Real Salt Lake did well to start the Western Conference Championship series on the right foot, scoring four-straight goals en route to beating the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday night.
We all know that the Claret-and-Cobalt’s two-goal advantage heading into the series’ second leg at JELD-WEN Field next Sunday, Nov. 24 is a big leg-up, even against a team as tough as the Timbers. Just how big of an advantage is that two-goal lead? Let’s take a historical look:
Since MLS shifted away from the best-of-three series and began using the two-legged aggregate goal format in 2003, a team has taken a two-goal aggregate lead into a series’ second leg nine times. The team with the two-goal advantage has advanced to the next round seven of those nine times, losing the two-goal lead and falling out of the playoffs on two occasions.
Teams that take a two-goal lead in the first leg at home and then play the second leg on the road have advanced to the next round three times and lost the series twice.
Interestingly, San Jose was involved in both of the series’ in which the team with a two-goal lead after the first leg was eliminated from the playoffs. The Quakes made the first such comeback in 2003, losing the first leg 2-0 at LA before moving onto the next round with an improbable 5-2 win over the Galaxy after extra time. San Jose wasn’t so lucky the next year, taking a 2-0 first leg lead over Kansas City before dropping the series following a 3-2 loss at the Wizards in the decisive second leg.
History is clearly on RSL’s side. Of course, that doesn’t mean much with the second leg in Portland, where the Timbers have gone a sterling 14-1-5 in MLS regular season, MLS Cup Playoff and U.S. Open Cup action this year. We’ll see how it plays out at JELD-WEN Field in 10 days’ time.
MLSsoccer.com’s Ben Jata published on Tuesday an in-depth study of the league’s 50 most accurate passers in 2013, and – surprise, surprise – Real Salt Lake was very well represented, with five players making the top-30.
Defender Nat Borchers (No. 2), midfielder Ned Grabavoy (No. 3), midfielder Yordany Alvarez (No. 12), midfielder Javier Morales (No. 29) and midfielder Kyle Beckerman (No. 30) all made the list from RSL. Beckerman and Morales both got additional plaudits in the article, with Beckerman getting recognized for leading MLS in passes attempted and successful passes and Morales earning praise for leading the league in passes attempted in the opponents’ half and successful passes in the opponents’ half.
Click here to read the entire piece. It’s an interesting read – definitely worth the time.
ABC 4's Real Sports Live aired another "Crossbar Challenge" segment on Sunday night, with RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth taking on American soccer legend Alexi Lalas at Rio Tinto Stadium.
While Dunny and Alexi struggled a bit to hit the bar, their interview was right on the mark, touching on a wide range of topics from the early days of MLS to where American soccer stands today. Check out the must-watch interview above.
Real Salt Lake got the Western Conference Championship series off to a good start on Sunday night, toppling the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s win:
Sunday’s game was the first Sunday home game in Real Salt Lake’s nine-year history. Despite the unique nature of a Sunday home game in Utah and the short turnaround following last Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg win over LA, RSL fans came out in full force on Sunday night, with 17,333 raucous supporters filling Rio Tinto Stadium to near capacity.
With Sunday’s victory, RSL broke Portland’s 10-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. The Timbers’ last loss prior to Sunday also came against the Claret-and-Cobalt, with RSL topping the Cascadia side by an identical 4-2 score line on Aug. 30 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Sunday’s win extended RSL’s unbeaten streak over Portland to nine games in all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 6-1-3 all-time against the Timbers, posting a 3-0-2 record against the Oregon side in MLS and Open Cup play in 2013. Of the Timbers seven defeats in all competitions in 2013, three of them have been against RSL.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler scored in the 35th minute of Sunday’s win, heading home a Javier Morales corner kick to tie the game 1-1. It was the second goal in as many games for Schuler, who volleyed home a Morales set piece in extra time of Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg win over LA. Prior to Thursday’s match, the 26-year-old Schuler had two goals in his entire career.
RSL’s four goal output on Sunday night gave the Claret-and-Cobalt 13 goals in five meetings against Portland in all competitions this year. That’s good for 2.6 goals per game – or 1.62 goals per game higher than Portland’s 0.97 regular season goals against average.
RSL maestro Javier Morales had a goal and two assists last night, giving him three goals and three assists in four games against the Timbers this season. Morales has one goal and three assist for RSL this postseason. He is one of nine different RSL players to score against Portland this year and one of seven different RSL players to notch an assist over the Timbers this season.
