Real Salt Lake start the 2nd half of season looking forward, not backwards


It has been a very long time since RSL sat with a losing record at the midway point of the season, but at 5-6-6 that is exactly where we are.  Now some will make excuses as to why we are here, off season losses of Borchers, Wingert, Grabavoy, and others, or will point to the formation change and it taking time to figure out the 4-3-3, or injuries and national team call ups.  The harsh reality is we haven’t been good enough, often touted as one of the deepest teams in MLS, our first 11, our 18 man match day rosters, the 23 players with minutes and our coaching staff, simply haven’t been good enough.  That is hard for any of us to hear, it is hard to say (part of why there have been so few posts lately), but it is the truth and unless we are willing to admit there is a problem, we will never solve it.

I am not going to focus on the negative too much, but let me be clear this issue is on both sides of the ball, this issue is at home as well as on the road, and while you can never take anything away from the heart and passion that most of our players play with, the results haven’t followed.  At the midway point of the season we have allowed 20 goals, which if about the middle of the pack this season in MLS, 8 teams have allowed more and 10 teams have allowed fewer.  As a team that has the best keeper in MLS in Nick Rimando, you would think we would be better than middle of the pack, but injuries, suspensions and other issues have kept RSL from having any real consistency on their back line except Tony Beltran.

It is on offense that perhaps the most glaring issues have been for RSL in the first half of the season, just 15 goals scored and only 1 team in the league has scored fewer (Colorado). At the halfway point of the season RSL has 3 players who have scored more than a single goal, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio with 3 each and Luke Mulholland with 2. If you want to know why I am fully supportive of the idea of RSL breaking the bank to bring back Yura Movsisyian well, there you go. Now to be fair, Jaoa Plata our leading scorer from last year has just returned to action, but at the same time a healthy Sabo has simply under produced and failed to finish chances that in the past would have lead to goals.  Both Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Jamie scored their first goals last week, but both guys that RSL paid huge transfer fees for, and large salaries either have to deliver or we have to make changes.

Then there is the league leading 5 red cards, 2nd worst 37 yellow cards and while we are the 11th place team in fouls committed, we are the 2nd most fouled team.  Yeah something about these numbers really make me question the officiating in MLS, but that is for another day.   So Saturday night can RSL start the second half of the season on the right foot?

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Real Salt Lake will look to restart season vs Rapids, minus a few key players

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While the Rocky Mountain Cup was once the trophy for what was at one time one of the top rivalries in the league, years of dominance by Real Salt Lake, 7 of the last 8 years won by RSL, have made it less important to some fans (me included). This year the 3 matches with the Rapids will be huge, not because of the RMC, but rather for the 9 points that could make the difference of making the playoffs or not.  If you look at the Western Conference standings today, you will see that the Rapids are at the very bottom with just 13 points from 13 matches and just above them are RSL with 17 points from 14 matches. Neither side can be happy with these results, neither second year coach looks very comfortable with how the season is going.

A single win won’t put either side back into the playoff picture, but 3 points would at least get things moving in the right direction. With just 4 losses on the season the Rapids have fewer losses than RSL, but their two wins are also fewer than RSL. Both sides are coming off back to back losses and it isn’t the first time this season for both sides to have to deal with that.

Traditionally RSL has been one of the most solid defensive squads in MLS, but this year mistakes have cost matches, and 18 goals allowed the 1.29 GAA is one of the worst in team history (2008 we gave up 1.3 GAA) compared to 2010 season when we gave up just 20 goals all season. Life on the other side of the ball is just as troubling with just 13 goals scored in 14 matches and 6 times RSL being held without a goal. Our 0.93 goals scored per match is lower than any season average, even our 2005 season ended with a 0.94 average. So it is little wonder that many RSL fans are scratching their heads, we were told about this new more dynamic formation that would solve the woes of last years playoff performance against the Galaxy but as we near the halfway point of the MLS season, there is very little proof in the pudding.

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Real Salt Lake hope to rebound vs a familiar NYCFC side


Six players on the NYCFC roster have worn the Claret and Cobalt of Real Salt Lake in the past, and two of their assistant coaches are former RSL staff members and of course their head coach is Jason Kreis, who’s history with RSL is written on the wall of Rio Tinto Stadium as the only MLS player to have his number retired by a team. NYCFC is an expansion side that Real Salt Lake should beat with ease, but this hasn’t been a normal season for RSL so far, in fact very few things about the team make any sense this year.

A 3-3-5 record would be more than good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but in the West that record isn’t good enough. In fact even if RSL wins on Saturday vs NYCFC it wouldn’t move them into a playoff position unless they can win by at least 3 goals, something that is very unlikely given have only scored 3 goals once (that crazy match against Philly) and each of our 3 wins so far have been by a single goal.  However given our 4-1 loss last weekend at Montreal, the only team in the East below NYCFC in the standings, a win of any sort isn’t a sure thing.

