Two of the best sides in recent MLS memory face each other when RSL takes on Sporting Kansas City this weekend, and that we're involved in that is a testament to the progress we've made this season — but playing SKC always presents some difficult considerations.
Watching some of the more positive moments — those that resulted in goals and those that didn't — against FC Dallas last weekend, the importance of the ever-vaunted pass-and-move strategy came to bear. By forcing defenders and midfielders to follow the ball consistently, quick, dangerous players like Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata can come in late in the match and tear the opposition apart. It should also be noted that Real Salt Lake's goals on the break this season — of which there have been a fair few — have come as a result of that movement. When five, six, even seven attackers end up in the attacking third, the odds of a goal should naturally increase.
Despite conceding some chances while dominating matches, Jason Kreis's side have displayed an undeniable desire to win the ball quickly after turning it over, particularly outside of the defensive third. Being caught of position there is dangerous, while being caught out of position as an attacking midfielder is generally less so. Though there is a bit of danger associated with a high pressure system, the risks are outweighed by the gains. Against a strong defensive side like Sporting Kansas City, it will be imminently important to apply that sort of pressure. They'll have a result to expose the Kansas City defense to holes emanating from the absence of Matt Besler — and to expose the whole squad to the oft-discussed altitude consideration in Salt Lake City.
I feel as though I've written this little bit about 100 times this season already, but it bears repeating: RSL will have to deal with rotating due to injury. This time, we'll be without central defender Carlos Salcedo (although next time we're with him, we'll have Carlos Salcedo without his gallbladder, and perhaps that's good) and goalkeeper Josh Saunders. That's slightly problematic, but their replacements already have time: Both Aaron Maund and Jeff Attinella have seen a bit of time — Maund a bit more — and that's got to help the nerves.
Real Salt Lake returns to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, when it will take on Eastern Conference power Sporting Kansas City for the only time this year. Saturday’s match will kick at 8:00 p.m., with Pioneer Day fireworks following the game.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s match:
11 Game Unbeaten run on line
A week ago, Jason Kreis’ team weathered the early storm at Dallas to record a 3-0 road win, breaking its “Texas Hex” to win on Lone Star soil for the first time ever, courtesy of a Javier Morales game-winning goal, heroics from Josh Sauders and Jeff Attinella in the net and insurance strikes from Ned Grabavoy and Olmes Garcia. The victory extended the club-record unbeaten streak to 11 consecutive games in all competitions to cruise to the top of the MLS table with 37 points and a record of 11-5-4.
RSL faces another contender
Saturday’s match will be Salt Lake’s second-straight contest against the second-place club in MLS. Kansas City comes in leading the Eastern Conference with 33 points and a record of 9-5-6.
Rio Tinto regains Fortress status
Since an April 27 home 0-2 defeat to LA, RSL hasn’t dropped a game in Sandy, winning four of its last six home matches with a goal difference of +9. Overall the Utah side is 9-1-3 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year.
Depth on display
When goalkeeper Josh Saunders tore his left ACL in the 49th minute at Dallas, RSL looked to backup Jeff Attinella to complete the game. The team’s third-string GK became the 25th player from RSL’s 30-man group to start a first team match this season, including 22 field players.
Welcome Brandon McDonald to the Wasatch
On Wednesday, the Claret-and-Cobalt traded a 2014 third-round pick to D.C. United for DF Brandon McDonald, a six-year veteran center back who logged nearly 3,000 minutes last year. McDonald is an Arizona native who grew up playing with forward Robbie Findley in the famed Serano youth club. With Nat Borchers and Aaron Maund the only currently healthy center backs on the RSL roster, the 27-year-old McDonald provides depth and experience while Carlos Salcedo and Chris Schuler recover from injury.
Both teams will be without several players on Wednesday night due to CONCACAF Gold Cup call ups.
RSL will be without all-time leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the fourth straight match after he departed for the Costa Rican national team ahead of a June 29 win at Toronto; that victory at BMO Field was the last match for likely a month for a trio of RSL’s US internationals Captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Tony Beltran and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Sporting Kansas City will be without its star center back, losing MLS All-Star Matt Besler to the U.S. national team.
What could possibly be better than Real Salt Lake's first ever win on Texas soil?
How about a behind the scenes video of that trip, directed and shot by the man with the best rat-tail in MLS, RSL midfielder Sebastian Velasquez.
Check out "Road Trip with Sebastian" above. You won't regret it.
Interesting video from MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas and Josh Whisenhunt on Real Salt Lake's Saturday home match against Sporting Kansas City.
Greg and Josh debate whether or not RSL-SKC is a MLS Cup Preview; Greg says it is, Josh picks Kansas City to make it, but bails on RSL. Greg's clearly the smarter of the pair.
