A CONCACAF Champions League tie is once again upon Jason Kreis's RSL, and a trip off to the canal-laden land of Panama sees the Claret-and-Cobalt taking on Tauro FC. A win for the MLS side leaves them in the running for the top spot in — and the only one to escape from — Group 2, while anything less could well see angst-furrowed brows along the sidelines.
Tauro sat back and defended during RSL's 2-0 win over the Panamanian champs at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 21. They'll need be more positive if they want to thwart RSL's plans on Tuesday and potentially move forward out of the group.
RSL will be doing it all on Tuesday without the services of their captain, Kyle Beckerman, who will miss the match due to a red card suspension picked up in that Aug. 21 win.
When last RSL met Tauro FC, they entered proceedings with a slightly unusual defensive — and offensive — twist, serving up a defensive line that at times held anywhere from three to five players, with overlaps in zones and midfield confusion erupting.
The unpredictability was brought into effect by midfielders dropping deeper and playing just in front of the defense, and in its wake, it disrupted any fluency the Panamanians tried to construct in the midfield. RSL, as a result, bossed the match without much issue — save, of course, creating goals from the run of play, which has been a spot of bother in recent weeks.
Whether those question marks will pop back into the picture may depend largely on Tauro's form and their ability to adjust formation properly and not haphazardly. It doesn't look encouraging for the Panamanians: They've notched only one win from five across all competitions since losing in Utah. Still, they've showed some goal scoring ability during those times, and RSL will need to be as defensively strong as ever.
Who will play holding mid?
After Kyle Beckerman's ejection in the home match with Tauro, RSL is left a little shorthanded in the middle of the park. With the club's captain absent, a replacement for one of the key positions will be essential — but just who that replacement will be throws out a question or two.
Under most circumstances, one might expect Yordany Alvarez to deputize; this season, he's done so with understanding and nous, save some shaky moments. Those shaky moments may be enough to push Jason Kreis toward someone with a bit more consistency in the form of Ned Grabavoy, who has been vaunted as the man for the job.
Grabavoy — more a link-up player than a defensive midfielder — has featured as holding mid a remarkable 12 times since joining the club, with RSL posting a 5-3-4 record when he plays in Beckerman's usual spot. He would offer more emphasis on attack than someone like Alvarez, who serves more as a hard-tackling, ball-winning midfielder. Of course, a side can't attack without first winning the ball — that simple fact may play into Kreis's decision.
Whoever lands at holding mid, the impetus will undoubtedly be on attack: A draw would inch RSL ever closer to a group stage exit, and a loss would certainly seal their fate. Kreis will certainly play all his cards looking for all three points.
As told to Zach Petersen
- My fiancé and I just had a baby girl. It’s something that you could read a million books and watch a million videos, but until she or he is there, that’s when you start learning. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t. When she was born the doctor hands me the diaper and says, “Do you want to change her?” I’m like, “Where does this go?” I was clueless. Even though I’m young, it’s still one of the best things that’s ever happened in my life.
- One of the things I love to do is help people. That’s always been my dream. My fiancé and I have a little charity soccer event that we do back home in South Carolina called “Kicking for a Cause.” It happened out of nowhere. It was three days before Christmas a few years ago. We met some kids that were in the same situation that I was in when I came to this country from Uruguay. They didn’t have much and their Christmas wasn’t going to be like Christmas should be for every kid. We decided to do something and sent emails to everyone we could asking for donations. Within three days we had a great response and filled up a Ford Explorer with food and toys and we gave each family $300. Two years ago we raised $2,000 and this last year we did the same thing. Hopefully this year we can do one here and we can take the money and gifts to kids in other countries. That’s the one thing I would love to be known for, is that I lend a hand to anyone and everyone, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or what you will do.
- I have great friends on the team. Lalo Fernandez and Sebastian Velasquez used to live in the same apartment building, so we used to hang out all the time.
- I’ve known Sebastian for so long. We grew up playing together in South Carolina and it’s such a good relationship we have. We play the same position. Other people can easily turn away from friendship because they are competing every day. It’s not like that with us. I think the friendship will always be the same. It’s such a huge blessing to be able to be on the same team with him.
