After a successful 13-year career in MLS and across Europe, former Real Salt Lake defender Robbie Russell announced his retirement today. Best remembered by RSL fans for hitting the clinching penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup, the 33-year-old Russell will now head to Georgetown University's Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program.
Russell came to RSL in July 2008, signing with the Claret-and-Cobalt after spending the first eight years of his career in Scandinavia. The Duke University product spent three-and-a-half seasons in Utah, making 78 appearances for RSL before he was traded to D.C. United ahead of the 2012 season.
Russell and several Real Salt Lake personalities shared their thoughts on Russell's career in a nice article on DCUnited.com, with Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis, Captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando singing the praises of the former RSL man. Defenders Nat Borchers - who recently told American Soccer Now that Russell is his closest friend in soccer - and Chris Wingert also had a nice quotes about Russell, though theirs didn't make it into the article.
Here's what they all had to say:
Russell: "Salt Lake was a great time for me. It is a club that is very close to my heart. Any club that you have a lot of success with, you feel an extra bond to. But it was also a really special group of guys."
Kreis: "He will be forever remembered for his 2009 MLS Cup-winning penalty kick, but his true contributions were much more thorough, impressive, and long-lasting that that one kick. His legacy at RSL... will never be forgotten."
Beckerman: "Not only was Robbie a great player, but he [is] an even better person. He'll always have a place in the hearts of the RSL family for the hard work he put in and of course for his penalty he took to win the MLS Cup 2009."
Rimando: "[Robbie is] one of the smartest, most unselfish, and worst-dressed players I ever played with. And although his last PK in 2009 was memorable, it was his Brandi Chastain celebrations that I'll miss. Good luck in your next adventure bud."
Borchers: "Robbie was a major part of our success from '09-'11. He brought a lot of high-level experience to this team and he knew how to win. He fit in everywhere... I think the only position he never played was striker! I'll never forget the PK he took in '09 to win us the MLS Cup. He was so calm when everything was on the line for us. He was a winner in soccer and I have no doubt he will be a winner in the next phase in life."
Wingert: "Robbie Russell is definitely one of the best teammates you could ask for as an athlete. Great player, great locker room guy, and somebody that will have just as much success outside of soccer as he has had in it. Congrats on a great career Robbie!"
Congrats Robbie, and best of luck at Georgetown.
Rather than harping on about the things that went wrong in RSL's 3-2 loss at Montreal on Saturday — and there certainly were a few — it might be more interesting and productive to talk about some of the things that went right and how they contrast with some problems.
Early attack: RSL controls the match
The mentality was right from the outset of the match, and an early goal — albeit an own-goal scored by an Impact player — speaks to that. But more tellingly, In the first 30 minutes of the match, RSL's central defenders rarely touched the ball, with Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe attempting only six passes in the defensive half (only one one went astray.) Lovel Palmer and Chris Wingert were both involved, and a cross from Palmer forced the early Matteo Ferrari own-goal.
Indeed, most of Kyle Beckerman's touches came further up the pitch, and Ned Grabavoy played almost as a left-sided attacking midfielder, Sebastian Velasquez a central one, and Javier Morales as the roving attacking midfielder. It brought Morales some success, completing three passes leading directly to shots, and it led to some dangerous opportunities for Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval.
The match wears on: Shifts define things
Velasquez took a more right-sided approach, but struggled to get as involved as he was in the first 20 minutes of the match. Beckerman continued stepping further forward, but he was hardly seen in the final 20 minutes of the match. Morales remained vitally involved throughout and covered perhaps more ground than any other RSL player on the pitch — an indication that age and injury hasn't hurt his mobility, even if he's not quite as quick as he was in his late 20's.
Possession from this point forward flowed through Javier Morales, but the players around him did much work to afford him space. Ned Grabavoy controlled the left flank (22/22 in passing) alongside Chris Wingert, while Kyle Beckerman proved an incredible positive influence, allowing RSL to build play from the back.
After the comeback: Morales bright
As the match wore on, RSL's players struggled for involvement. After going 2-1 up in the 77th minute, key members of Real Salt Lake were kept roundly off the ball. Morales remained involved as ever, but excepting him, the nine outfield players combined for 27 passes with about 66 percent accuracy. Morales completed 10 of his 14 passes during that same period. Despite the problems facing the side, it's clear that RSL's playmaker has as much of a knack for controlling play and possession as ever.
