Three key absences for Real Salt Lake sounds a difficult proposition to handle, but options for each position — in the midfield, in defense, and up front — could mean RSL is in a better tactical position than one might readily imagine ahead of Saturday's home match against LA.
No Luis Gil means we'll be looking for a midfielder to take his place. Two options readily present themselves: Sebastian Velasquez has shown well this season and is stepping up in the system, but Khari Stephenson provides veteran experience and looked strong last week. The most reasonable approach, to my mind: Stephenson starts, Velasquez comes off the bench. Stephenson can manage the game well in midfield and provide a safe outlet; Velasquez can come on late and be his creative, spark self.
No Chris Schuler leads to a continuation with either Kwame Watson-Siriboe or Carlos Salcedo. Both have showed well so far, and Watson-Siriboe was massive against a pesky San Jose side. Watson-Siriboe had a rocky start to his season, but should he continue to impress, worries about an injured Chris Schuler might ease somewhat. Carlos Salcedo is a natural bench option with an eye on a Wednesday start.
No Alvaro Saborio leaves us again wondering about a tactical scenario. Is the Plata-Findley pairing for real? Can it work? It's hard to deny that chances have been created, and Saturday saw us looking somewhat near very, very good. Olmes Garcia could be an option but is likely to be eased back from injury, while Devon Sandoval might not yet be the sort of player that can dominate the Galaxy defense. But Plata-Findley presents its own challenges from a tactical perspective, but if those can be overcome, it's hard to argue with the selection.
It all leaves Real Salt Lake in an interesting position against one of MLS's better sides, but it leaves a good tactical position open. With the tendencies of Plata and Findley to drift wide, opportunities for midfielders emerge. Javier Morales is in fine form, Ned Grabavoy is in the best goalscoring form of his career, Khari Stephenson has a cannon of a foot and Kyle Beckerman can swing in the late shots himself.
The surprise? The Findley-Plata pairing could be one of our better options up front, regardless of injury concerns and international duty. The win against San Jose, however poor they've been this season, is partly owed to the results of effective movement up top, drawing defenders into poor positions and creating channels for midfield runs. Seeing more of that on Saturday would be precisely the sort of thing RSL needs to handle the Galaxy.
Real Salt Lake is set to continue its home stand on Saturday night, when it will take on the LA Galaxy at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines ahead of Saturday’s match:
RSL out for revenge
Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy have already met once this season, with RSL coming out flat and giving up two early goals to fall to LA 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 27.
RSL has posted a strong 5-1-1 record across all competitions since that match, but a bad taste still lingers. The Claret-and-Cobalt will want to remove that once and for all on Saturday with a win in its second – and final – home game of the regular season against the rival Galaxy.
While RSL has been hot since the April 27 meeting at Rio Tinto Stadium, LA has been in a slide, posting a 2-5-0 mark across all competitions since taking all three points on the Wasatch Front five weeks ago.
LA was blown out in its last match, giving up four second half goals to fall 5-0 at the New England Revolution on Sunday. After that performance, it’s a safe bet that the Galaxy will come into Saturday’s game focused and very, very hungry for a result.
Morales successful against Galaxy
Much like he does against San Jose, RSL midfielder Javier Morales has a very strong track record against the Galaxy, scoring five goals and tallying five assists in 12 career regular season games against LA.
Morales gave San Jose fits last week, scoring a goal and adding an assist in RSL’s 3-0 win over the Quakes last Saturday. The Claret-and-Cobalt is hoping he’ll be able to match that performance this weekend as he looks to strengthen his solid track record against the Galaxy.
The away team has won the last four games between Real Salt Lake and LA dating back to RSL’s 3-1 win at the Galaxy in the 2012 season opener. That’s a very odd statistic in any series, let alone one in which both teams are traditionally tough at home.
RSL, obviously, will be hoping to end that mark on Saturday with a win over its longtime Western Conference rival.
Both sides will be missing key players on Saturday due to international duty. RSL will be without three players, missing forward Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and defender Abdoulie Mansally (Gambia) due to World Cup Qualifiers and midfielder Luis Gil (U.S.), who is with the U.S. Under-20’s ahead of this month’s FIFA U-20 World Cup. LA will be without star forward Robbie Keane (Ireland) and defender Omar Gonzalez (U.S.) for World Cup Qualifiers and U.S. U-20 Oscar Sorto. The Galaxy could also be without U.S. U-20 forward Jose Villarreal depending on when he departs for the team’s pre-World Cup camp.
