Defensive questions reign ahead of today's match against New England Revolution, and with Nat Borchers having taken ill, those questions are sure to be more poignant and pressing.
We're likely to see Chris Wingert out there again, and there's something refreshing about that. Wingert is, as we know by now, an important defensive piece. While he may not be the most attacking full back in the league — we probably have that piece available, too, with Abdoulie Mansally — he brings organization and positional awareness to the side. With a more attacking midfield group this season, Wingert's calming presence is helpful. We saw the very palpable benefits of his presence on Saturday, and if he plays again, we'll be in a strong position.
With news that Nat Borchers could be out for the match with illness, Wingert's presence could be essential. He'd be a stabilizing presence at the back — and with a young center back likely to start, that could be the difference between conceding a handful and keeping a clean sheet.
The question then turns to who starts at the back alongside Chris Schuler: The most immediate option is Kwame Watson-Siriboe, but given that he's a new father as of Friday, there's a thought that he may be unavailable. Watson-Siriboe presents himself as a player similar to Borchers, though he's not to that level. He's as capable athletically as anyone, and he can step into the right positions to win the ball. Perhaps more importantly, he's very good in the air, and against a New England side that's still unsure what their attacking style looks like, that could be essential.
Carlos Salcedo, who was handed his debut on Saturday, has a chance as well. The young academy graduate a bit more of an unknown quantity, but he's been impressive for RSL's reserves and is an immaculate worker. He cuts an aggressive figure, and though he's inexperienced, he wouldn't necessarily be out of his depth in the lineup. Again, though, he presents plenty of unknowns and has a lot to prove. Interestingly, Salcedo is more likely to cary the ball out of defense when the options are open, and he's very good in the pass. This gives us a look we haven't really seen — both Schuler and Borchers are capable, but more frequently they pass the ball off to a full back or to Kyle Beckerman.
Chris Wingert could also move centrally, which he did at times last year with some success. He played centrally frequently early in his career, but he's been a full back with us for long enough that it's easy to forget that. He's not a perfect option, but you know what you get with Wingert in the middle. More pressingly, missing him at left back could be troubling.
Part I of MLSsoccer.com's "Inside the Mind of Chelis" series dropped earlier today. Despite his earlier comments to the contrary, the bombastic Chivas USA head coach said some very nice things about Real Salt Lake, Rio Tinto Stadium and the Claret-and-Cobalt faithful in the video.
Give the entire piece a watch; It's a truly fascinating look into one of the most unique coaches in all of MLS.
Two goals built on counterattacking play against Vancouver Whitecaps display an understanding between the pieces of the side — a blurring of the lines, if you will.
The power of counterattacking
When RSL and Fabian Espindola split, so too did the majority of our counterattacking style: He was always ready to burst when an opportunity was presented. Robbie Findley and Joao Plata are both assumed to bring that back a bit, and we have every reason to think that they could. Saturday is a good example.
But while Plata was vitally involved in both goals as the man who made the final pass, the contributions of the attacking midfielders can't be forgotten. For the first, Luis Gil has embarked on a nearly 100-yard run before scoring the goal. This long of a run speaks incredibly well of Gil's physical attributes, but it also speaks to his ability to spot a chance developing well before it starts to develop. On the second, Javier Morales makes his run from the middle of the park.
Long runs from midfielders serve to disrupt the defense, as even in a zonal marking system, their markers are more likely to simply lose track of the player and desperately try to recover, or open gaps in the midfield, leaving their marker for another and setting out a cascading reaction.
The power of foresight
It wasn't even necessarily the skill sets of Gil and Morales that made their goals possible, but rather their ability to spot potential holes and gaps in the defense. It's not a clear-cut process, of course, and there's always a pretty good chance nothing will come of it. There's a simple beauty in this: It's the dedication to getting into these dangerous positions, even if it comes to naught, that sets the clever players apart from those who simply find themselves in good positions and score as a result.
Before the match, I touched on the disruptive factor Devon Sandoval provides, but it's arguably more important that the midfielders are disrupting things by simply not being where defenders expect them. It's not necessarily always a long, darting run that does it — sometimes it's just the quick sidestep, the exchanging and rotation of positions, or not making a run where one is expected.
The power of service
The difficulty here is in teammates knowing what a player intends: Those clever runs are nothing without service that's built on an understanding. Joao Plata has excelled with this, and one has to think that a consistent tactical approach helps in this regard. Rather than shifting players around every match and attempting to control each game as an individual entity, the Kreis diamond treats each match as a part of a larger whole. The specifics may change every 90 minutes or even more frequently, but the development of that understanding is a process that takes time, and it's got to come in competitive matches.
And as Saturday proved, it's not just the attacking players that need this: Nick Rimando's assist was ridden with foresight, and his long thrown pass — as immaculate as it was — would've been nothing if he hadn't been aware of the chance building.
11-year-old Lexi Walker absolutely nailed the National Anthem ahead of RSL's 2-0 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday, hitting all the right notes before getting a huge ovation from the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd.