There will likely be a welcome surprise to the RSL 18 man roster for this match, the return of Joao Plata a player who last year was perhaps as much of the heart and soul of this team as anyone else on the roster. However with Javier Morales still likely to be out as he recovers from his concussion and Jordan Allen off with the US U-20 team, our midfield will be a bit light if RSL sticks with their modified 4-1-3-2 formation.  I do think the combo of Sabo and Sandoval up top poses real problems for the NYCFC defense, their size and strength will force Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert to likely have to stay back more on defense and close to keeper Josh Saunders in order to deal with them.  The RSL defense which looked oh so shaky last weekend will have their own hands full as NYCFC try to figure out what their offense is all about, you would think with names like David Villa, Patrick Mullins and Mix Diskerud that they would have things figured out, but when your leading scorer is Mehdi Ballouchy, well things probably aren’t going as planned.

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Disappointment, despair, whatever it is both RSL fans and players feel it heading into Galaxy match

RSL's Paulo Jr. makes a huge run at goal against the LA Galaxy.

I have heard from several sources that the players are as upset and in many case more upset than the fans at the way the season has started for Real Salt Lake, and who can blame them it hasn’t been pretty.

9 points from 8 matches isn’t how RSL usually starts a season, but for me the points are less important than the eyeball test, in which RSL simply hasn’t looked very good for a full match, heck for a half, or if we are being brutally honest for a 15 minute stretch.  Yes there have been passing combos that have inspired, saves that have made the highlight reel, but overall this has been simply ugly. It has been a very, very long time since I remember seeing RSL rated just #15 in the USA Today Sagarin ratings.

In recent RSL history, this is our worst start at 2-2-4, last season we were 3-0-3 after 8, 3-3-2 in 2013 and 5-3-0 in 2012.  For me the question on my mind is what happens in the next 2 matches?  I believed and still do that the key to making the playoffs and hitting that gold standard of 15 wins/50 points is to win you home matches and to get results against teams from the East.  4 points from these next two matches would put us at 14 points the same as 2013, but lagging behind our 20 points of last season or 19 points after 10 matches in 2012.  A pair of wins would put us at 16 points from 10 matches and that wouldn’t be a bad place to be.

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RSL faces a great opportunity vs San Jose

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So it has been a crazy week and perhaps no week is bigger in sports than this weekend with the big fight in Vegas, the Kentucky Derby, the NFL draft and of course RSL hosting the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night.  So heading into the season I don’t believe that most people expected much of San Jose as Dominic Kinnear returned to take over the team and rebuild it into the title chasing franchise it used to be, RSL on the other hand had the same expectations as they have for the last several years, be competitive at the top of the West and battle with LA and Seattle for playoff positioning.  However as we enter the 8th match of the season neither side has been impressive and for RSL the lack of scoring after moving to the more offensive minded 4-3-3 has been a bit surprising.

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Real Salt Lake look for progress vs upstart Vancouver

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If you follow MLS closely you saw a few things coming, first you saw that the Vancouver Whitecaps were on the verge of becoming a powerhouse team. They were very young, very talented, very energetic, and playing as if they had nothing to lose, in fact the more I watch them play the more I am reminded of the evolution of RSL in the last part of 09 and the 2010 season. It as then run to MLS Cup when things just clicked for RSL, and it was exciting to watch, and it launched RSL into being one of the best teams in MLS over the last 7 seasons.

The flip side of that is RSL trying to reinvent itself, gone is Jason Kreis, gone is Garth Lagerwey, gone is the diamond midfield, the result has left some fans (including myself from time to time) scratching their heads about the new formation.  Still there is the very solid defense, Rimando in net is still the top keeper in the league, the backline is faster, more athletic, and so far this season they have been just as stingy as they were last year. With 4 goals allowed in our first 5 matches this season, we are at the exact same place as last year, 3 clean sheets in the first 5 last year and yes 3 in the first 5 this year. Last year a flukish 3-3 draw with San Jose accounted for a majority of our goals allowed, this year a flukish 3-3 draw with Philadelphia has accounted for a majority of the goals allowed.

On the offensive side of the ball things have been a bit different for RSL, those first 5 matches last year saw RSL score 8 goals, we are down 2 with just 6 this season.  Interestingly enough 5 matches in last year Joao Plata had 2 goals, and of course he has been out injured to start the season, also a bit telling last year Alvaro Saborio had 3 goals in RSL’s first 5 matches and he has just 1 this season.  Still the change in formation, the injury to Joao, both are reasonable explanations on why the offensive side of things might be lacking just a bit. Still it isn’t the results that have left people (including myself) scratching our heads it has been the departure from what was considered by many the most attractive style of soccer in MLS, our dominating possession, overwhelming passing numbers and precision to what is to the eye a much more frantic style of the 4-3-3.

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RSL face their biggest challenge so far this season Sporting KC

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For Real Salt Lake Saturday night will provide one of measuring stick moments of the season, when they head to Sporting Park and take on SKC.  Most folks acknowledged that moving SKC and Houston to the West made a very tough conference even tougher, for RSL that is especially true given their history with both sides.  Tough hard fought matches are the norm when these two meet, last year saw a 0-0 draw but more often than not the guys from KC have gotten the better of RSL, a over all 8-5-4 advantage for SKC, with a very good 5-1-3 when the match is played on their pitch.