Portland has been fantastic at home this season, posting a 14-1-5 mark at JELD-WEN Field in regular season, playoff and Open Cup action. The Timbers’ lone home loss came all the way back on March 9, when they fell to Montreal in just their second home game of the season. While Portland has been dominant at home, RSL has acquitted itself nicely at JELD-WEN Field. The Claret-and-Cobalt went 0-0-2 in Portland this season and were the only team to take two positive results out of Oregon this season. RSL is 1-1-2 all-time at Portland.
ABC 4's Real Sports Live has done a fantastic job of covering Real Salt Lake's run through the playoffs, going live with extended coverage from StubHub Center last week after the first leg of RSL's Western Conference Semifinal series against LA and again following Sunday night's West Championship first leg against Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Check out video of Real Sports Live's postgame coverage of Sunday's win over Portland below. The show airs every Sunday night at 10:35 p.m. MT on ABC 4.
Highlights and postgame reaction from Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth:
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis interview with Brian Dunseth:
RSL defender Chris Schuler interview with Bill Riley:
We’ve been a bit focused on the Western Conference Championship series around these parts, but there’s a big battle going on in the East, too – and it starts today.
Fourth-seeded Houston Dynamo will host second-seeded Sporting Kansas City today in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series at 12:30 p.m. MT at BBVA Compass Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on NBC.
RSL fans should be rooting for Houston to take the series, as a RSL-Dynamo MLS Cup would be played at Rio Tinto Stadium while a Claret-and-Cobalt-Kansas City MLS Cup would be played on the road at Sporting Park.
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis was asked in his press conference following Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal win over LA what the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd needs to bring in Sunday's Western Conference Championship first leg against Portland.
Here's what he had to say:
“I think for me it’s pretty simple. We need to be here early – there needs to be that really raucous singing of the song “Believe” at the beginning of the match. I thought that was spectacular today how noisy it was. And just to carry that energy and to continue to believe. We tell our players all the time that no matter what happens in the game, we continue to work hard, we continue to stay together and we continue to believe. If you do those three things, something in the end will happen right.”
Listen to the man. Get your tickets now.
LA Galaxy trends toward a less creative midfield, and even from the flanks this is largely the case. This provides a platform for three or four attacking players to showcase their abilities in tonight's Western Conference Semifinal second leg, and when your primary attacking pair is Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, there's plenty of that. But with the opponent in a more defensive midfield, RSL will have an opportunity to utilize their creative midfield to attempt a breakthrough.
Javier Morales will look toward finding the gaps between the midfield and the defense, which inevitably pushes back the LA Galaxy midfield a bit too as they attempt to cover his movement. This opens up space in other places, which proves vital. He'll also be important for set pieces, but our reluctancy to capitalize on set pieces won't help us there. He may instead look to go directly at goal with free kicks, and who could blame him? He's scored some screamers.
Sebastian Velasquez is likely to step into Ned Grabavoy's spot on the left, and this will give him room to make diagonal runs to and away from the flanks. He'll need to capitalize in spaces vacated by Morales as he embarks on runs with and without the ball.
Luis Gil will be tasked with a bit more defensive work than usual in Grabavoy's absence, but he too will need to embark on runs. With Tony Beltran to his right, he'll be involved in plenty of interchanges with the fullback as they look to move the ball forward from the right.
Kyle Beckerman will need to be as aware as ever but eminently willing to capitalize on opportunities to break forward. His passing is never in question, and that'll be vital tonight.
Tony Beltran, as above, will need to work with Luis Gil on the right flank to move the ball forward, but he'll also need to make those overlapping runs on the right side to be effective. But beyond that, he'll have to be ready to burst back in defense. He showed incredibly well against Landon Donovan last weekend, and he'll almost surely have to do so again.
Chris Schuler will, with any luck, not be forced into so many last-ditch tackles and clearances. Instead, we'll be hoping for some balance from Schuler as he steps forward to make an interception before splaying the ball to a full back.
Alvaro Saborio pushes the side forward in important ways, but his biggest role will be in helping the midfield transition into the attack. It's a role that is masked by his goalscoring contributions (which are equally important and follow as a result of this play) — his distributive properties may not lead to high-percentage passing, but he is a chance creator.
His mystery partner remains in question. Robbie Findley offers speed, which is an obviously important factor, but he also offers a willingness to track back and at pace. Joao Plata, on the other hand, offers more finesse in attack but less counterattacking opportunity. In most factors, they end up at about sixes. Olmes Garcia offers a more mysterious option, but it's hard to see him starting, as he hasn't made the bench for the last few matches.
Seriously, no one wants another LA-Houston MLS Cup.
RSL can nip that potential matchup in the bud by advancing past the Galaxy in Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal second leg. Get out to Rio Tinto Stadium early, wear red and be loud.