Real Salt Lake's April 27 match against the LA Galaxy didn't go so well - the Claret-and-Cobalt conceded two early goals and couldn't break down LA's defense, eventually falling 2-0 at home to the back-to-back defending champs.
RSL takes on LA at Rio Tinto Stadium for the second - and final - time this regular season at 7:30 on Saturday night. The Claret-and-Cobalt will be looking to exact a bit of payback on its longtime rival. Help the team out - show up early, wear red and, of course, be loud.
Fundamentals. If there's one thing that can be said about RSL's 3-0 win over San Jose on Saturday, it's that the fundamentals were there, and all three goals scored that day can be attributed to proper attention to those.
Finishing: Three goals were scored from eight on-target shots — a conversion rate of about 38 percent. On the season, we've averaged 22 percent conversion; clearly, this is an improvement. There was a good deal of talk last week about finishing and the fact that it needed improvement, and this was a good starting point for marked improvement. This sort of rate will need to be sustained over time.
One player who deserves a good deal of credit for improvement in finishing is Robbie Findley, whose well-taken shot from the left flank saw him with his first non-poached goal of the season. That isn't to say that there's a problem with poached goals, but finishing from a variety of positions is important. Javier Morales, too, deserves credit for his well-taken finish, and there's so much to be said about Ned Grabavoy's goalscoring exploits this season that it's difficult to start.
Defending: San Jose may be underperforming thus far this season, but attributing RSL's success to that fact belies the defensive effort involved. It was an interception by Tony Beltran that fell to Javier Morales that set in motion the first goal. The second goal came about after a long pass was won by Nat Borchers, and Tony Beltran set the movement in motion with a pass won fantastically well by Robbie Findley. A good combination from the ever-aware pair of Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy to pick up possession after a heavy touch, starting the run that led to Findley's goal.
All three moments saw RSL win the ball at the edge of the defensive half and move forward dangerously, putting San Jose on the back foot. It's yet another reminder that sometimes, creating chances is down to picking up the ball and moving forward in numbers.
Counterattacking play: It's hard to separate the counterattack from defense. It's perhaps the beautiful intermingling of defense and attack — the thing that ties the two together and makes the game really tick. All three goals were scored from the counter.
Three passes took place before the first goal, and five passes led to the second and third goals. The first and third both came about as a result of rebounds from the defense, and they can be in part attributed to the fact that they were very much on the back foot. This is what the counterattack brings, and RSL capitalized on it well.
One criticism Real Salt Lake faced last season was that the team seemed too dependent on Alvaro Saborio to score. The Costa Rican international scored 39 percent of RSL’s goals in 2012, an undeniably huge portion – and one that was too big for some.
If you're a team with one player carrying too much of the load, it can really throw things for a loop if the player takes a step back in form or gets injured. So when Saborio went down with an injury at the end of April, many people – including me – thought RSL would struggle to score goals and win games. Well, six weeks later, we've been proven wrong.
Since the beginning of May, RSL has amassed 13 points in just six league matches, tied for the best mark in MLS. The team has stepped it up defensively, conceding just one goal a game in that time. But lest you think it's only the defense that's leading to results, in those same six matches RSL is hanging 2.33 goals per game on its opponents, with Sabo only playing 28 minutes since April. In the midst of all that, RSL also put up a U.S. Open Cup win. Here are a couple of points on scoring that have stood out to me this year - and especially recently - that have RSL poised to do very well through the rest of 2013:
- There are plenty of scoring chances being generated. RSL leads MLS by a country mile in shots on goal with 88 - that's a whopping 20 shots more than second place FC Dallas.
- Nine RSL players have already scored in league play this year. In 2012, only 10 players scored all year. RSL should easily surpass that number - I expect Khari Stephenson and Sebastian Velasquez will open their accounts soon, and the center backs are due to poke home a set piece one of these games.
- Speaking of sharing the wealth, as I mentioned above, Sabo scored almost 40 percent of RSL's goals last year. This year he's only scored 20% of them. And it's not like the overall team production is down - RSL 2013 is on pace to outscore the 2012 edition.
- All five strikers on the roster have scored this year. The four not named Saborio have all scored in the last six games.
- On an individual level, Ned Grabavoy has already matched his career-best for goals in a season and we're not even halfway through the year.
