It's been an exciting couple of days for Major League Soccer - my Twitter feed has been replete with words like "NYC", "Queens", "Yankees", "$400 million", "oil baron", and other words synonymous with big money. But for a moment, I'd like to talk about a subject that might be the soccer opposite of the New York expansion news: Ned Grabavoy. Real Salt Lake fans know better than most what Grabavoy's game is all about: Honest, hard work on both sides of the ball. He's rarely in the headlines. He's rarely in the spotlight. He's rarely up for Goal of the Week. What you get from "Grabs" is a solid, consistent effort, tidy possession, and hard tackles.
But this week the media is all abuzz with Grabavoy news, thanks to his two goals that led to RSL's lighting-up of Chivas USA on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. Don't get me wrong - it's a remarkable story to be sure. To put it in perspective, Grabavoy is in his 10th year in MLS and he has scored 10 goals. In other words, a ten-year veteran added 20% to his career goal total in 90 minutes. That's headline-worthy stuff, but I don't want to let the goals overshadow the rest of his game, because Sunday night Grabavoy was very, very good.
Take a look at Ned's passing chalkboard against Chivas. Ignore the completion percentage (more on that later) and ask yourself where most of his passes came from. The answer is, everywhere! This is what a box-to-box midfielder does - he covers all the length and width he can, helping in possession when his team has the ball and looking to win the ball back when his team doesn't. Speaking of winning the ball, Grabavoy was extraordinarily effective at that versus Chivas: His five tackles won were second-most on the team, just one behind Chris Wingert. Most of us probably would have expected that honor to belong to one of the other fullbacks or maybe Kyle Beckerman. But on Sunday, it was Grabavoy who did most of the midfield ball-winning for RSL.
Grabavoy also had RSL's best pass completion rate with 36 of 43 (83.7 percent) passes completed. That's no easy task on this team - Beckerman has lead MLS in this category for the last 2.5 seasons. Normally 84% isn't a great number, so why was it the best mark in this game? Well, the answer has everything to do with how Chivas chose to play defense. Their always-entertaining coach "Chelis" Sola elected to compress all his players into the smallest possible area in order to disrupt RSL's passing game. Honestly, it worked well; with the playable area of the field so small, every time an RSL player received a pass there he had a Chivas player nipping at his heels before he could line up a good pass. That led to a lot of incomplete passes. However, we also saw the downside of Chivas' defensive scheme: It left a lot of room behind the defense for attackers to use to run onto through balls, something Salt Lake players did with success all night (including Grabavoy, obviously).
It's a remarkable night when any RSL player nets a brace, but I would be remiss if I let Ned Grabavoy's goals overshadow his excellent overall performance on both sides of the ball.
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 will learn on Tuesday night its opponent for its May 28 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third-round match at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The North American Soccer League's Atlanta Silverbacks will take on the National Premier Soccer League's Georgia Revolution in the Open Cup second-round at 5 p.m. MT on Tuesday, with the winner of the Peach State matchup set to take on RSL in Sandy next Tuesday.
The Silverbacks-Revolution match will be streamed live beginning at 5 p.m MT. Watch the match live here.
Now in its 100th year, the U.S. Open Cup is the longest running soccer competition in the United States. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions League, with this year's champion entering the 2014-14 continental competition.
Tickets are available at special prices for the May 28 Open Cup match and can be purchased online, at the Rio Tinto Stadium box office or over the phone at 801-727-2700. The game is included in the RSL Season Ticket Package as Bonus Game A.
Update: Real Salt Lake will face Atlanta on May 28 after the Silverbacks beat Georgia 3-2 on Tuesday night. Click here for more info.
Four goals for Real Salt Lake in the most open match of the season speaks well of the performance on the night, but the 4-1 scoreline over Chivas USA ignores the task facing the defense on Sunday night — as well as a tactical shift that changed the game in the second half.
Wide open: Defense steps up
The first half and much of the second half against Chivas USA last night saw Real Salt Lake playing in perhaps the most open match they've seen all season. Chances were flying back and forth, and by and large, RSL had the better of the opportunities. But some points of frustration will inevitably emerge the very back-and-forth nature of the match and the fact that it took going up 3-1 for a win to look genuinely secure.
The defense deserves real recognition for the manner in which they dealt with the Chivas attack, with Nick Rimando particularly earning plaudits for two reaction saves in the second half. But Chris Wingert, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, and Tony Beltran all stepped up to the challenge well and compensated for a more attacking mentality from RSL.
Findley on: Dynamic changes
When Robbie Findley came into the match, Chivas USA had just started to pick their heads up and respond to the challenge in front of them. With Plata and Sandoval both looking a bit tired, the home side was controlling play more readily and unafraid to push players forward in search of an equalizer. Findley's arrival on the scene saw him pushing ahead of a high line defense, with through balls and passes over the top being played into him.
