LA Galaxy have started their season off with some style, but there's plenty of opportunity for RSL to find success against them on Saturday night like they have so often before.
Stopping the midfield
First, the midfield's got to be stopped — Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas are an efficient pairing in the middle of the park for LA. Snuffing out their threat means we've got to keep our outside midfielders narrow, ready to pick off passes and prevent chances from being created. Additionally, they'll need to be aware of the defensive strength of Sarvas in particular. It's illustrative that he was successful in 10 of 13 tackles against Sporting KC last week. Stopping the midfield means both preventing attacking threats and avoiding defensive threats.
Second, the defense has to be constantly vigilant with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, should they play — and it's hard to imagine they wouldn't for a match like this. Donovan has wasted no time since returning to action, grabbing a goal and an assist last week. Still, the options LA Galaxy have up top aren't endless, and without both Keane and Donovan, it could be tempting for the defense to relax. This would be a mistake, especially with the set piece and long shot prowess of Juninho and the persistence of one Mike Magee.
Being afforded possession
Third, the whole of the side has to be prepared for a team that's willing to sit back a bit and let play develop. LA defeated last season's defensive standouts Sporting KC last week, winning 2-0 — this, despite completing considerably fewer passes and losing the possession battle. It's surprising for a team that has generally controlled possession in 2013, but it shows a willingness to adapt to the opposition that makes them a dangerous side to face. It's easy to imagine the Galaxy sitting back a little bit, picking their chances, and snuffing out ours — it wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be their last time. Playing around them will require some real control and skill on the ball — and it'll take our best passing and possession-oriented skills to ensure we don't allow silly chances.
Some solid footage from RSL training, courtesy team videographer Nick Lamping. Check it out.
Really fun video of RSL's Lalo Fernandez and Carlos Salcedo going through their match day routine.
Spoiler alert: Lalo loves to dance.
A fantastic crowd of 8,236 braved the cold, wind and red cards to come out to Rio Tinto Stadium to see the Real Salt Lake Reserves tie USL Pro club Phoenix FC 0-0 on Monday night.
Monday's big crowd – which had nearly 2,000 more people in attendance than RSL's April 1 exhibition game against BYU – wasn’t lost on RSL players, who complimented the Claret-and-Cobalt faithful in the media and on Twitter after the match.
Here’s some of what they had to say:
Defender Chris Wingert:
"It's unbelievable," Wingert told reporters after the game. "We can't thank everybody enough for coming out. I wish we could've scored a couple of goals for them just to make it a litte more exciting for everyone, but, with that being said, a huge thanks goes out to everyone. I never would have imagined we would've been able to have that many people here for [this game and the BYU game], so its pretty special."
Huge Crowd again tonight at the Reserve Game- thanks to everyone who came out and froze their butt off. We appreciate you!
— Chris Wingert (@wingert17) April 23, 2013
Midfielder Sebastian Velasquez:
Unbelievable Support From Our FansAt Our Reserve Match! The Best Fans By Far In The MLS! Honestly Thank You ⚽⚽⚽#RSLFamily
— SeBasTian VeLasQueZ (@TiaN_Futbol) April 23, 2013
Forward Devon Sandoval:
Amazing support from the fans tonight, wish we could have got a win for you
— Devon Sandoval (@Big_Dev49) April 23, 2013
Midfielder John Stertzer:
Big thanks to all the fans that came out to last nights game. Best fans in the league! #RSLFamily
— John Stertzer(@StertzerJohn) April 23, 2013
Defender Carlos Salcedo:
— Carlos Salcedo (@csalcedojr) April 23, 2013
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella:
8000+ for a reserve game!Thanks to everyone that came out and supported. Time to get ready for a big game this weekend #RSLFamily
— Jeff Attinella (@Jeff_Attinella1) April 23, 2013
Midfielder David Viana:
I Enjoy playing in the Rio tinto stadium and i appreciatethe support of all the fans!
— david viana (@daviiid67) April 23, 2013
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.