Rosell is one of the best young defensive midfielders in the league, Paulo Nagamura is a box-to-box workhorse, and Benny Feilhaber can be a creative force. But the defense is where KC really makes hay - Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic are solid outside backs, and Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler are one of MLS' best center back pairings. In goal is the usually reliable Jimmy Nielsen.

Getting defensive

Sporting is known for their physicality - they led MLS this year in fouls committed. Their idea is to quickly win the ball back, and if that doesn't happen, disrupt the flow of the game. It's hard to argue with the approach, as KC conceded the fewest goals in the league (30) this year. What they've accomplished is remarkable; looking over the last five years, teams that commit a lot of fouls have tended to allow quite a few goals. But not Kansas City, and their center backs are a big reason why. Both Collin and Besler are great in the air so they get their heads on a lot of set piece crosses. Simply lobbing balls into the box plays right into Sporting's hands and is a difficult way to beat them.

On the ball

When they win the ball, Kansas City wants to get it to the front as quickly as possible. They have plenty of speed up top, and all three strikers are solid on the ball, with Zusi particularly deft. That doesn't mean they're necessarily a counterattacking team like LA, but they're also not necessarily a tiki-taka midfield-dominant team like RSL. KC's midfield only contributed four goals and seven assists this season, so clearly they want to put the ball on the feet of Sapong, Dwyer, and Zusi. And if one of them doesn't have the magic, they have the luxury of bringing Designated Player Claudio Bieler off the bench. Ironically, Bieler is actually Sporting's scoring leader with 11 goals this season.

How RSL gets it done

For me, this game comes down to three things for RSL. First, can Salt Lake establish its passing game? I fear that if the match turns into a free kick contest, it won't turn out well for RSL. Getting the tempo and flow going will give Real the best chance at breaking down that stout back line. Second, can RSL play out of pressure when they recover the ball? KC loves to apply immediate pressure, especially at home, so it will be important that Salt Lake get out of tight spaces intelligently. Third, can Real avoid turning the ball over in bad spots? The way to neutralize KC's forwards is not give them the ball with time and space. Losing possession in their own end will put RSL in uncomfortable situations in the back, and they can only get away with that so many times. If Salt Lake can manage these three keys, I like their chances at taking home MLS Cup come Saturday. 

02 December 11:38 am

We’re five days away from MLS Cup 2013 between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park.

Start Cup week off right with our favorite RSL Rewind, taking you back to RSL’s MLS Cup 2009 win over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Five days, people. Five days.

01 December 7:07 pm

Interesting take from MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas on comments that Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey made a couple of months back in Grantland about the stylistic dichotomy between RSL and Kansas City.

We're a bit partial, but we're leaning with Lagerwey on this one. You can keep your high-tempo style, Kansas City. We'll take our brilliant midfield diamond. 

Click here for more on the rivalry between RSL and Sporting Kansas City. The sides will meet in MLS Cup at 2 p.m. MT on Saturday on ESPN at Sporting Park.