It's no secret what Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey wanted to do this past offseason. In addition to getting younger and creating some salary cap room, RSL’s technical staff needed to find some scoring punch after the club finished the year with zero goals in their final five matches across all competitions. What Kreis, Lagerwey & Co. undertook is no easy task. Bringing in younger and lower-priced players seems to be diametrically opposed to improving offensive output; just consider how much other teams are spending to bring in big-time scorers. So now that we're a considerable distance into the 2013 season, let's take a look at how the focus on more goals has panned out. If you think you've seen opponents' nets move a lot this season, you're right - the evidence suggests the "new" offense is working out very well.
- After being shut out four times in their first nine games across all comps, RSL have now scored in 19 straight games. That's a franchise record.
- With a league-leading 39 goals in 24 MLS matches played, RSL is on pace to score 55 goals this season. That would blow away their previous best by nine goals.
- Five players have scored at least five goals so far in MLS play. RSL has never had more than four players do that in the same season, so that's already a club best. And two more players (Luis Gil, three goals, and Kyle Beckerman, two goals) could end up joining that list.
- RSL currently has a road goal differential of +4 after 12 road games. No other incarnation of RSL can touch that, even that phenomenal 2010 team (+/-0 after 12 road games).
- And keep in mind that RSL is doing this despite trading or waiving 39 percent of the goals scored in 2012.
I don't think anyone - even those wearing the thickest Claret-and-Cobalt-tinted glasses - could have predicted how potent this offense would be in such a short period of time. Most of us thought RSL would struggle to score at first, and they did, but at some point in late April a switch was flipped and Real has been cooking with gas ever since. So what - and who - has been responsible for this offensive onslaught we've been witnessing? Here are a few parties that stand out:
- Alvaro Saborio has been deadly efficient this year. He has nine goals this season but he's played in less than half of RSL's games. He's averaging 1 goal for every 103 minutes played. For reference, in his amazing 2012 season where he finished as the second-leading scorer in the league, he averaged 1 goal for every 141 minutes played.
- Javier Morales is having a career year, already hitting paydirt five times. That's right up there with his best pre-injury years.
- Ned Grabavoy has dramatically upped his scoring by putting in five goals so far this season. He had only scored eight goals in his previous nine MLS seasons.
- Not to be outdone by the resurgent vets, Luis Gil has chipped in three goals this year. In three pro seasons prior to 2013, he had three goals combined.
- Another youngster who has exceeded expectations is Olmes Garcia. During the offseason, word around the team was that Garcia was a long-term project and would likely contribute to the first team a little if at all in 2013. But he's been too good to keep off the field, scoring five goals in just 13 appearances. Last year, playing in Colombia for Deportes Quindio, he scored five goals in 33 appearances. In 2011 he had two goals in 14 appearances.
Clearly this team is rolling when it comes to moving the scoreboard and it doesn't show signs of stopping. RSL has always been the MLS team to follow if you like possession-based soccer, but now it's also the team to watch if you like to see opposing goalkeepers fish the ball out of the net.
Because it's really what was on everybody's minds after the match, let's talk about the formation shift Jason Kreis rolled out and its effectiveness for this team.
To start, it was a fairly European 4-2-1-3 — or as some might term it, a 4-2-3-1 — but whatever way you describe it, there were two deeper midfielders, Ned Grabavoy and Kyle Beckerman; an attacking midfielder sitting essentially in the attacking half, Javier Morales; a central striker, Alvaro Saborio; and two wide players in attacking positions, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata. The difference between the two formational descriptions rests on the roles of Garcia and Plata. Neither played exactly like a traditional winger, nor did they play exclusively like strikers in wide positions. In reality, the formation is somewhere betwixt the two.
Now, this may be because they weren't entirely effective in their positions. Jason Kreis was critical of the two in his post-match press conference, saying of the formation's future for RSL: "…If we’re going to continue forward ... we’ve got to get those players moving more. I don’t like them standing on their outside backs and getting themselves marked." Now, this doesn't necessarily mean either deserve blame for this, as it was a new approach for the squad and one that requires a great deal of understanding for proper execution. It did present some promise.
What, exactly, does the future hold for Real Salt Lake's formational approach? In the short-term, it's hard to see us moving away from the diamond, on which we have built our core. It's an excellent fit for many reasons — from Javier Morales's consistent mobility to the ability of deeper midfielders to impact play with dynamic runs, there's a lot to be positive about. The diamond may not be here long-term — two, three years down the road, say — but it's hard to see a distinct shift now.