Real Salt Lake lost a tough one on Saturday, conceding two late goals to fall 3-2 to the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
There is now only one Real Salt Lake player – defender Chris Schuler – who has played in every MLS match this year. Schuler has played every minute this season for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Midfielder Luis Gil had started all 11 of RSL’s MLS matches prior to Saturday, but was rested and did not make it off the bench in the loss at Montreal.
Real Salt Lake has never won in Canada, moving on Saturday to 0-6-4 in 10 matches across all competitions north of the border. The Claret-and-Cobalt will get two more cracks at its first win in Canada this season, taking on Toronto FC at BMO Field on June 29 before facing off against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sept. 28 at BC Place.
Real Salt Lake has scored two goals in three-straight MLS matches. The Claret-and-Cobalt accomplished that feat twice last year, scoring multiple goals for three-straight MLS games from May 26-June 20 and Sept. 22-Oct. 6.
Montreal defender Matteo Ferrari scored in the 93rd minute of Saturday’s match to give the Impact the 3-2 victory. The stoppage time winner was the latest game-winner allowed by RSL since Sept. 6, 2012, when then-Houston midfielder Colin Clarke buried a 93rd minute penalty kick to give the Dynamo a 1-0 win over RSL at BBVA Compass Stadium.
July 14, 2012
RSL conceded three goals on Saturday for the first time since July 14, 2012, when the 10-man Claret-and-Cobalt lost 5-0 at the San Jose Earthquakes. RSL conceded three or more goals just three times in the 2012 regular season.
April 29, 2012
The seventh-minute own goal scored by Ferrari on Saturday was the first own goal scored for RSL since April 28, 2012, when Toronto defender Richard Eckersley put one in the TFC net in RSL’s 3-2 win over the Reds at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Jason Kreis will have a series of questions on his mind tonight as he prepares his side for a match against Montreal Impact. They all revolve around selection. We'll look at three of these and attempt to answer whether he should look at continuity or change, and what exactly the tactical implications are for each.
Who starts up front: Joao Plata or Olmes Garcia? It's certainly possible that both will start, but Devon Sandoval presents a tactical option neither Garcia nor Plata fulfill. He's scored his first goal, too, and he'll be hopeful to push on. Plata offers more guile on the ball and a better cross, but Garcia is going to push forward more and get into the box. His influence has been undeniable every time he's been on the pitch. While starting Garcia would mean losing a little continuity, the rewards outweigh the risks. At any rate, Plata could make a good impact sub if necessary. Best option: change, Garcia for Plata.
Who starts in midfield: Luis Gil or Sebastian Velasquez? Luis Gil has had some fantastic moments in 2013, and those two goals of his are good indicators of that. But he's also had some struggles, some of which are attributed to a lingering ankle injury. The injury is apparently not so bad as to necessitate his exclusion from the side, so it would seem the prognosis is such that playing through it would be the best option. Sebastian Velasquez has had some great moments on the ball, but he's still yet to find his first goal — although his parried shot on Wednesday saw a goal eventually scored. With Gil still in the side, we retain consistency and allow him more time to get back to his best. We also get a potent option in front of goal. With Velasquez in the side, we get a player who runs non-stop when he's on the pitch, fights for every ball, and has an uncanny knack for keeping possession. Gil is undeniably more direct as a player, and that affects his passing rates. Best option: continuity, Velasquez on the bench for an early second-half sub.
Who starts in back? Carlos Salcedo or Kwame Watson-Siriboe? Carlos Salcedo has had his red card rescinded and is eligible to play, making this an option at all. Kwame Watson-Siriboe has traveled to Montreal for the match after becoming a father recently. The weighing pan would seem to tip slightly toward Salcedo in this regard, as he's been training fully for the last week, but Watson-Siriboe is a more experienced defender with more playing time in the system — although the two joined at around the same time last year. This is probably the hardest question of the three facing Kreis. Salcedo proved himself capable on Wednesday and did nothing to deserve being dropped, but the nature of the game means he could step to the side while the more experienced player starts. But at the same time, Kreis let Palmer continue after Wingert came back from injury — until he had a poor match — and that speaks to a willingness to give new players a chance. Best option: Salcedo continues, Watson-Siriboe on the bench.
Check out this great video of Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez taking us through his match day routine ahead of last Saturday's win against Vancouver. Clearly the routine worked for Seba, who assisted on the second goal in RSL's 2-0 victory over the 'Caps.