- I have a pretty crazy personality. At first, I’m very shy and very calm, but once I get to know you, more of me can come out and I’m very different.
- Right now life has really slowed down because of the baby. To be honest, I am one of those guys where I get home and I turn on Netflix and watch my shows. I’m happy that way. I love computers and things and we love to go out to eat.
- Utah is such a beautiful place. We love to go to Park City and through all of the back roads. It’s unbelievable. We have a dog, so we love to go to the park and take him there. My life isn’t extremely exciting but it’s fine for me.
- I’m learning a ton with the caliber of players I’m playing with every day. It’s good because they integrate you into the group. They don’t look at you as a kid or a first year. They try to teach and help you as much as possible.
- One of my favorite moments in soccer was when I was at the University of North Carolina where we were losing 1-0 and there were eight seconds left in the game and the ball popped out to me and I shot, scored and tied it up. Then we went into overtime and I got to take the fifth PK, scored and we won. When I celebrated, there was this photo of my mom, me and my brother and the fans. Being able to share that with them was amazing.
- I’ve had three people influence my life a ton: my dad, my religious influence David Benson and my high school coach Dom Wren. If it wasn’t for those three people I would not be here hands down. They’ve always been there in good times, bad times, really bad times and really good times. To be honest, Dom built me to the soccer player I am today. Those people have been really influential to my life.
File this in the unsurprising department: Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman is in the top-25 selling adidas MLS player jerseys on MLSgear.com, MLSgearCanada.ca and on MLS club websites. Beckerman's No. 5 shirt is ranked 22nd on the star-studded list, which you can check out by clicking here.
Fan-favorite Beckerman has been his usual stellar self this season, registering five goals and four assists in 27 games across all competitions for the Claret-and-Cobalt. The dreadlocked defensive midfielder was also a 2012 MLS All-Star, notching the game-winning assist in the All-Stars 2-1 win over UEFA Champions League title holders Chelsea FC in July.
Captain Kyle is currently with the U.S. national team in Columbus ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifying match against Jamaica. He’ll return to Salt Lake following the game and will resume training with RSL on Thursday.
Not quite sure how this slipped by us over the weekend, but RSL midfielder Will Johnson picked up a yellow card in Canada’s 1-0 World Cup Qualifying win over Panama in Toronto on Friday and will be suspended due to caution accumulation for the Canucks’ match at Panama on Tuesday.
Johnson didn’t travel with the Canadian team to Panama because of the suspension, instead returning to Salt Lake City to rejoin RSL. The feisty midfielder had the day off on Monday but will train fully with the first team starting on Tuesday.
Johnson wouldn’t have missed any RSL games had he traveled to Panama. RSL captain Kyle Beckerman (U.S.), goalie Nick Rimando (U.S.) and forward Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) are all still with their national teams and all have matches on Tuesday night.
The Claret-and-Cobalt return to action on Sept. 18, when they’ll travel to Panama – with Johnson – to take on Tauro FC in a virtual must-win CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage match.
It's always a frustrating night when an expected tactical approach from the opponent is abandoned in favor of something more, say, negative. Last night's match against Houston saw RSL facing up to a side abandoning their controlled style, making an already difficult job even more so.
Passing and Possession
Coming into the match, Kreis and company might have been expecting to face a Houston Dynamo team that tried to play in their possession-oriented style, but what they instead saw was a team reticent to pressure outside their own half. As a result, RSL was allowed huge swathes of possession, with the Dynamo rather content to sit back, clog the lanes, and watch their opponent pass the ball around the back line.
As a result, RSL's defensive passing measures are stellar: Neither Kwame Watson-Siriboe nor Nat Borchers put a pass wrong all night, with 95/95 passing between the two of them. That bears repeating: 95 for 95. No, it didn't cause RSL to win the match, and no, it didn't cause anyone to score a goal, but these things should be applauded.
In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that most of RSL's players completed more passes in this single game than they have in any other game this season. Houston were entirely content letting play just sort of pass them by, which, given their predilection for control, was almost a shocker.
How do you solve a problem like Javier?
