Two similar sides faced off at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday when Real Salt Lake defeated Chivas USA 1-0, with a crowded midfield dominating the match's narrative.
Yordany Alvarez, in for Kyle Beckerman and his dislocated rib, had a fine night as a defensive midfielder, breaking up play — evidenced by his five interceptions — but also making a delible impact on the match with efficient passing. His only unsuccessful passes (he went 42/51 on the night) were either long or at the edge of the Chivas box.
Where Alvarez controlled the defensive portion of the midfield, Javier Morales controlled the attacking end. His goal made the biggest impact on the match, but with four key passes, he had some real success as a distributor. Of course, it's hard to look past that goal — a fine effort he started off with a 60-yard run into the area.
Considering the midfield glut present throughout the match, the successes of these two is of real note.
It goes rather without saying that there were some areas in which Real Salt Lake looked less than optimal. Chief among those was failing to deal with the high amounts of pressure being put on the midfield.
The players who started on the side of the diamond fared with the pressure differently: Luis Gil wasn't heavily involved (13/15 in passing), while Ned Grabavoy completed only just over half of his passes (19/37) through the match. It would seem to be down to the opposition and the high pressure, but it's also worth noting that Chivas USA had a hard go of things in their midfield as well, completing only two-thirds of their passes in the middle third. Of course, 75 percent of Chivas's passes came in the middle third.
It was a match described most readily by a crowded midfield — when two remarkably similar dominant-midfield sides are up against each other, perhaps that's inevitable.
After all the talk of Chivas USA deploying in a 3-5-2 or something approaching it, we were left with something that looked more akin to a more defensive diamond 4-4-2 — imagine Real Salt Lake's approach with Kyle Beckerman more readily dropping into a center back role rather than pushing forward. It's a matter of semantics, and not an entirely important one, but it's worth discussing.
RSL kicked off its three-game home stand in style on Saturday night, beating Western Conference foe Chivas USA 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Saturday’s match:
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s penalty kick save on Chivas USA midfielder Edgar Mejia in the 36th minute of Saturday’s game moved the veteran ‘keeper to 18-for-59 (30.5 percent) on regular season penalty kicks in his career – the best mark in league history.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio assisted on midfielder Javier Morales’ goal on Saturday night, the first time that the Costa Rican international registered a helper on a Morales goal in regular season play.
Saturday’s win continued RSL’s recent dominance over Chivas USA, moving the Claret-and-Cobalt to 7-2-1 in regular season play against the Rojiblancos since the start of the 2009 season.
RSL forward Olmes Garcia made his first career MLS start on Saturday night, registering an assist and hitting the crossbar twice in 63 minutes of action. The 20-year-old Garcia signed a five-year contract with RSL in February.
RSL has zero losses in three home games this year, with Saturday’s result moving the Utah side to 2-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2013. The Claret-and-Cobalt will play six of its next nine league matches in Sandy, starting with this Saturday’s contest against Western Conference rival L.A. Galaxy.
When Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Velasquez subbed on for Luis Gil in the 74th minute of Saturday's 1-0 win over Chivas USA, the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd (specifically, Section 35) started a fantastic "Rufio" chant.
Study the image and make the call in the comments section. Bangarang.
Essentially all sides in MLS (18, if we're to be precise) generally play with a four-man defense, and it's very much the accepted tactical outlay across world football. As such, modern attacking formations are based heavily on attempting to exploit the vulnerabilities and spaces between the two central defenders and the full backs. Chivas USA, as has been oft-discussed this season, has been playing with a three-man back line under Chelis, which presents some interesting options for Real Salt Lake.
The midfield attack
It becomes a rather simple equation — though not an entirely accurate one — when we talk about the three central defenders facing two strikers: 3v2 would seem to give an advantage to the defense, but not because of pure numbers. It simply allows for more defensive flexibility in covering an attacking midfielder — a Javier Morales, say — when he's playing centrally. In this case, you'd have both strikers covered and a third attacking player, and your wide midfielders are covering the flanks.
This is where it gets a bit tricky: If Javier Morales makes his diagonal runs toward touch on either flank, he opens up different sorts of space that the 3-5-2 might not accommodate readily. If the third central defender pulls off with him toward the channels on either side, a run is opened up for a deeper-lying midfielder. If the defender stays, he's forced to decide between covering for a wider central defender, who might peel off to cover Morales, or to simply cover dangerous spaces at the back. Whatever the defense does to attempt to cover the danger Morales provides, options should open up for midfielders.
