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
Real Salt Lake played Vancouver Whitecaps FC to a hard-fought 1-1 draw at BC Place on Saturday.
Here are a few interesting numbers from this weekend’s match:
Real Salt Lake just completed a stretch that saw the team play five of its first seven games on the road. Four of those seven games came against teams that qualified for the 2012 MLC Cup Playoffs, with one against the defending Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose, one against Eastern Conference Finalist D.C. United, one against Western Conference Finalist Seattle and one against Western Conference Wild Card Vancouver.
The Claret-and-Cobalt will play seven of its next 10 MLS matches at home. RSL is unbeaten in the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium so far this year, tying Colorado 1-1 on March 16 and beating Seattle 2-1 on March 30.
Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia scored in the 66th minute on Saturday, curling a 20-yard effort from the left side into the top right corner. The world class finish was Garcia’s first goal in three appearances for RSL since signing a five-year deal with the team in preseason.
Garcia’s goal broke RSL’s 275-minute road scoreless streak. The Claret-and-Cobalt hadn’t scored on the road since Alvaro Saborio found the back of the net in the 85th minute of RSL’s 2-0 season opening win at San Jose on March 3.
If RSL maintains its current averages of 2 points per game at home and 0.8 points per game on the road for the rest of the season, it will finish the season with 47.6 points. While 47.6 points isn’t technically possible – last time we checked, there aren’t any partial points handed out – the rounded-up total of 48 would have comfortably qualified for last year’s Western Conference Playoffs. Should note that we're not trying to get carried away - there's a long, long, long way to go - just having a little fun with numbers.
I could literally watch this all day. Here's to you, Golmes.
Real Salt Lake relied heavily on Nick Rimando to take a result on the road despite taking heavy fire from Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, but the influence of Olmes Garcia is hard to forget.
On the road (again)
We could harp on about refereeing inconsistency and bad penalty calls, and maybe there's a place for that, but it stands to reason that allowing 16 shots on Saturday — 7 on-target, 7 off-target, 2 blocked — meant Real Salt Lake was dangerously closing to suffering from a less controversial decision. But for incredible goalkeeping from Nick Rimando, RSL would be walking away with zero points. Now, road matches are always going to be difficult in MLS, and there's plenty to be happy about from Saturday, but allowing repeated opportunities puts a side in real danger.
It's difficult to pinpoint a specific problem point, though — whether it's a problem that might be solved by the return of Chris Wingert is difficult to say, but playing a young center back in Chris Schuler alongside a young or inexperienced left back doesn't always lead to fantastic team defending. Wingert's arrival back to action — he went 90 minutes for the reserves — could add some essential stability.
Defending the flanks
It's fair to say that Real Salt Lake's weakest defensive position is left back, and as such, it stands to reason that teams will try to seek out any inconsistency in the position. Lovel Palmer was targeted — much as Mansally was last match — and did well, but not without the help of his teammates. Yordany Alvarez covered well when needed, Ned Grabavoy put in an efficient effort on the left, and Chris Schuler stepped over when Palmer went forward to build in attack.
Schuler's ability to step left and defend the flanks is perhaps in part a result of his deployment in 2011 and 2012; it's not his natural position, but when RSL is in possession and our left back pushes forward, having an able body to shore things up can make a world of difference.
Olmes Garcia's goal marked a lot of things: The sighting of potential, the excitement of youth, the unyearning need at Real Salt Lake for players who step up and make a difference. Jason Kreis will be delighted by what he saw: After only an hour of playing time with Real Salt Lake, the exciting kid from Colombia made his first major impact on a match.
But Kreis is continually faced with one bigger thing: Who starts, and who makes the bench? Once Robbie Findley returns to fitness, the fight for minutes starts in earnest: Alongside the speed demon, Plata, Garcia and Sandoval have each shown well; Plata has two assists and has looked dangerous, Garcia scored that brilliant goal and has looked freakishly talented otherwise, and Sandoval seems to be shaping into a real rookie surprise.
The Houston Dynamo beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday evening to extend their home unbeaten run to 35 games across all competitions. The win moved the Dynamo past RSL and into sole possession of the MLS record for home unbeaten streaks.
RSL's 34-game home unbeaten run across all competitions ran from 2009 to 2011. The Claret-and-Cobalt is still tied with Houston for the home unbeaten record across MLS play at 29 games.
Real Salt Lake is 1-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year. Head Coach Jason Kreis and the boys will look to extend that home unbeaten streak to three games on Saturday, when they'll take on Western Conference upstart Chivas USA in Sandy.
The Real Salt Lake Reserves dropped their first match of 2013 on Sunday, losing 2-0 at Vancouver to fall to 2-1-1 on the Reserve League season.
The Claret-and-cobalt Reserves return to action on Monday, April 22, when they'll take on USL Pro side Phoenix FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Get your tickets to the April 22 match now.
Check out the highlights to Sunday's game above.
Both Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are battling poor form heading into Saturday's matchup (2 p.m. MT; ABC4), but if Jason Kreis's side doesn't adapt and learn from recent failures, they'll be getting in just enough of a mess as to be irritating.
With the news that Sebastian Velasquez is set to miss the match after suffering a broken hand, Real Salt Lake is certain to see yet another altered starting midfield four. It'll be the fourth different midfield lineup — in seven matches. This lack of continuity is inevitably difficult for a side to deal with, but if Javier Morales is ready to start, it'll start to take on a more definitive appearance.
A disjointed midfield makes Kyle Beckerman's job as captain and general midfield organizer that much more difficult, and the list of fully fit players is small: Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Alvarez, Martinez, Stertzer. Three of those players would expect to start most matches; the drop-off toward the end is a bit severe as experience is concerned.
Individual mistakes have proven costly for Real Salt Lake in 2013, which is likely a function of the relatively low cooperative inexperience of the group, which is to say that they haven't been together for long enough. Extra focus to cut out these mistakes will be essential, especially as Martin Rennie might be instructing his players to target those specific weaknesses. Clearing balls on first opportunity, stepping up during the offside trap, and making immediate, simple passes will be necessary if RSL is interested in clearing up the errors that have plagued these early matches.
We saw last week that Colorado took very specific aim at RSL's left side and Abdoulie Mansally; whether he is a defensive liability or not — and that's very much up for discussion — it's hard to deny that other coaches seem to think so. When one player is targeted frequently, they're more likely to make costly mistakes; Mansally and his teammates will need to be wary of the modes of attack employed.
Despite the uncertainty created by an ever-rotating cast of midfielders, Jason Kreis's side have made creating chances look a bit easy. His squad's averaged a surprising 14 shots per match in the early weeks and attempting more forward passes per match (175, if you're wondering) than any side, excepting Portland.
Robbie Findley's still out, so he doesn't get a chance to finish; Joao Plata may be close to a return, and Alvaro Saborio is still recovering from knee swelling. With the two fully healthy forwards remaining — Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia — rather untested and still learning the system, the midfield will need to step up in creation to an extent not seen in some time.