With Findley screaming past the defense, they attempted to adapt and were forced back into their earlier look that had seen them concede two goals. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that he changed the dynamic of the match. Now, that's not to say that he shouldn't have scored once, twice or maybe even three times, but when his impact is so palpable otherwise, a little forgiveness is in order.
Wingert up: Interception machine
When Chris Schuler earlier this season picked up 8 interceptions, I batted my eyes a bit with surprise. But after turning to the chalkboards last night, I could scarcely believe my eyes: Chris Wingert, who I'd already thought had a very good match, made 17 interceptions. That means that every five minutes or so, Wingert stepped into the line of a pass and regained possession for RSL. That's no small feat.
Those moments can be somewhat attributed to a poor Chivas side, but it's one thing to be poor and another to be made to look so. Had Wingert played more passively and not stepped into passing lanes, it would have been an entirely different game. Given Chivas had 18 shots — though only six on-target — allowing more opportunities would have been, at best, regrettable.
Real Salt Lake closed out its three-game road trip strongly on Sunday night, getting a brace from midfielder Ned Grabavoy and a goal each from forwards Joao Plata and Robbie Findley to down Chivas USA 4-1 at the Home Depot Center.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s game:
Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy scored two goals on Sunday night, giving him the first multi-goal game of his MLS career. The goals snapped a long goalless streak for Grabavoy, who hadn’t scored since Oct. 29, 2011, when he found the back of the net in RSL’s 3-0 win over Seattle in the first leg of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinal. Grabavoy’s last regular season goal prior to Sunday’s brace came on Oct. 16, 2010, when he tallied in RSL’s 2-0 win over FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium. Grabavoy now has 10 regular season goals in his career.
Real Salt Lake is an impressive 8-2-1 against Chivas USA since the start of the 2009 season. RSL has outscored the Rojiblancos 21-5 during that span.
Real Salt Lake is 5-0-0 in both its last five games at Chivas USA and in its last five games at the Home Depot Center, which serves as the home of both Chivas and the LA Galaxy. RSL’s streak at Chivas dates back to the start of the 2010 season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt outscoring the Goats 14-2 during its 5-0-0 run. RSL’s perfect run at the Home Depot Center began in the 2012 season opener and consists of three wins at Chivas and two wins at the Galaxy.
Forward Joao Plata scored his first goal in a RSL uniform on Sunday night, slotting home past Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to give RSL a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute of the Utah side’s win. Along with his one goal, Plata is tied for the league lead with four assists this season.
Nine Real Salt Lake players have scored goals in MLS play this year. That’s just one less than the 10 players who scored MLS goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2012.
March 26, 2011
Grabavoy’s fourth minute goal was the quickest goal scored by RSL since March 26, 2011, when former midfielder and current Head Scout Andy Williams scored in the second minute of RSL’s 4-1 home win over the LA Galaxy.
Sept. 29, 2012
Prior to Sunday’s match, the last time RSL scored at least four goals in a game was on Sept. 29, 2012, when forward Alvaro Saborio notched a hat trick to power the Claret-and-Cobalt to a 4-0 victory at Chivas USA.
Real Salt Lake has now scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS games dating back to the team’s 2-0 home win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on May 4. The last time RSL scored multiple goals in four-consecutive MLS matches was in May 2010, when the Claret-and-Cobalt tallied at least twice in five-straight league games. It should be noted that RSL has been without injured leading scorer Alvaro Saborio for the entirety of its current streak.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler did not play on Sunday night, bringing the total number of RSL players who have played in all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s MLS matches to zero. Prior to Sunday night, Schuler had played every possible MLS minute for RSL.
Former LA Galaxy icon David Beckham announced his retirement on Thursday, letting the world know that he's hanging it up for good after his current team, France Ligue 1 champs Paris Saint-Germain, completes its season next weekend.
Beckham played against Real Salt Lake eight times in his 5 1/2 years with LA (and once against RSL while with Real Madrid), registering two goals and four assists in all competions against the Claret-and-Cobalt. The English midfielder played all 120 minutes for LA in RSL's MLS Cup 2009 win and was classy enough to come into the RSL locker room afterwards to congratulate the Claret-and-Cobalt on its shootout victory.
While we're a little bit late, we were able to unearth the video of Beckham congratulating RSL. Give it a watch above.
Real Salt Lake is set to close its three-game road trip this Sunday, when it will take on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center.
RSL has played Chivas USA once this year, getting a goal from midfielder Javier Morales and a penalty kick save from goalkeeper Nick Rimando to beat the Southern California side 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 20. Check out the highlights from that match above and make sure to tune in to CW30 at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night for this weekend's match.