The strikers might be more efficiently covered, doubling the importance of midfield attack. Any disruption that can be offered — while avoiding too much opportunity for Chivas USA to counter — will play into RSL's hands. A quick turn could see the defense presented with three, four or even five attacking options. Imagine, for example: Saborio, Findley, Gil, Morales and Grabavoy all moving toward goal, and rather narrowly at that. Quick runs past the defenders could see Findley perfectly poised to cause significant trouble.
The wide areas
Chivas USA are likely to control the wide areas with either wing-backs or wide midfielders patrolling the flanks. If Real Salt Lake surrenders them, as so often we do out of tactical necessity, our fullbacks will need to be actively communicating with the midfielders to handle any danger on the flanks. Obviously enough, this will require a bit more communication across the board, as it would be rather disastrous to allow free runs in the middle from a creative side.
RSL walked all over Chivas USA the last time the sides met, getting a hat trick from forward Alvaro Saborio - who played only 74 minutes - to beat the Goats 4-0 at the Home Depot Center on Sept. 29, 2012.
Check out highlights of that match above. RSL hosts Chivas USA at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake youngsters Carlos Salcedo and Lalo Fernandez both spent time in the Chivas Guadalajara academy earlier in their careers, with Salcedo playing there in 2009 and Fernandez at the academy from 2008-2010.
The pair of Guadalajara natives talked about their time in the Chivas academy ahead of Saturday's home match against Guadalajara's sister club Chivas USA. Check out the above video to see the roommates and RSL-Arizona Academy grads dish on life with Guadalajara and their tight connection with Chivas USA midfielder Giovani Casillas.
Real Salt Lake got back to work on Wednesday after taking Monday and Tuesday off, training for nearly two hours in cold, windy Sandy. The Claret-and-Cobalt has two more days to prepare for Saturday's 7:00 p.m. kickoff against Western Conference foe Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Check out the above video for some footage from Wednesday's practice.
As told to Sam Stejskal:
I’m really enjoying Utah so far. Salt Lake’s a really good city, I can see the sun everyday – or most days – and that’s a lot different than Portland, so I’m definitely enjoying it.
To be honest, I’ve never been in an atmosphere like the one here. If you’re willing to work, the coaches are willing to work with you – they never take a day off. The players are great guys, too. Everyone gives advice, tries to make you a better player and that transfers over to the team performance.
As the people say here, it really is a RSL family. I don’t feel as if it’s a team, it’s a family. Everyone is really friendly, guys hang out outside the locker room and it’s just great. It’s no doubt part of the reason why the team has been so successful over the years because it’s a family, it’s truly close knit.
[RSL Head Scout] Andy Williams and I played together a little bit with the Jamaican national team in 2005 when he was the captain in the Gold Cup. He’s someone I look up to, someone I really respect for what he’s done on and off the pitch.
[RSL midfielder] Khari Stephenson’s a good friend of mine, as well. I’ve known him for years; I hang out with him a lot in the offseason in Jamaica, train with him there and stuff like that.
It’s really nice to have Andy and Khari here with me, but the way the rest of the guys are they make you feel at home, too. Everyone wants to learn about your culture and you try to learn a bit about theirs also. One of the guys I’ve gotten along with really well is Kyle [Beckerman], who’s definitely a bit multicultural and somewhat of an honorary Jamaican.
A lot of people don’t know that I played against Real Salt Lake in 2005 with Harbour View. The game was up at Rice-Eccles, I was the captain for my team and scored the goal in the 1-1 draw.
It’s funny, a couple of my friends back home were talking to me after RSL picked me up and they were telling me that I was destined to come here. I actually have a shirt from that 2005 game, I tweeted a picture of it out, it’s the first RSL jersey, I don’t know whose it was, but it’s great knowing that there’s a little bit of history between myself and RSL.
I was definitely thinking about MLS back in 2005, but I didn’t even think about playing for Real. I was just playing semi-pro in Jamaica, I didn’t think I would be here. But when I got the call this winter that I was picked up by RSL – a team that I always looked up to – I was like, ‘Wow, how great.’
- I’ve haven’t gotten up into the mountains much, but I just went to my first Jazz game with Khari last week. It was a lot of fun, but I’m still waiting for Kyle to take me fishing. That’s something I picked up when I was in Portland and I knew that he likes the outdoors and loves fishing, so I’m still waiting for him to take me.
We're now seven games into Real Salt Lake's 2013 campaign and there hasn't been a shortage of things to talk about. Road trips, questionable PK's, Saborio's form, Morales and Wingert and Borchers coming back from injury, the new-look midfield, poor playing surfaces, and oh-my-goodness-Olmes-that-was-amazing have all been worthy topics of discussion. But one topic is perhaps getting lost in the shuffle, and I want to bring it to the forefront: Nick Rimando - who won two Governor's State of Sport Awards on Tuesday - is having an absolutely fantastic start to the year.