Javier Morales, generally the key to unlocking tight defenses plaguing RSL, needs to be on-song when those passing lanes are clogged — or, at the very least, other midfielders need to step up. But when two of four starting midfielders are absent, the weight bears down a little more on Javier's shoulders, and it's not always going to work out perfectly.
So without a massively creative midfield, RSL was always likely to struggle — but one of the options that can start to correct that is more thrust from the full backs. This doesn't always play out as a "swing crosses in" sort of thing, but the amount of space created when wide options are present is a difference-maker. Opposing full backs are pulled out, midfielders get a little extra space, and those vital runs are ever-so-slightly easier.
With only one veritable full back on the pitch in Tony Beltran and the opposite flank filled by a center back only just returning from a 117-day layoff, attacking up the flanks was a bit harder. Beltran got forward well on occasion but showed a bit of reluctance to step too far, perhaps as he was wary of a counterattacking threat, and Chris Schuler's attacking effort was metered to put forward a 90-minute effort.
As such, without huge amounts of midfield creativity, and without much attack from the flanks, RSL found it difficult to get past the two banks of Houston players and through on goal. That may well have come down to one major factor: Absences.
Absences and what they meant
Without Kyle Beckerman's deep-lying playmaking abilities and Chris Wingert's flank work, RSL was found a bit lacking in two vital areas. Throw in absences to Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson, and you're out finishing and a bit of drive. It's not as if RSL was particularly lacking drive, but the other three absences made a difference — maybe one of a scant few percentage points, but sometimes, that's all that's needed to push on.
Despite putting in a very solid road effort, the Claret-and-Cobalt fell 1-0 at the Houston Dynamo on Thursday night. Here are a few interesting numbers from RSL’s defeat at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Real Salt Lake’s all-time record when playing the Dynamo in Houston. All eight of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s losses in the Bayou City have come by one goal. RSL is now 0-18-3 all-time in the state of Texas.
The minute that Houston midfielder Colin Clark pounded home his penalty kick – Houston’s second of the game – to give the Dynamo the 1-0 win. It was the second-straight RSL at Houston match that saw the Dynamo score a game-winning goal in second half stoppage time – midfielder Alex Dixon hit a 93rd minute strike to give Houston a 3-2 win over the Claret-and-Cobalt on Aug. 20 of last year.
RSL goalie Nick Rimando’s career mark against PK's in the MLS regular season. Rimando – who will fly back to Salt Lake with the team before joining the U.S. national squad in Columbus ahead of their Sept. 11 World Cup Qualifier against Jamaica – was 1-for-2 on PK’s last night, heroically saving Brad Davis’ effort in the 75th minute before losing out against Clark. Rimando’s 29.8 percent save percentage against PK’s is the best in MLS history.
The number of saves made by Rimando and Houston ‘keeper Tally Hall, both of whom had excellent games. Rimando and Hall both made a pair of incredible stops late in the second half, with Rimando blocking Davis’ PK in the 75th before stoning Dynamo forward Will Bruin’s free header from inside the six in the 82nd and Hall keeping out RSL defender Nat Borchers’s header in the 79th before stopping a 1-v-1 chance from midfielder Ned Grabavoy in the 89th.
Days between games for RSL defender Chris Schuler. Schuler returned to the field for a full 90 on Thursday night nearly four months after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot. The big defender last played on May 12, putting in 70 minutes off the bench in RSL’s 1-0 win at Seattle.
If a body meets a body, and those two bodies happen to play effective possession and passing soccer, such an affair might be considering scintillating. With Real Salt Lake arriving in Houston to take on the Dynamo, the two sides, neither of which are lacking in personality on the pitch, are sitting atop some interesting statistical tables.
These two teams, while both insisting on high rates of possession and passing, exemplify the diversity of styles of play. RSL are the forceful, hard-tackling side, while the Dynamo may look to move the ball around a bit more.
Passing and possession
Houston Dynamo have perhaps been found lacking in cutting thrust at times (evidenced by their 9 draws and 7 losses), which is surprising given their domineering possession, which sits at a lofty 56.6 percent on average. To further make things interesting, their possession average goes up even more when they win (57.5 percent) and down when they lose (54.1 percent) but they always remain quite high up there.