Still, the tactical flexibility afforded by the change in approach is indisputable. If we are able to sufficiently gain an understand in another system, and we're able to utilize it effectively in the attack — not just in defense — we'll be better able to counteract the stale defensive outlays teams send out to put a stopper on us. Should we be able to effectively shift to a three-forward setup, we can instantly widen play in a significant way; should we shift back, we could attack down the middle more effectively. Both systems afford defensive width, and both systems allow for quality play in transition, so we don't lose any particular advantage as a result.
Should Real Salt Lake continue down this road? It would seem a good one to at least venture down a little further. We have wide attacking players who can make a significant impact, and we have a collection of midfielders who will fight for every ball and cover as much ground as anyone in the league. It's a good fit — but it has to work in a sustainable, long-term sense. And given we haven't seen it work fully yet, there remain questions aplenty
Real Salt Lake won its second match in four days on Saturday, getting a penalty kick goal from Alvaro Saborio to beat the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Saborio’s goal on Saturday was his sixth in four games since returning from international duty ahead of RSL’s July 27 match at New York. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading scorer, Saborio now has nine goals and two assists in 11 league games and 11 goals and four assists in 13 games across all competitions this year. Saborio’s nine league goals are tied for fifth in MLS; the four players with more goals than him have played between nine and 13 more league games than he has. The Costa Rican international leads the league amongst players with more than one strike with 0.88 goals per 90 minutes. He is now 15-for-16 on penalty kicks in all competitions with RSL and has scored on nine of his 15 shots on goal this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 34-6-8 in all comps when Saborio scores.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis departed from his usual diamond 4-4-2 formation on Saturday, starting the match in a 4-2-1-3 setup with Saborio, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata playing up top. It was only the third time this year that Kreis began a match in a formation other than the diamond 4-4-2. RSL is a perfect 3-0-0 in those matches, beating Toronto 1-0 on June 29 and dominating Dallas 3-0 on July 13.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned the 106th clean sheet of his sterling MLS career on Saturday. The veteran ‘keeper – who has seven shutouts this year – is now only six clean sheets shy of Kevin Hartman’s all-time MLS shutout record.
With Saturday’s win, Real Salt Lake moved to 3-1-1 this year in the final matches of three-game in eight day stretches. Real Salt Lake will play three games in eight days two more times during the season – once beginning with the Aug. 17 match against the LA Galaxy, and again in late September to early October.
Six players age 25 or younger saw the field for the Claret-and-Cobalt on Saturday. Four of the six – forward Olmes Garcia (20), forward Joao Plata (21), midfielder Luis Gil (19) and defender Carlos Salcedo (19) – are 21 or younger.
Real Salt Lake has zero losses when outside backs Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert start together, as well as zero losses in games in which defender Carlos Salcedo appears. The Claret-and-Cobalt is now 10-0-1 across all competitions when both Beltran and Wingert start and 9-0-2 in all comps when Salcedo plays.
RSL is in sole possession of first-place in MLS in points, points per game, wins, goals scored, goals per game, goal differential, road goals and road goal differential.
MLSsoccer.com’s John Bolster had an interesting bit on Real Salt Lake in his weekly Monday Postgame column, asking if the Claret-and-Cobalt’s star players have outstripped the club’s “Team is the Star” mantra.
Check out his take on RSL below. Click here for the full column.
"They’ve had a saying during the past few years at Real Salt Lake: The Team is the Star. It’s a motto that’s both reflected and sustained the club’s style and formula for success.
But one look at the lineup RSL put out against Houston on Saturday night – with US internationals Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Kyle Beckerman, crafty playmaker Javier Morales, dangerous speedsters Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia, and consistent goalscorer Alvaro Saborio – and you couldn’t help wonder if the saying should be tweaked to “a Team of Stars.”
Salt Lake are stacked with talent and increased depth; they’ve rebuilt their team without really missing a step, and they maintained their top spot in the Supporters’ Shield standings with a rugged 1-0 win over Houston that featured vital contributions from all of the aforementioned players (plus midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who’s having one of the best seasons of his career).
When you look at which team’s impact players might have the last word down the wide-open stretch run, you have to consider the superstars in LA, Seattle and New York, and you wouldn’t neglect the talent in KC or Portland, but the smart money may be on the lower-wattage, but plentiful stars of the current Supporters’ Shield leaders."
While we agree with Bolster that RSL has plenty of stars – we’d argue he forgot a few, in fact – Jason Kreis’s motto doesn’t need any tweaking. As has been detailed many different times this year, RSL's locker room is closer than ever this season. Not exactly a bad combo for such a talented group have such good chemistry. Smart money, indeed.
