Both Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are battling poor form heading into Saturday's matchup (2 p.m. MT; ABC4), but if Jason Kreis's side doesn't adapt and learn from recent failures, they'll be getting in just enough of a mess as to be irritating.
With the news that Sebastian Velasquez is set to miss the match after suffering a broken hand, Real Salt Lake is certain to see yet another altered starting midfield four. It'll be the fourth different midfield lineup — in seven matches. This lack of continuity is inevitably difficult for a side to deal with, but if Javier Morales is ready to start, it'll start to take on a more definitive appearance.
A disjointed midfield makes Kyle Beckerman's job as captain and general midfield organizer that much more difficult, and the list of fully fit players is small: Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Alvarez, Martinez, Stertzer. Three of those players would expect to start most matches; the drop-off toward the end is a bit severe as experience is concerned.
Individual mistakes have proven costly for Real Salt Lake in 2013, which is likely a function of the relatively low cooperative inexperience of the group, which is to say that they haven't been together for long enough. Extra focus to cut out these mistakes will be essential, especially as Martin Rennie might be instructing his players to target those specific weaknesses. Clearing balls on first opportunity, stepping up during the offside trap, and making immediate, simple passes will be necessary if RSL is interested in clearing up the errors that have plagued these early matches.
We saw last week that Colorado took very specific aim at RSL's left side and Abdoulie Mansally; whether he is a defensive liability or not — and that's very much up for discussion — it's hard to deny that other coaches seem to think so. When one player is targeted frequently, they're more likely to make costly mistakes; Mansally and his teammates will need to be wary of the modes of attack employed.
Despite the uncertainty created by an ever-rotating cast of midfielders, Jason Kreis's side have made creating chances look a bit easy. His squad's averaged a surprising 14 shots per match in the early weeks and attempting more forward passes per match (175, if you're wondering) than any side, excepting Portland.
Robbie Findley's still out, so he doesn't get a chance to finish; Joao Plata may be close to a return, and Alvaro Saborio is still recovering from knee swelling. With the two fully healthy forwards remaining — Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia — rather untested and still learning the system, the midfield will need to step up in creation to an extent not seen in some time.
Things didn't go so well for Real Salt Lake last time it played at Vancouver, with the Claret-and-Cobalt losing 2-1 to the 'Caps at BC Place on Aug. 11, 2012.
Check out the highlights of that match above and make sure you tune-in to ABC4 at 2 p.m. MT on Saturday to see if RSL can avenge last year's defeat at Whitecaps FC.
My Dad was a professional goalkeeper in Mexico so I moved around a lot growing up. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and moved to Morelia, Mexico City and Veracruz, really all over the place. When my Dad retired from playing soccer my family moved to El Paso, Texas, his hometown. I was there until I was 15, when I went to Chivas Guadalajara for two years. After that I went to the RSL Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz. for a year and then I went off to Uruguay for six months.
I played for a club called Peñarol in Uruguay. I loved it down there. The Uruguayan people are incredible, they’re really great people and Peñarol is a big team so the atmosphere was great.
After six months in Uruguay I came back to Real Salt Lake. I had been in the academy and I knew the coaches and the team really well already. I really felt comfortable when they brought me in for preseason and I always wanted to be here. It’s nice that I’m closer to my family now and it’s great to be on a team that’s always fighting for MLS Cup.
Even though my Dad was a professional, my parents never pressured me to play soccer. They put me in a bunch of different sports, they put me in karate, they put me in track they put me in a lot of stuff that they thought I would like before they put me in soccer. I always wanted to play, though. I started out being a forward and ended up being a goalie because one of my teammates couldn’t go to one game and I filled in for him. I had the idea because my Dad would always talk to me about goalie and I ended up doing well. I stuck with it and then my Dad started coaching me and that really helped me a lot.
I feel like I’m developing pretty well as a player. Last year was tough; I felt like I was progressing until I broke my wrist in July. Even though that injury kept me from playing goalie, it did help with my foot skills and my strength and fitness. This year I feel a lot stronger and a lot more confident. I feel the group has accepted us young guys more and they’ve given us confidence to show our talents, to show our skills and I really feel like I’m playing better.
I think we have a really unique situation here with our goalies. You’ve got Nick [Rimando] as the starter, he’s a national team player, he’s a leader in our locker room and I learn a lot from him. He talks to me about angles and a bunch of simple stuff that might not seem like that big of a deal, but when you put it into practice it really does make a big difference. Then on the other hand you have Josh [Saunders]. He won the last two MLS Cups for L.A. and he’s different than Nick but he’s really good too. I try to take the best things from both of their games. I’m also always talking with Jeff [Attinella] and working with him after training, too. With help from all three of those guys and of course from [RSL Goalkeeper Coach] Jeff Cassar, I think I’ve really started to develop more and more.
I’m roommates and good friends with [RSL defender] Carlos Salcedo. He and I knew each other from Guadalajara, he’s from there as well and we played together at Chivas. He’s a year younger than me and he’d play in the third division and sometimes I would go down there to get some games and he would be there and we’d always talk. Him being here is a big help for me because I have someone to relate to, someone who knows my culture and really understands where I come from.