In six matches played (Josh Saunders played on March 23 at FC Dallas while Rimando was on international duty), Rimando has only allowed five goals, giving him a goals-against average (GAA) of 0.83. This is a good number by anyone's standard, but honestly I've never liked GAA as a measurement of the quality of a goalkeeper because the defense has a lot to do with GAA. For example, Carlo Cudicini of the Galaxy has a slightly better GAA than Rimando because he has an outstanding defense in front of him - Cudicini has faced less than half as many shots as Rimando has.
A better way to examine the quality of your goalkeeper is to look at save percentage - the number of saves made divided by the number of shots on goal. By the time a shot is on its way to goal the defense is out of the equation and it's goalkeeper vs. ball. Here's where Rimando really shines: His save percentage of 82 percent puts him at No. 1 in MLS among all goalkeepers who have played at least three games. What this tells us is Rimando is having a remarkable year when it comes to stopping shots – 82 percent is by far his best save percentage ever and a whopping 14 percent better than his career average.
So what does this mean on the field? Well, it means that when one of RSL's opponents gets a shot on frame, Nicky is more likely to save it than any other goalkeeper. The issue for RSL at the moment is slowing down the total number of shots on goal; only Chivas USA have surrendered more shots on goal than Salt Lake. I think the reasons for this boil down to two things: First, injuries on the back line and a high amount of lineup turnover related to that, and second, the unbalanced schedule that has seen RSL play five of seven on the road. On the road, opponents are more likely to pin their ears back and attack with abandon, knowing that three points at home is almost a must if you plan to keep up in this league.
I expect the number of shots on goal RSL is facing to decrease as defenders get healthy and the home/away schedule starts to get balanced out over the next two months. This, combined with Nick Rimando's torrid shot-stopping form this season, means we have good reason to believe RSL will be putting up a lot of clean sheets in the near future.
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.
RSL stands with Boston.
Defender Aaron Maund, Boston-area native:
Heartbroken by what's going on in Boston right now. Thoughts and prayers go out to all affected by this.
— Aaron Maund (@Imamaundsta) April 15, 2013
Defender Abdoulie Mansally, New England Revolution player from 2007-2012:
My heart and prayers go out to all the victims of Boston City marathon. What a sad day #Prayforboston
— Abdoulie Mansally (@KennyMansally) April 16, 2013
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, college teammate of New England goalie Matt Reis, whose father-in-law was injured in Monday's bombings:
— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) April 15, 2013
Head Scout Andy Williams, New England Revolution player in 2001 and 2002:
Themarathon bombing was a cowardly act that again shows evil exist in the hearts of the confused & unloved I pray for them #Pray4Boston
— Andy Williams (@bommadog) April 15, 2013
My prayers to everyone everywhere. Imagine going through days like today in the US everyday in other countries. Sad and no one deserves it.
— Kwame Watson-Siriboe (@Kwamekazi) April 15, 2013
Defender Rich Balchan:
The toughest thing for me is to see the big picture through all of this..natural and perpetrated tragedies can happen any second of any day
— Rich Balchan (@RichBalchan) April 16, 2013
Whether today, tomorrow, or several years from now is your last day, life should be lived the same in all...God's purpose-why we even exist
— Rich Balchan (@RichBalchan) April 16, 2013
Forward Robbie Findley:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4#prayforboston
— Robbie Findley (@RobbieFindley) April 16, 2013
Defender Chris Wingert:
2 explosions in Boston at the Marathon??! Hoping and praying everyone is alright
— Chris Wingert (@wingert17) April 15, 2013
My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected in Boston today...
— Devon Sandoval (@Big_Dev49) April 15, 2013
Defender Lovel Palmer:
— Lovel Palmer (@lovelpalmer7) April 15, 2013
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) April 16, 2013
Goalkeeper Lalo Fernandez:
So sorry about what happened in Boston! My prayers go to all affected #Prayforboston
— Lalo Fernandez (@Lalofernandez_1) April 15, 2013
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella:
Horrible news out of Boston. Thoughts and prayers with everyone involved. These types of stories are happening way too much
— Jeff Attinella (@Jeff_Attinella1) April 15, 2013
Thoughts and prayers with victims and families affected by this horrible act. #staystrong
— jeff cassar (@jeffcassar) April 16, 2013
Forward Olmes Garcia:
Que triste que pasen cosas así como lo sucedió en Boston, Fortaleza para la todas las personas implicada en el echo.
— Olmes Garcia (@Olmesgarcia13) April 16, 2013