- Javier Morales is still dynamic. He’s already matched his scoring total – three – from last year and his assist number is right on last season’s pace.
I attribute the offensive success this year - and most notably over the last six matches - to two things: First, a strong commitment by attacking players to put themselves into spots where they can score. Jason Kreis alluded to this in his postgame press conference last Saturday night by saying that RSL struggles to score when they don't get enough numbers in the penalty box. Second, I think the superior depth of the 2013 squad has caused everyone to raise their game, especially in training. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you train at a higher level, you tend to play at a higher level. The fierce competition for minutes has certainly been effective in that regard.
There's still a lot of soccer left to be played, but all signs point to this team being one of the few that will be right in the thick of things at the very end.
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 turned in a dominant performance on Saturday night, scoring three first half goals to down the San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s home win:
Saturday’s win gave Real Salt Lake a 4-1-1 record in its last six matches, tied for the top mark in the league over that span with the Montreal Impact and Seattle Sounders FC. RSL’s 13 league points since the start of May stands alone as best in MLS.
RSL has outscored its opponents 14-6 over its last six league matches. The team’s +8 goal differential is tied for the best in the league over that span with the New England Revolution, which has outscored its opponents 11-3 over its last six MLS games, including a 5-0 win over the LA Galaxy on Sunday.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales – who had a goal and an assist on Saturday night – now has six goals and six helpers in 12 career regular season games against the Quakes. That’s the most goals Morales has against any one team and the second-most assists he has against any one side. The Argentine playmaker has the most goals and most assists in RSL-San Jose games as any player on either side of the rivalry.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy’s 33rd minute goal on Saturday night gave him three regular season goals in his last three league games, matching his total output in the five MLS seasons from 2008-2012. Grabavoy – whose three goals so far this year equals his career high for goals in a season – scored two goals in RSL’s 4-1 win at Chivas USA on May 19.
Morales and Claret-and-Cobalt captain Kyle Beckerman both played 300 minutes last week – 90 each in RSL’s MLS games against Chicago and San Jose and 120 in the club’s Open Cup win over Atlanta.
Once a week, RSL-Arizona Academy PR ace Garrett Cleverly will provide us with an update from the Casa Grande Academy. Garrett's latest 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 youth development program.
The Academy teams played their last games of the regular season this weekend, with the U-18’s turning in a dominant 8-2 win over Arsenal FC and the U-16’s tying the same side 1-1 at Grande Sports Academy on Saturday. Both the U-18’s and the U-16’s finished the regular season second in the Southwest Division.
Both the U-18’s and the U-16’s qualified for the USSDA Playoffs and Showcase, which will be held from June 24-28 at FC Dallas Park in Frisco, Texas. The draw for the Academy Playoffs is scheduled for Monday, June 17. The top sides from the Academy Playoffs will advance to U.S. Soccer’s Finals Week in Houston from July 14-20.
Three academy players were called up to the U.S. U-17 MNT for the 2013 Caspian Cup in Azerbaijan. Academy players Brooks Lennon and Bofo Saucedo starred in the U.S.’s 11-0 win over Kyrgyzstan last week, both notching hat tricks in the Stars-and-Stripes’ dominant victory.
GSA Exports is our newest feature. It's where we track the progress of our former players who are playing at the next level. Academy alums featured in MLS, the MLS Reserve League and in PDL over the last week. Read about them all here.
24 academy seniors graduated from high school last week. Click here for pictures and a write-up of the ceremonies. Also check out our "End of the Year" video, featuring shots of all the players, hilarious stories, interviews with coaches and a few goals we were able to capture.
Watch CB Jonathan Stadler defeat U-18 coach Freddy Juarez in soccer tennis.
Interested in becoming a RSL-AZ player? The last tryout for the upcoming season is June 7-9. Details here.
Looking for a soccer camp this summer? RSL-AZ will have camps running through July. Details here.
Real Salt Lake has a solid history against San Jose, posting a 6-6-5 record against the 'Quakes in regular season play and a 7-6-6 mark against the Bay Area side across all competitions.
We've put together four of the Claret-and-Cobalt's "Signature Moments" against San Jose. Enjoy below.
March 3, 2013 - Alvaro Saborio nets a brace in RSL's 2-0 season opening win at San Jose.