Nice beard, by the way.
Real Salt Lake pulled off a dramatic victory at New England on Wednesday night, getting two late goals – and an even later penalty kick save – to down the Revs 2-1 at Gillette Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Early Goalkeeper of the Year favorite – yes, favorite – Nick Rimando did it again on Wednesday night, preserving all three points for RSL by saving Saer Sene’s 92nd minute penalty kick. Rimando is now 19-for-60 against penalty kicks in the regular season, the best such mark in MLS history. Bravo, Nick.
It took 263 regular season games, but Real Salt Lake’s all-time goal differential is now in positive territory for the first time ever following Wednesday’s win. The Claret-and-Cobalt has 335 goals for and 334 goals against in its regular season history, giving it an all-time goal difference of +1.
Real Salt Lake rookie forward Devon Sandoval scored his first career goal on Wednesday night, sliding onto a Sebastian Velasquez rebound just inside the six yard box and slamming the ball into the roof of the net to tie the game 1-1 in the 77th minute. A University of New Mexico product, Sandoval is the first second-round pick from the 2013 MLS SuperDraft to score a goal in league play.
RSL defender Carlos Salcedo made his first career start on Wednesday night, making it into the 91st minute before being sent off with a controversial second yellow card. The 19-year-old Salcedo – who became the first Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy product to play in a MLS match when he came on as a late game sub in Saturday’s home win over Vancouver – is the first-ever RSL-AZ product to start a MLS match.
The combined age of Salcedo and 19-year-old midfielder Luis Gil, both of whom were in RSL’s starting lineup on Wednesday night. Salcedo and Gil became the first teenagers to appear for RSL in the same regular season game on Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake's late 2-1 win over New England on Wednesday and the drama involved boils down to three things: Attention to rebounds, substitutes, and a bit of defensive mayhem near the end that could have cost RSL a win.
If ever there was a match that illustrated the importance of following up on the shots of your teammates, it was this one. It's difficult to recall the number of times a shot was spilled by the goalkeeper, but it's easy to recount the two that saw goals. The first came after a rebound from a Sebastian Velasquez shot from the left side of the box, and it was a fine bit of skill in buildup that led to it. Devon Sandoval proved once again his ability to be in the right spot at the right time, and this time, his saw the back of the net.
The second came after a rebound from a Kyle Beckerman shot from distance, and my word — it was a fantastic shot. But fantastic or not, the rebound fell back to the defenders in the box, and Olmes Garcia wasted no time beating a defender to it and finishing desperately at the near post with a trickling shot. Neither goal was beautiful, but both were the product of hard work and a dedication to seeing out the play.
The first substitution of the match is the one that is always most telling: Sebastian Velasquez, in for Luis Gil, added the ability to maintain possession under the worst circumstances. In the process, he helped to change the dynamic of the match in the second half. He won free kicks in good positions and, importantly, got the shot off that rebounded to Devon Sandoval. Also a vital substitution was, of course, Olmes Garcia, who scored a fine goal and forced defenders to think about the match in a different way.
Those are inevitably the best substitutions a side can make: those that force a change in approach. Olmes Garcia always does just that, even when he doesn't score. Sebastian Velasquez, too, changed the approach of defenders, who now had to worry more keenly about the midfield keeping possession after being tackled.
It's hard tactically to account for poor decision making on the part of referees, but it's rather easy to account for clearances in dangerous areas. In the build-up to the late, late penalty decision, RSL failed to deal with a number of balls from New England, and as a result, a dangerous opportunity presented itself. Carlos Salcedo and Tony Beltran ended up getting mixed in with a group of Revs and the developing play invoked a decision from the referee, albeit an incorrect one. Had the ball been cleared earlier, there wouldn't have been an issue with which to deal.
Clearances weren't problematic after the penalty, though, and the awareness of Kyle Beckerman deserves all available plaudits alongside those of Nick Rimando. The save was good, and Rimando's uncanny knack for those even better, but Beckerman stepped in at the right moment and made no mistake with his clearance, preventing a clear opportunity for onrushing attackers.
Relive the big three moments from RSL's 2-1 win over New England on Wednesday in this quick-hitting video from RSL videographer Nick Lamping. Goals from Devon Sandoval in the 77th minute and Olmes Garcia in the 89th and a penalty kick stop from Nick Rimando in the 92nd.
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.