Learn a few fun facts about each Real Salt Lake defender in the latest Soccer Smarts with Professor Leo video presented by Western Governors University.
On-loan Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was named to the NASL Team of the Week on Wednesday.
Sent on a short-term loan to the second-division Ft. Lauderdale Strikers last Wednesday, Attinella was named to the Team of the Week for his solid performance in the Strikers' 2-1 home win over Minnesota United FC. Attinella made six saves in the game - including five in the second half - to help the 10-man Strikers to their first victory of the season.
Attinella and Ft. Lauderdale return to action this Saturday, travelling to Texas to take on the San Antonio Scorpions.
Editor's Note: Once a week, RSL-Arizona Academy PR ace Garrett Cleverly will provide us with updates from the Academy. Garrett's first update is below - Follow him and the Grande Sports Academy on Twitter and check the Grande Sports Academy blog, Facebook page and Instagram for all the latest info on RSL's Casa Grande youth program.
- The U-16 Academy team has still has two games remaining on its regular season schedule, but over the weekend coaches recived a letter from U.S. Soccer notifying them that they have qualified for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs. This is the third consecutive year that the U16's have qualified for the USSDA playoffs.
- The U18's received a similar letter last week from U.S. Soccer. Like the U16's, the U-18's have qualified for the playoffs the past three years.
- Current Southwest Division standings for our U-16 and U-18 teams and what could change for them in the next few weeks in terms of playoff positioning.
- 43 Academy players participated in a community service event last week, becoming "coaches" for the day when they led over 150 Elementary School Students through drills, exercises and games.
- Former Academy player Ricardo Velasco helped FC Tucson of the PDL defeat USL PRO side Phoenix FC 2-1 in the opening round of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday. Velasco is one of three former Academy players are currently playing in the PDL season.
- Tradition here at the Academy is that Coaches and players play a "friendly" game every Friday morning. Click to see who won last week's epic match.
- 26 RSL-AZ players were recognized earlier this month at Vista Grande High School for their academic achievement of having a 3.75 GPA or higher.
- Coaches mixed up the training schedule and held a mini-round-robin-tournament that had to be settled on PK's. Check out the video here and enjoy the excellent commentary provided by coaches and players. Also some pictures from that training here. And a 'Keepers ONLY gallery here.
- Interested in becoming a RSL-AZ player? You'll have your chance as Academy coaches will be in Utah May 24-25 holding tryouts. Details here.
After a successful 13-year career in MLS and across Europe, former Real Salt Lake defender Robbie Russell announced his retirement today. Best remembered by RSL fans for hitting the clinching penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup, the 33-year-old Russell will now head to Georgetown University's Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program.
Russell came to RSL in July 2008, signing with the Claret-and-Cobalt after spending the first eight years of his career in Scandinavia. The Duke University product spent three-and-a-half seasons in Utah, making 78 appearances for RSL before he was traded to D.C. United ahead of the 2012 season.
Russell and several Real Salt Lake personalities shared their thoughts on Russell's career in a nice article on DCUnited.com, with Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis, Captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando singing the praises of the former RSL man. Defenders Nat Borchers - who recently told American Soccer Now that Russell is his closest friend in soccer - and Chris Wingert also had a nice quotes about Russell, though theirs didn't make it into the article.
Here's what they all had to say:
Russell: "Salt Lake was a great time for me. It is a club that is very close to my heart. Any club that you have a lot of success with, you feel an extra bond to. But it was also a really special group of guys."
Kreis: "He will be forever remembered for his 2009 MLS Cup-winning penalty kick, but his true contributions were much more thorough, impressive, and long-lasting that that one kick. His legacy at RSL... will never be forgotten."
Beckerman: "Not only was Robbie a great player, but he [is] an even better person. He'll always have a place in the hearts of the RSL family for the hard work he put in and of course for his penalty he took to win the MLS Cup 2009."
Rimando: "[Robbie is] one of the smartest, most unselfish, and worst-dressed players I ever played with. And although his last PK in 2009 was memorable, it was his Brandi Chastain celebrations that I'll miss. Good luck in your next adventure bud."
Borchers: "Robbie was a major part of our success from '09-'11. He brought a lot of high-level experience to this team and he knew how to win. He fit in everywhere... I think the only position he never played was striker! I'll never forget the PK he took in '09 to win us the MLS Cup. He was so calm when everything was on the line for us. He was a winner in soccer and I have no doubt he will be a winner in the next phase in life."
Wingert: "Robbie Russell is definitely one of the best teammates you could ask for as an athlete. Great player, great locker room guy, and somebody that will have just as much success outside of soccer as he has had in it. Congrats on a great career Robbie!"
Congrats Robbie, and best of luck at Georgetown.