July 23, 2011 - Sabo earns - and converts - a PK and San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch... Well, let's just say Jon Busch didn't like the call. RSL went onto win the game 4-0, taking advantage of a two-man advantage to pummel the 'Quakes.
July 3, 2009 - San Jose defender Chris Leitch knocks in an own goal in second half stoppage time to give RSL the 1-1 draw, extending the Claret-and-Cobalt's home unbeaten streak.
Javier Morales Goals - Footage of Javi's five career goals - including a couple of absolute gems - against the 'Quakes.
Real Salt Lake is set to continue its home stand on Saturday night, when it will host the San Jose Earthquakes at 7:30 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines ahead of Saturday’s game:
Javier Morales: The boss of San Jose
RSL midfielder Javier Morales has had a ton of success against San Jose, registering five goals and five assists in 11 career regular season games against the ‘Quakes.
Morales’ domination against San Jose isn’t in question. Whether or not he’ll get a chance to continue it on Saturday is. The 33-year-old Argentine playmaker went the full 90 last Saturday and played all 120 minutes in RSL’s 3-2 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup win over Atlanta on Tuesday and could be in line for a rest tomorrow.
Ned Grabavoy v. Frank Yallop
Saturday’s match will pit RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy against his former coach and current San Jose manager Frank Yallop. Grabavoy played for Yallop in 2008 in San Jose before getting waived by the ‘Quakes on the eve of the 2009 season. RSL picked up Grabavoy the same day that San Jose dropped him, with the midfielder helping the Claret-and-Cobalt to its MLS Cup that same season.
Khari Stephenson faces off against former team
Real Salt Lake midfielder Khari Stephenson – who scored an insane goal in extra time on Tuesday night to give RSL the win – will be facing off against his former team on Saturday night. The Jamaican midfielder played for San Jose for two-and-a-half years before joining RSL this offseason, scoring eight goals and notching eight assists in 69 regular season appearances for the ‘Quakes.
RSL looking to make it two in a row over San Jose
Prior to last season – when RSL lost all three of its games against San Jose – the Claret-and-Cobalt hadn’t lost to San Jose in six-straight meetings and nine out of its last 10 games against San Jose.
RSL is looking to run its unbeaten streak over San Jose to two on Saturday; the Claret-and-Cobalt got a brace from forward Alvaro Saborio to beat San Jose 2-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium in the season opener on March 3.
San Jose Earthquakes are back in town for the first time since they knocked Real Salt Lake out of the Western Conference lead in June 2012, but this time, the visitors are struggling to find even the faintest of footing.
Shots fired: Real Salt Lake are leading the league in shots taken and shots on goal, and while that's nice, it's interesting that San Jose is not far behind in either metric. They've taken 10 fewer shots, so one has to wonder why they haven't been scoring. Indeed, it would be worrying if Jason Kreis wasn't paying attention to that fact — though one should be sure he is. There's a palpable feeling that San Jose are dangerous — one needs only look at shot charts to see why. This necessitates the defense protects Nick Rimando as capably as possible.
Speaking of defense, deciding between Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Carlos Salcedo for the partnership with Nat Borchers can't be easy. After 120 minutes on Tuesday and 90 minutes on Saturday, Carlos Salcedo might miss out. That's simply a lot of time out there, and he's worked hard the entire time. But he has acquitted himself well in the early days of the season, and Jason Kreis has shown a penchant for retaining players in form. With Chris Schuler likely to miss out, the decision comes down to today and how well the two recovered from a grueling Open Cup match.
Recovery will be a big consideration for Kreis everywhere on the pitch. Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Carlos Salcedo all played full minutes in both recent matches, and some rotation might necessarily take place. Sebastian Velasquez, Luis Gil, and perhaps some faces less often seen could be in line for minutes. But once again, inconsistency in play is a natural extension of inconsistent lineups.
Lineup concerns are one thing, but considering RSL's relative success despite those inconsistencies, there's not much reason for grave concern. The rotation might even be a good thing for those players who haven't seen as much time — but who exactly that might be is up for debate.
Less-used players might end up with time. Enzo Martinez and David Viana haven't played any matches yet in 2013 (and Enzo not at all), Khari Stephenson has only started a third of the matches he's played in, and Kwame Watson-Siriboe has played in only a handful of matches. Should some of the players with less experience play against San Jose, they'll have to be extra aware — especially considering that San Jose's not afraid to shoot.