I’m also close with a number of other guys on the team like Enzo [Martinez], Seba [Velasquez], David [Viana] and now [Joao] Plata and Olmes [Garcia]. Our relationship here in the locker room and outside the locker room is great; we hang out all the time. Enzo is married and we’re close with his wife. We go to their house all the time and we were there when Enzo’s daughter was born last year. That was a great experience; those are things you will never forget. Now we’re all like a family. They’re all great people and that really helps us all, it makes the group a lot stronger when we’re all comfortable and hopefully we can grow together.
I grew up with [No. 1 pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and Vancouver forward] Omar Salgado. We played on the same club teams growing up in El Paso and he came to Chivas a few months after I started there. We Skyped earlier this week and I’m excited to hopefully see him this weekend when we play Vancouver. Hopefully we get to play each other in the Reserve Game on Sunday – that’d be really awesome. Growing up we always used to compete against each other, I’d always trash talk him, tell him he was my son because I’m the type of goalie that likes to talk to the forwards to try and get in their minds. He made a big step coming from Guadalajara to MLS and that was part of the reason why I wanted to come here. I saw how much he was progressing here and he was getting a lot better, getting more opportunities and I felt like coming to Salt Lake would help me like going to Vancouver helped him.
- One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’ve played for youth national teams for both Mexico and the U.S. With Mexico I went through the whole qualifying process for the  U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. In the end I didn’t get the call-up to the final team, and that was a little bit disappointing, but that opened up other doors. That’s when the U.S. came to me with a chance to play for the U-20’s in 2010 and I took the opportunity, took a lot of pride in it and it was an awesome experience.
Real Salt Lake's errors against Colorado were many and frequent, but the sole goal scored was less a tactical failure and more a series of individual mistakes.
Aside from the fairly obvious answer — Real Salt Lake conceded an early goal and couldn't recover — there's something more interesting to be taken from the goal scored. Three things happened, and only one of those could rightly be blamed on Abdoulie Mansally. Nat Borchers allowed Edson Buddle to hold up the ball deep in the box, Schuler slipped, allowing his man through and disrupting the defense, and Mansally left his man to attempt to correct for the individual mistake, giving former RSL man Atiba Harris a clear opportunity.
Why'd it happen?
Does Abdoulie Mansally allow for a weakness in Real Salt Lake's defense? Mansally is obviously an attacking full back, and as such, sides may feel they have good opportunities at RSL's wide left position. This seems fairly obvious, the slightly left-leaning bent of RSL's central defenders corrects for that in some important ways. Although he — and plenty of others — were culpable in that early goal from Colorado, it was because of several individual failures in defending and less because of a systemic tactical failure.
How can it be corrected?
It's difficult to tactically correct for individual errors, save for a defensive strategy that provides more defensive cover in all areas. This is fundamentally in conflict with Jason Kreis's strategy for the side, although certain sorts of players can provide some types of fixes. Take, for example, Jamison Olave, whose ability to recover and prevent an attack was used as a solution to this problem. But without a player like Olave, the defense is often left in a situation where a greater responsibility from everyone is required. Single mistakes are inherently more likely to be punished.
Real Salt Lake lost 1-0 at Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru rivals the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Real Salt Lake now trails Colorado 4-1 in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup point standings. RSL must win the one remaining RMC match on Aug. 3 at Colorado to retain the Cup for a seventh-consecutive year.
RSL forward Alvaro Saborio is now 12-for-13 on penalty kicks in his RSL career. Saborio had a penalty kick stopped by Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin in the 10th minute on Saturday.
Real Salt Lake is 0-4-3 in its last seven regular season matches at Colorado. The Utah side hasn’t won at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since Oct. 20, 2007.
By playing 45 minutes on Saturday, Claret-and-Cobalt midfielder Sebastian Velasquez moved to 405 MLS minutes played this season, surpassing the 403 league minutes he played during his rookie season of 2012.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s 90 minutes on Saturday moved him past the 16,000 minute mark in his Claret-and-Cobalt career. Rimando is RSL’s all-time leader in minutes played, more than 2,500 minutes ahead of second-place Kyle Beckerman.
RSL defender Chris Wingert started and played 70 minutes for the RSL Reserves in its 0-0 draw against the Colorado Reserves on Saturday night. It was Wingert’s second time on the field in 2013 – he played 30 minutes off the bench in RSL’s exhibition win over BYU last Monday – after fracturing bones in his right foot during offseason training in December.
Real Salt Lake faces Colorado on Saturday for the second time in less than a month, and although most of the squad is returning to fitness, there remain questions across the board.
With Javier Morales approaching full fitness, Jason Kreis is set to make his first big decision of the new-look 2013 lineup. WIll Luis Gil drop to the bench, with Morales taking his place? Or will Velasquez go to the bench, with Gil dropping deeper in midfield? Will Javier Morales even start on Saturday? While that one seems a bit of a doubt, but it's worth consideration.