Players from both sides were clearly feeling the performance, with RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando going as far as to tweet about it after the match.
And how about that little girl singing tonight's national anthem?!?!? Wow! Please come sing again.
— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) May 5, 2013
A fifth-grader, Lexi beat out 38 other acts in Canyons School District Idol to win the chance to sing the anthem on Saturday. Check out video of her performance above.
Nice video recap of Saturday's Star Wars Day at Rio Tinto Stadium from RSL videographer Nick Lamping. Give it a watch.
And - for the final time - May the 4th be with You.
Real Salt Lake got back on the right track on Saturday night, when it closed out its three-game home stand with a solid 2-0 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
19-year-old Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo became the first RSL-Arizona Academy graduate to play in a MLS match when he came on for forward Joao Plata in the 89th minute of Saturday’s win. Saturday was Salcedo’s first appearance in the 18 since March 16, when he suffered a concussion in the RSL Reserves 2-1 win over Colorado immediately following the first-team game.
RSL forward Joao Plata is tied with Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi for the league lead with four assists. The Ecuadorian attacker had two assists in Saturday’s game, crossing to midfielder Luis Gil for the opener before squaring a ball to playmaker Javier Morales for the second goal. The two assist performance was the first time in 2013 that a RSL player has had multiple assists in a game.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando now has seven career assists after he was credited with one on the Claret-and-Cobalt’s opening goal on Saturday. Saturday’s assist was Rimando’s second in a game in which he also kept a clean sheet, with the first such effort coming in RSL’s 1-0 win over Seattle on Aug. 8, 2009.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert started and played all 90 minutes on Saturday. It was Wingert’s first MLS appearance of the season; the veteran left back missed RSL’s first seven games while recovering from a right foot fracture suffered in December and did not play in either of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s previous two matches.
Saturday’s starting forward pairing of Plata and rookie forward Devon Sandoval is the eighth different starting striker duo RSL has used in 10 games this season. The Plata-Sandoval pair was the seventh different strike combination used by RSL in its last seven games.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez had a nice sitdown interview with David James on CBS 2's Talkin' Sports on Sunday night. The second-year playmaker goes into detail on his early life during the interview, at one point telling James that RSL "saved his life."
Click here to watch the entire interview. Definitely worth the time.
Skip to the 2:30 mark to see Martinez's goal
On-loan Real Salt Lake midfielder Enzo Martinez scored a beauty of an equalizer in his Carolina RailHawks debut on Saturday night, rifling a 30-yard right-footer into the lower left corner in the closing minutes of the NASL side's 2-2 draw at Minnesota United FC.
Martinez, who was sent on a short-term loan to Carolina on Monday, scored just seven minutes after coming on as a 77th minute substitute in the RailHawks away draw.
"It was a great strike," Carolina Manager Colin Clarke said of Martinez's goal. "The kid's got a lot of talent and ability and we're pleased to have him."
With Vancouver coming to Rio Tinto Stadium tomorrow, Real Salt Lake will be looking to establish a strike partnership to carry forward with Alvaro Saborio out with injury.
Striking up a partnership: Olmes at the core
Leading scorer Alvaro Saborio is out for at least a few weeks, and that's certain to add a bit of stress to the RSL strike force. As a result, it's important that a partnership be struck up between the strikers available — whether this is Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval or Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata is difficult to say. It seems likely, though, that Olmes Garcia is at the center of considerations at this point, such have been his displays in this still-early season.
He presents different advantages with each option: Alongside Sandoval, Garcia could play a little deeper and more central, picking up on balls shook loose by the big man. Sandoval's also a disruptive figure, and we've seen him getting some joy with his ability to hold off an opponent. Alongside Plata, Garcia could be a more central figure around which Plata would pivot. The options are boundless.
There's always a chance Garcia doesn't get the start, but if he's fit, the odds seem pretty good. He's the most flexible option of the three potentially available, and with RSL's attack still developing and building anew, that flexibility may be enough to sway considerations. He's also the only one of the three with a goal, and in every match he's played, he's looked dangerous and likely to score further goals.
We're not unfamiliar with how Vancouver Whitecaps FC is looking this season, largely because we played against them only — what — three weeks ago? It's a funny thing, this somewhat-randomized intra-conference play. As a result, there shouldn't be any real surprises — and hopefully no strangely decided penalty kicks with which to contend. This should be particularly useful when considering Vancouver's attacking options. Truth be told, RSL looked pretty good against Vancouver, but improving on that will be a high priority.
First to the gates
Something like that, right? The onus is on Real Salt Lake to control the proceedings and to score first. It's an obviously desirable thing, but as we've seen, this side has trouble breaking down teams defending deep. Particularly without Alvaro Saborio out there to disrupt defenders through hold-up play, there's an inherent difficulty in breaking down those walls — unparking the bus, as it were. Scoring first and early forces Vancouver to abandon any designs to sit back and defend.
ABC4's Dana Greene filed a hilarious report on Thursday night featuring several RSL personalities ahead of Saturday's Star Wars Day at Rio Tinto Stadium. Give it a watch - and May the 4th be with you.