Real Salt Lake will return to MLS action on Saturday, when it will take on the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Houston, we have a problem
Historically, RSL has fared poorly against the Houston Dynamo, posting a 3-9-5 record against the Orange. The Claret-and-Cobalt has won just once in its last 12 league matches against the Dynamo, last beating the Texas side on May 13, 2010.
Some good news: The Claret-and-Cobalt has done well against Houston at home, posting a 3-1-4 record against the Dynamo in the Beehive State.
Morales and Saborio dynamite against the Dynamo
Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio both have strong career numbers against Houston, with Morales notching two goals and four assists in nine career league games against the Dynamo and Saborio scoring two goals and registering one assist in four career games.
Saborio has been particularly hot lately, scoring five goals and assisting once in three games in all competitions since returning to RSL from international duty ahead of the July 27 loss at New York.
Rimando v. Hall
Saturday’s contest will be a battle between two of the top goalkeepers in the league, with RSL’s Nick Rimando and Houston’s Tally Hall facing off in between the pipes. RSL’s “Wall of the Wasatch,” Rimando has the best save percentage in MLS this year, stopping 78 percent of shots fired at the net. Hall isn’t far behind, tied for third with a save percentage of 74 percent. With both sides attacking well, Rimando v. Hall could be the deciding matchup in the game.
Kreis v. Kinnear
Saturday’s match will also pit two of the top coaches in MLS against each other in Jason Kreis and Dominic Kinnear. The two young American coaches most often discussed for future USMNT and other high-profile jobs, Kinnear and Kreis rank third and fourth, respectively, in terms of active MLS coaches in wins, trailing only Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena. Kinnear has a record of 123-82-98 in MLS play, while the younger Kreis has an 85-57-52 mark in league action.
Real Salt Lake and Houston have combined for eight red card in 14 matches dating back to 2007. Mercifully, no reds have been shown in this series since 2009, when five ejections occurred in three matches between the clubs.
Real Salt Lake has been in mixed form in MLS play, but with a tremendous US Open Cup win on Wednesday, there's a sense that the dip could recover well. The tactical pieces are there — but as so often this season, injuries and fitness could throw a bit of a wrench into the best-laid plans.
Real Salt Lake has been unwavering this season in the desire to play essentially the same style from match to match. Remarkably, this is the case despite several formation shifts, forced personnel changes, and indeed, an understanding that controlling the pace of the match constantly is not always possible or wise.
As a result, we've seen RSL surrender possession at times; this often comes in the form of allowing the opposition to simply pass the ball around the back line while they probe for an opening. Our general strategy — short build-up play and balls sent to either flank to release pressure and stretch play — remains the same regardless. I don't know that Jason Kreis is setting his side out to surrender some attacking control in exchange for another sort, but the ability of our side to adapt to changes in the pace of the game has been an important factor in our successes.
Defending from the front
If one thing can be said about Wednesday's win over Portland Timbers, it's that Real Salt Lake displayed an encouraging ability to defend from the front lines. With Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley both dropping deep to defend when not in possession, Real Salt Lake pushed Portland attackers into wide positions, where they were ineffectual at best.
Houston Dynamo won't quite present the same challenge, but that mentality is one that we've pushed forward with through the season. It's paid dividends. Indeed, it's been the case almost to the point that Findley has been deployed as something approaching a winger who will burst forward during counters. This is more than him simply stretching play: He's been important from wide positions and has helped create goals from those positions.
Jason Kreis's side has been in a bit of a minutes crunch this season, and for some, pushing them to play both Saturday and Wednesday stretched their fitness thin. As such, players like Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman are both in positions where playing again Saturday is probably too soon. A bit of a rest for the two of them, who are rarely afforded them, will be essential in the long-term, but in the short term, we have to wonder about replacements.
On Wednesday, Ned Grabavoy played at the top of the diamond, and he was fairly effective doing so. Last Saturday, he played in the side of the diamond. This Saturday, he might play at the base of the diamond. The remarkable part is that he can play those three distinct positions effectively.
Real Salt Lake advanced to its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday night, beating the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the USOC Semis at Rio Tinto Stadium to advance to the tournament’s title game on Oct. 1 at home against D.C. United.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Wednesday’s match:
Wednesday’s win moved RSL into its first ever Open Cup Final. The Oct. 1 final against D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium will be the first final ever contested or hosted in the state of Utah. Tickets are expected to go on sale to the game next week – get yours early and fill the RioT.