Let's talk hypothetically. If Gil stays on, he drops into a position he hasn't played yet this season, but RSL gets a more seasoned player on the pitch. If Velasquez stays on, he continues in his position, building on strong performances there. Experience with Jason Kreis might lead one to believe that Gil stays on, given Kreis's preference for continuing with veteran players, but the fight for places is as big as RSL has had in a while.
Robbie Findley is likely to miss Saturday, which means Alvaro Saborio will again be partnered by somebody in the rotating cast of characters that is the RSL forward line. Joao Plata, should he recover sufficiently, is the most natural big-man-little-man fit, but he's apparently been struggling with a hamstring strain. Devon Sandoval has worked hard, presents some interesting options, but might not be the most natural fit next to Saborio. Olmes Garcia is full of raw, unmistakable talent, but he's just that: Raw.
Sandoval seems the most likely pick: Risking Joao Plata at this point might not be the most unreasonable thing in the world, but there's little chance he goes for a full 90 minutes with injury concerns close by.
Sandoval up top alongside Saborio would be a tactically interesting move. The two are both in a strong mold, work well with their backs to goal, and will help bring the midfield into attack; with two hold-up players, more attacking opportunities for players like Velasquez, Gil, Morales and Grabavoy emerge. Likewise, with two stronger forwards, defenders are forced out of their "cover Saborio endlessly" mentality, and when he he's got room, goals are scored. Additionally, the opportunities at set pieces — at least to distract the defending side — emerge with two dangerous players in the box.
Last time we played Colorado — a scant few weeks ago — Deshorn Brown found himself breaking past the defense time after time after time. Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe struggled as a pair that night. With Colorado at their home ground, they're likely to be continuing on a more attacking bent, but having Nat Borchers back in the side could make a bit of difference.
The fullbacks will need to be extra aware: Mansally and Beltran should continue to trade attacking moments, with one of the two deeper at any given moment. This will allow them to tuck in a bit (but not much) more centrally to help defend the counter.
The Rocky Mountain Cup: RSL tested, C.J. Brown approved.
The Claret-and-Cobalt take on the Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park at 5:30 p.m. MT on Saturday. Watch live on NBC Sports Network.
MLSsoccer.com took a closer look on Wednesday morning at RSL's spectacular set play goal against Seattle, with Jason Saghini breaking down Luis Gil's first half strike in the site's "Anatomy of a Goal" series.
Saghini does a great job of breaking down the play, which RSL midfielder Javier Morales - who wasn't even in the game for the goal - drew up in practice last week.
When I got home from RSL’s 2-1 win over Seattle on Saturday night, I was talking about rookie forward Devon Sandoval's excellent outing so much that my wife accused me of having a "man crush" on him.
I laughed it off at the time, but now that I've had some time to think about it, you were right, dear. I do have a “man-crush.”
I think RSL fans realize that Sandoval had a nice night in his first-ever start, but I think it was better than most people realized. In fact, for me he would have been Man of the Match had it not been for Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who I thought was the best player on the field despite conceding twice. On Saturday I thought Sandoval did what we expected and even more, and did it with a calmness that defies his age and experience. So what was so great about Sandoval's game?
I usually leave these tactical chats in the capable hands of Matt Montgomery, but take a look at the chalkboard to the right. Here you can see Sandoval's entire night from a passing perspective - all 22 successful passes and his six unsuccessful passes.
Take a look at his passes that originated from between about 35 and 55 yards from goal; almost all of them are "negative" (i.e. backward) passes. This is exactly what you want and expect your target-style forward to do. Almost all these passes are long balls sent up field by defenders from deep in RSL's end. In these cases the target forward puts his back to the goal, holds the defender at bay, settles the ball, and makes a backward pass to a midfielder who probably doesn't have a man draped all over him. Looking at Sandoval's high completion percentage on these back passes, clearly he met expectations in that aspect of his game.
Next, take a look at his passes that originated from 35 yards out and closer; you can see that most of these passes are going forward, not backward. These mostly came from times when RSL was advancing on goal with numerous attackers, and this is where Sandoval went above and beyond in my opinion. Many target forwards - especially young ones - aren't comfortable attempting incisive passes and joining in combination play with teammates. But instead of being a one-trick pony who only wants to play "post-up" soccer and lay off back passes, Sandoval's passing around goal clearly shows that he is plenty comfortable acting as a playmaker. You don't often see this behavior with big forwards, especially ones so young.
A great example of this is his combination with Ned Grabavoy and Joao Plata on Plata's 55th-minute chance. Grabavoy plays a pass into Sandoval who is holding position with his back to goal. But instead of playing a back pass right back to Grabavoy, Sandoval flicks a forward pass into space where Plata runs onto it for an open look. The only thing that kept Sandoval from recording a beautiful assist was Gspurning's face getting in the way of Plata's shot.
Sandoval's finishing left a bit to be desired on Saturday night - it will come around - but I am really excited about his passing game and what it's doing to open things up for the rest of the team.