RSL is currently sitting at 53.8 percent on average, with greater possession averages clocking up during losses (55 percent) than wins (53 percent). Given the nature of possession (when one side has it, the other does not), one of these two sides will come out with a lower-than-average possession percentage.
Houston is also the safest-passing side in the league, with 82 percent of their passes finding their target and an average pass count of 478 per match. RSL isn't too far behind, with 81 percent pass accuracy and 441 passes per match.
While this doesn't speak heavily to a claim about the efficacy of such techniques, the fact that the amount of passing on average doesn't change much between wins and losses speaks to a certain dogged commitment to a style. Houston is flying under the radar a bit for this, while RSL has that particular approach bandied about both positively and negatively.
Fouls and bookings
The Dynamo, for all their possession, are one of the least-fouling sides in the league — third from the bottom with 10.7 per match. RSL is sitting a bit higher at 13 per match on average. But that's all made a bit more fascinating by yellow cards issued: Houston have — by some number — seen the fewest yellow cards this season, with 23 being shown. As a point of counterbalance, RSL has seen 51 this season; San Jose, 50; and Vancouver, 57.
This leaves the Dynamo at 12.6 fouls averaged per yellow card shown. Whether this is owing to better tackling technique (although the tackle-won percentage isn't significantly higher than RSL's — 82 percent to 80 percent) or some other factor is hard to easily say. RSL's reverse of that, with 7.2 fouls per yellow card issued, will certainly be a consideration for Jason Kreis.
Absences and returns
Any hope for a boost in form pushed along by RSL's starting contingent will have gone out the window by now, with Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio absent through international duty, and Chris Wingert out with yellow card accumulation. It will likely be another one of those depth-tests.
It could also lead to some shifts in the defense, with Chris Schuler inching closer to a full return, Kenny Mansally recovering quickly, and Jamison Olave working his way back. Though Olave seems likely to rest in a bid for full fitness following the long break, the lanky Schuler may well be handed a start on the left defensive flank.
There was nothing to particularly suggest any stops were pulled out for RSL’s 1-0 win over D.C. United on Saturday. No, it was a routine, efficient win from Kreis's men; one in which a fair few opportunities were created, one was put away, and a strong defensive effort kept the opponent at bay.
D.C. United presented strong opposition — considering their fight for form as the season comes to its closing moments, this was to be expected. The mentality on hand was exactly what was needed: Control the affair, don't allow too many strong chances, and close the game out. It represented a return to what Jason Kreis calls "Real Salt Lake soccer," and he'll have been pleased with the nature of the win.
Midfielders and shooting
RSL have this season struggled to involve most of the midfield in goal scoring action. While it is perhaps too soon to say, Will Johnson's headed goal in the second half represents a shift in that. Of course, one goal does not a trend make, but there were some interesting numbers to bubble out of the weekend's match.
The four midfielders involved (plus Yordany Alvarez, on late for Saborio, but only for a scant few minutes) took seven of the 13 shots on the night, with six of those being on target. You may recall that only just over 25 percent of the club's shots on the season have come from three in the midfield (Johnson, Morales and Beckerman), while 54 percent have come from Saborio, Espindola, and Paulo.
Additionally, just under half of RSL's shots came from outside the box — those midfielders, again, did some good work in the attack. This was especially important given that Paulo Jr. took no shots, and Saborio took only two — a testament, perhaps, to the strong work in the center of defense for United.
Goals, shots, and how they are conceded
Despite some solid defensive work on the night, D.C. United took a number of shots from distance — seven overall, about 2.3 more than RSL concede from outside the box on average. The seven shots conceded inside the box were only slightly more than the 6.3 average, but by avoiding a goal concession, improved the rate slightly to 30/176. It's still a 17 percent shots-faced-to-goals-conceded ratio, and it's hardly one of the better marks in the league. (Before the weekend, Columbus Crew held the lowest ratio at 11 percent, while Colorado Rapids were the worst at 22 percent.)
On most given match days, you'll find most of RSL's interceptions coming from Kyle Beckerman and the center backs, but the D.C. match saw our two full backs stepping up. Nat Borchers led the effort with five, while Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran had four each — all significantly better than average (2.1, 2.0, and 1.9, respectively). The midfield was less involved in this regard, perhaps owing to a more concentrated effort in attack.