Saturday's match will kickoff at 8:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium. Tickets are going fast; click here to get yours now.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann made four swaps in his CONCACAF Gold Cup squad on Wednesday, bringing in Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler, LA defender Omar Gonzalez, San Jose forward Alan Gordon and Seattle forward Eddie Johnson and sending home Houston's Corey Ashe, Philadelphia's Jack McInerney and ex-MLS players Herculez Gomez and Oguchi Onyewu.
Besler's call-up means the Sporting Kansas City defender will miss Saturday's RSL-SKC match at Rio Tinto Stadium. His absence will be a big one; the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year is Sporting's best defender, playing a crucial role in organizing SKC's back four, distributing well, posing an offensive threat on set pieces and locking down opposing strikers.
A very limited number of tickets are still available to Saturday's 8:00 p.m. match, which will be followed by a postgame fireworks display in celebration of Pioneer Day. Click here to get yours.
HOUSTON - The Real Salt Lake U-16 Academy team dropped its second group game in Finals Week to the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at the Houston Amateur Sports Park on Tuesday night.
Real Salt Lake is not eliminated with the loss, but the team has lost control of the group. For Real Salt Lake to advance to the championship game on Saturday, they need to beat Texans SC, and the Dynamo need to lose or draw with Albertson SC. Both games will be played on Thursday night.
The Houston Dynamo earned a foul just 58 seconds into the match, and converted the free-kick moments later when it was perfectly placed in the upper right corner.
RSL shook off the early deficit and started to attack, but the movements lacked purpose and at times were a little sloppy before another stroke of luck happened. For the second consecutive game, officials stopped the match due to a lightning storm that passed over the field. The 77 minute delay allowed RSL coaches to reorganize the team and it showed once the game was back up and running.
RSL earned a penalty in the 29th minute when Damian German was taken down in the box. Moises Rodriguez stepped up and hit the post on the ensuing spot-kick.
After the halftime break the Dynamo looked to extend their lead and had their second shot of the game in the 41st minute that went wide right. RSL then earned a free-kick seven minutes later from a dangerous spot in front of the net. Bofo Saucedo stepped up and sent in a curling shot that was saved by the Dynamo goalkeeper.
Because RSL had to push players forward to equalize, the defense at times became exposed. There were two nerve-racking moments in the second half that could have been called for penalties against RSL. The first was in the 55th minute and the second in the 64th. Both times the ref was uninterested in the pleas coming from the Dynamo bench.
As the game continued RSL had chances but could not get a clean look on the net. Three different headers were saved by the Dynamo goalkeeper and the next best chance on goal - a free-kick from Brooks Lennon - was saved again in the closing minutes.
RSL sent players forward in stoppage time, but it was not enough as the Dynamo outlasted them.
Next game for RSL will be against Texans SC on Thursday night. Kickoff at 5:30 p.m. MT.
In case you didn't notice, the 2013 MLS All-Star team was announced on Monday, with the game taking place on July 31st in Kansas City. With the announcement of the team - headed by Kansas City coach Peter Vermes - there follows inevitable hand-wringing from pundits about snubs - players who deserved to make the All-Star team but didn't.
Some snubs that immediately come to mind are RSL's Ned Grabavoy, LA's Marcelo Sarvas, and Philadelphia's Jack McInerney, but they aren't the biggest surprises. While Vermes did RSL fans a solid by naming Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, and Kyle Beckerman to the team, the omission of Javier Morales shocked me the most, and his snub is the subject of this post. Nothing I can write is going to get Morales added to the roster, but it does provide the opportunity to recognize a player who is having a phenomenal year.
How good has Morales' year been so far? Consider this: His five goals are tied with Olmes Garcia for the team lead, and his eight assists are far and away the most on the team. At this pace, he'll finish the season with nine goals and 15 assists. In 2009, Morales had one goal and five assists. In 2010, Morales had seven goals and nine assists. Why did I choose 2009 and 2010 as points of reference? Because Javi made the All-Star team both those years.
Granted, 2009 and 2010 were different times in MLS. It seems that lately more teams have seen the value in a true No. 10 and more teams have spent money on that position. So clearly the bar is higher for Morales than it was back in those days.
But in spite of all the young talent and big-name players that now quarterback offenses; the evidence suggests that Morales is still at the top of the class. As mentioned above, Morales has scored five goals and dished out eight dimes so far this year. New York's Tim Cahill has five goals and three assists. Portland (and ex-RSL) man Will Johnson stands at six and three. KC's Graham Zusi is on four and five, Houston's Brad Davis has three and three, and Montreal's Patrice Bernier has two and five. All five of those midfielders made the All-Star team while Javier Morales did not. I'm not implying that these players don't deserve to be on the team; they have all had fine seasons. But after you look at these numbers you can't tell me that there's not room for a player who has produced the way Javi has.
Aside from just the raw numbers, Morales continues to do all the little things that make RSL a winner. Integrating so many new, young faces into the squad is a daunting task, one that usually takes teams’ considerable time. RSL struggled a bit in the early going as most of us expected, but lately they've been on a well-publicized tear. This doesn't happen without veteran leaders integrating the locker room and getting the new talent to buy in to what's being taught. Morales is an instrumental figure in the RSL locker room, especially serving as a bridge between the American and Latino players, and his efforts in that regard are one reason why RSL currently sits at the top of the league table.