Wednesday’s crowd of 14,742 was the largest ever to see a U.S. Open Cup Semifinal in the modern/pro era, breaking the previous mark of 12,129 set by the minor-league Rochester Rhinos in 1996. Wednesday’s crowd was only the third semifinal in the modern/pro era to break the 10,000 mark.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio scored in the seventh minute of Wednesday’s game, heading a Kyle Beckerman cross off the post and into the back of the net to give the Claret-and-Cobalt the early lead. The goal was Saborio’s fifth in three games since returning to RSL from international duty ahead of the July 27 loss at New York. The Costa Rican international also had an assist in Wednesday’s match, giving him 10 goals and two assists in 12 appearances across all competitions this season. Real Salt Lake is now a dominant 33-6-8 in all competitions when Saborio scores.
Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo returned from injury to play the full 90 on Wednesday night. The 19-year-old center back turned in another solid shift for the Claret-and-Cobalt, helping the Utah side improve to 8-0-2 in his 10 appearances – nine of which have been starts – across all competitions this year.
Real Salt Lake has now won four games in this year’s Open Cup, doubling the two total wins it had in previous iterations of the tournament proper. RSL had other wins in Open Cup play in games, but only two in the tournament proper prior to this year.
It’s been well documented that tonight’s U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between RSL and Portland will be Timbers Captain Will Johnson’s first game at Rio Tinto Stadium since he was traded from the Claret-and-Cobalt to Portland last December.
Johnson went on OnFrame on Tuesday night ahead of tonight’s match, saying some really interesting things about his time in Salt Lake, life in Portland and comparisons between the two clubs.
Here are a couple of highlights from the conversation, the entirety of which can be heard by clicking here.
On how RSL’s and Portland’s fan bases compare:
“There’s more similarities than differences. They’re both very good faan bases and both have treated me exceptionally. I’m very proud to have played in front of both sets of fans…. The fan base in Salt Lake is still very special to me. They treated me exceptionally, they always had my back no matter what. Playing good, or playing bad, through all the ups and downs, they always had my back so they’ll always have a special place in my heart and I think that probably goes both ways for the majority of the RSL faithful.”
On making his return to Rio Tinto Stadium in such an important match:
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. My return here was always going to be special, regardless of the circumstances, but now with it being a cup game, a knockout game with the winner hosting the final, obviously there’s a little added incentive. I’m excited, can’t wait to get back out there and see all those familiar faces, regardless of if they’re razzing me a little bit more than previous times when I played at Rio Tinto. I’ll always have I think a mutual admiration and relationship between myself and the fans, so I can’t wait to get back out there. I think it’ll be a great spectacle and an entertaining match for everybody to see.”
Kickoff is at 7:30. Get your tickets here.
Real Salt Lake continues its road in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tonight, when it will take on the Portland Timbers at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium in the tournament’s semifinals.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Wednesday’s match:
The return of Will Johnson
Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson will be making his return to the RioT for the first time since being traded from RSL back in December 2012. The Rose City captain has led the side to its best start in the club’s short MLS history with 35 points in 22 games. The former Claret-and-Cobalt stalwart appeared in 120 regular season games with RSL, including all 14 of the Utah side’s playoff matches. In 2009, Johnson hoisted the MLS Cup Championship with Salt Lake as a main contributor.
The first of many clashes
Wednesday’s match will be the first of at least four meetings between the two clubs this year. Three of the four meetings will come in the next three weeks, with RSL hosting Portland tonight in the Open Cup, Portland hosting RSL on Aug. 21 and the Claret-and-Cobalt taking on the Timbers at the RioT on Aug. 30. The sides will wrap up their regular season series against each other in the Pacific Northwest on Oct. 19. That may not be the last RSL-Portland meeting of the year, however; with RSL in first in the West and Portland not far behind in second, a potential playoff matchup could be on the horizon.
Home Final on the line
The winner of Wednesday’s match will not only advance to the U.S. Open Cup Final, they’ll host it, too, taking on the winner of tonight’s Chicago-D.C. semi in the title game this fall. It would be the first time either state has entertained an Open Cup Final – the all-important CONCACAF Champion’s League birth that goes to the tournament winner would only serve to ratchet up the stakes.
Morales a maybe
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis was forced into a precautionary substitution in the 24th minute of the club’s match against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, bringing midfielder Javier Morales off with a right adductor injury. Whether or not Morales features on Wednesday night will play a big role in the outcome of the match.
Kreis v. Porter
Wednesday’s matchup will pit two of the brightest young American coaches against each other in RSL’s Jason Kreis and Portland’s Caleb Porter. Known for their possession brands of soccer and fiery attitudes, both Kreis and Porter have been complimentary of each other in the press this week, both saying that they’ve been looking forward to the first RSL-Portland matchup all year.
Really awesome video piece from MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle on the statistical similarities between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers ahead of tonight's U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between the sides at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Check out Matt's breakdown of the Claret-and-Cobalt and the Timbers above. Click here to check out Matt's OnFrame interview from Tuesday night's show.