By going the full 90 in Saturday’s 1-0 win over D.C. United, third-year center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe has now played more MLS minutes since arriving at RSL via trade with Chicago on June 27 than he did in his previous two-and-a-half years in the league.
Watson-Siriboe has played 738 minutes since joining the Claret-and-Cobalt, 57 more than he did in Chicago, which selected him in the second round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
The UConn product has appeared in 10 league matches for Real Salt Lake, starting eight times in MLS play. That’s the same amount of league appearances and one more start than he had in Chicago.
Watson-Siriboe has also made big contributions in CONCACAF Champions League play, coming on in the second half of RSL’s 1-0 loss at Costa Rican club C.S. Herediano on July 31 and playing the full 90 in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 2-0 home win over Tauro FC on Aug. 21.
The best part about all of this is, of course, that Watson-Siriboe – who has been called into action so often primarily because of injuries – has done well when on the field. He’s been solid defensively, effective in distribution and decent when getting forward on set pieces, even having a goal called back for an apparent foul by another RSL player in Saturday’s game.
We’ll likely see Watson-Siriboe in the lineup again on Thursday when the Claret-and-Cobalt takes on Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium. His minutes might taper off after that game, what with fellow center backs Chris Schuler and Jamison Olave returning to health, but he’ll undoubtedly remain a valuable piece as RSL continues its run down the stretch.
No matter which conference you happen to be in or facing, going up against a side in the thick of the playoff hunt is always going to provide some difficulties and question marks. DC United, standing on 41 points from 26 games, will be looking to put their best foot forward as they attempt to either move up in the standings or, at the very least, stay level with their fourth-place spot.
Stopping the slide
Jason Kreis may have pulled out all the stops to slow the slide into seeming despair (I don't contend it was, of course) to grab a draw against the Union, and it might seem he'll have to do it again. In this vital time of the season, rest becomes less and less an option as every point is valuable. With the Galaxy three behind us, and Whitecaps FC another three behind them, we'll want to ensure our standing doesn't slip too much. Dropping out of the playoff race is all but impossible now, but seeded standings are important.
But more than standings, Kreis will be worried about mentality going into the postseason. The matches are becoming more and more important to win, and with CONCACAF Champions League group play remaining a priority, our approach to these matches becomes all the more important.
Shots from distance
One of the issues that's affected Real Salt Lake is our reluctance to take shots from outside the box. Now, there could be a number of explanations about this: We prefer to work it in, or defenders tend to sit deeper against us, or we just don't have the long shot abilities we'd need to make it effective. I don't particularly buy any but the second.
To do this, we'll need to break into the final third a bit more regularly than we have been. We're averaging only 25 percent of our passing in the final third, and while this is down partly to our short passing options in the midfield, more thrust is essential. It is perhaps reassuring that United are only just ahead of us (25.5 percent) in this regard, but perhaps for different reasons. But both sides do put a large percentage of their shots on target — D.C. is at about 36 percent, while we're at about — wait for it — 36 percent.
We'll need more shots from our midfield, certainly. Of our 116 on-target scoring attempts, 54 percent have come from Alvaro Saborio (32), Fabian Espindola (22), and Paulo Junior (9). A further 25 percent come from Will Johnson (15), Javier Morales (8), and Kyle Beckerman (7). Between six players, we have 79 percent of our on-target shots, and that's certainly got to be spread a bit more. Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy, in for a starting spot on plenty of occasions, will be looking to increase their shooting rate, accuracy be damned.
Goals -- and how they are conceded
It is interesting to see that we concede the third-fewest outside-the-box scoring attempts per match (4.7), while the Washingtonians (of the capital sort) concede the most (6.5). We also concede the fourth-fewest attempts from inside the box (6.3), while United concedes the third-most (8).
Here's where those two stats really break off, though: RSL is conceding the fifth-highest number of goals from attempts inside the box (30/169) – United, though conceding just as many inside the box, has faced 31 more shots (30/200). It balances things out in a fascinating way.