It's true that All-Star games are more of a popularity contest than a legitimate selection of the best players, but they also serve as a form of recognition within the MLS community; a form of recognition that Morales certainly deserves this season.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
Real Salt Lake made club history on Saturday night, getting goals from Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and Olmes Garcia to beat FC Dallas 3-0 at FC Dallas Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saturday’s win was Real Salt Lake’s 100th in MLS regular season play. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 100-103-69 all-time in regular season action.
Saturday’s victory was Real Salt Lake’s 11th-straight match in all competitions without a loss. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 9-0-2 in that span. RSL hasn’t lost since May 11, when it dropped a 3-2 result at the Montreal Impact.
Real Salt Lake’s 3-0 victory over FC Dallas marked the club’s first-ever win on Texas soil. The Utah side now has a 1-18-3 record across all competitions in the Lone Star State.
24-year-old goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made his first MLS appearance on Saturday night, replacing injured ‘keeper Josh Saunders in the 51st minute. Attinella made three saves during his 39-minute stint, including a parrying block of a point-blank header by Dallas forward Ramon Nunez in the 88th minute.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia scored his fifth goal of the MLS season in the 90th minute of Saturday’s match. Garcia’s five goals in 547 minutes this year give him a rate of one goal per 109 minutes played – the next-best scoring rate by a member of the Claret-and-Cobalt is Alvaro Saborio’s one goal per every 164 minutes.
Including the victory over FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake now has a record of 4-4-1 on the road this year, with a road goal differential of +5. The only other teams with a positive road goal differential are Portland and Sporting KC, which are both at +2.
Real Salt Lake has now scored 32 goals in MLS play this season, tied with Philadelphia for the league lead. The club has scored two or more goals in 12 of its last 14 matches across all competitions.
With his blast into the top-right corner of the goal on Saturday, Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy has now put 28.6 percent of his scoring chances in the back of the net. Grabavoy has already exceeded his career high in goals scored, having scored four goals thus far in 2013.
Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran talked with U.S. Soccer about his opportunity with the U.S. national team in the Gold Cup. It's a nice piece; check it out above.
Beltran and RSL teammates Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and the U.S. return to action tomorrow night, when they'll take on Claret-and-Cobalt forward Alvaro Saborio and Costa Rica in Group C's deciding match.
Going to Texas and notching a win on our belt is no easy feat, but a 3-0 win over FC Dallas while deploying an untested formation? It's the stuff of dreams for Real Salt Lake, and we can point to tactics if we're looking for a cause.
At least on paper, it looked like was rolling out a 4-2-3-1, and parts of it made a good deal of sense. Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez played in wide attacking roles on either side of Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley operated as the lone forward. The attacking midfielders, on paper, seemed a fantastic use of personnel, while Findley's operating up top on his lonesome seemed a strange decision.
It didn't quite work out that way. Velasquez and Gil struggled to get heavily involved, and perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the role that was problematic for the pair. Both thrive when they have passing options closer to them, and that simply wasn't the case. To connect well, Ned Grabavoy and Yordany Alvarez both had to push higher up the pitch, and Morales would have to swing to either side.
While both youngsters are capable of picking up the ball and running at players, it's not exactly a trait that fits the system — we thrive moving the ball from the inside-out while high up the pitch, then back in again to create danger — Saturday was a case of moving the ball outside deeper, then attempting to bring it back in again. This allowed defending wide players to stop the movement before any momentum could be had.
It was perhaps telling that Javier Morales had one of his finer games of the last three years, and his goal and assist (or, if you're including second assists, then he had two) were a mark of his work. Perhaps this came from the wider players occupying defenders more, giving Morales more time and space on the ball.
On a surface level, it would appear the formation worked, but it's difficult to say to what extent. A single win — or loss — doesn't speak to a formation's worth. But it is encouraging that Jason Kreis, typically a stalwart of the diamond 4-4-2, has significantly experimented with other formations this season. The tactical flexibility this affords should keep opponents guessing a bit more and less able to deploy a stymying tactical plan.
A discussion of the match wouldn't be complete without a note on Jason Kreis's key substitutions, as they really shifted the match in RSL's favor. By stepping back into the 4-4-2 and bringing Joao Plata on for Velasquez, the defense was forced to adapt; Plata's ability to run at players has wide impact.
And Olmes Garcia on for Robbie Findley really sounded the death knells for Dallas — with Findley having tired the defense for 70 minutes, Garcia came on and was handed an exhausted defense. With Dallas looking to recover a bit, they wanted to push players forward: Garcia didn't allow that. He picked up the ball in key positions and ran at defenders, he closed down superbly, and by and large, he was a player that impacted the game in a significant way.