Both sides have been kinda neurotic in how they have played so far this season, RSL adjusting to the 4-3-3 and national team callups, SKC dealing with some big roster changes (gone are Collin, Saad, Bieler, Sapong and both Kronberg and Gruenebaum) then toss in a hamstring injury to Zusi and you see a very different looking side than you have been used to.  To the credit of both sides they have adjusted fairly well, with 2 wins and 2 draws, SKC did lose one match while RSL still have to taste defeat this season.

The teams have two opponents in common early on in the 2015 season, both sides had 0-0 draws against Portland, and both sides faced Philly, while RSL were lucky to get a 3-3 draw in a very strange match. KC came from behind with two stoppage time goals to get a 3-2 win in a match were they were really outplayed for the vast majority of the match.  Those results lead me to believe that both sides are really looking for their new identity in 2015, be it personal or formation changes.

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Real Salt Lake vs Toronto FC – Despite missing stars a critical match for both teams

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Perhaps no two established teams in MLS have more questions being asked of them this season than RSL and TFC, can RSL in the 2nd year of Jeff Cassars leadership continue to be a dominant force in the West?  Can RSL make the transition to the 4-3-3 work?  For TFC can they make the playoffs?  Will another year with huge signings and what is likely to be the highest payroll in MLS result in success or will the oft chaos in the organizations leadership lead them to the rocky shore yet again?

It is hard to believe that both of these teams are heading into just their 3rd match of the season but have so very much at stake, it is ridiculous that this match is being played this weekend at all.  See both teams had a bye week last week when both teams had full rosters, but no we get a match missing several key players on both side.  For RSL there will be no Nick Rimando, no Alvaro Saborio, no Luis Gil, and no Elias Vasquez, and for TFC there will be no Jozy Altidore, no Michael Bradley, no Marky Delgado, no Quillan Roberts, and no Chris Mannella, all on national team call ups.  Then add in the injuries to Joao Plata, and Pecka on the RSL side, and Steven Caldwell, Mark Bloom, Eriq Zavaleta, on the TFC side which will also deal with the suspension of Justin Morrow.  The reality is this match will be played with 11 combined likely starters missing between the two squads, and that is never a good thing and probably has the folks at Fox scratching their heads as this is their prestige national TV match for the weekend.

Still the match is going to be played, and the match is a hugely important one for both sides, as RSL are looking for their first win of the season after a pair of draws in their first two matches of the season.  Toronto will be looking to figure out which team they really are, the one that dominated in their opening match a 3-1 win over a improved Vancouver side or the one that got handled 2-0 at Columbus?

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Real Salt Lake ready for 2015 home opener against Union


After a 0-0 draw at Portland last weekend, RSL will look to secure 3 important points at home Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union.  Yes, I called these important points, the reality is the Eastern Conference is the weaker conference in MLS so every time RSL faces a Eastern Conference team at home 3 points are important and against a Union team that is really still looking for an identity and were very unimpressive at home in week 1, the points are very important.

The Union picked up a couple of DP’s last year to boost their roster, former USMNT player Maurice Edu to be their defensive leader and Cristian Maidana to be their offensive leader, they added a 3rd DP in forward Fernando Aristeguieta who is on loan to them, but if you watched their match last week against the Rapids, you saw a team that still has more questions than answers on the pitch.  It is to be expected as Jim Curtin continues building the team he wants, I believe they have a lot of interesting pieces on their roster but as a team they seem to still be more interested in no losing than in winning matches.  They will be looking for their first ever win over RSL they are 0-2-5 in matches against RSL, and are 0-2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

For Real Salt Lake, the transition to the 4-3-3 continues and as we saw often in the Desert Diamond Cup and last weekend in Portland, that formation can mean a lot of frantic action on both sides of the ball.   Or does it just look that way?  RSL had the edge in possession, overall they had a passing completion rate of 76% (a bit low for traditional RSL) but they 364 to 297 edge in passes over Portland.  Where the formation may have fallen short of expectations was on the offensive side, where RSL managed 9 shots (Portland had 18) but only had 2 on goal.  If RSL is going to be a more offensive team with this new formation, those numbers will have to go up.

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What does 2015 hold for Real Salt Lake?

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It came down to the wire, but a new CBA has been agreed to, so the MLS season can get under way.  What exactly does that mean for RSL heading into the 2015 season?

With some big off-season changes both in the front office as well as on the pitch, this clearly is now Dell Loy’s team with his choice for coach Jeff Cassar entering his second season and Craig Waibel as the Technical Director in place. So what are your expectations for RSL heading into the 2015 season? Remember this year we will see MLS action, CCL action, USOC action, as well as the addition of USL Pro side Real Monarchs, construction of a new stadium for them, the possible addition of a NWSL team, that is a whole lot of soccer (and yes we love it).

So let’s start with the bread and butter of RSL, the regular season, over the last 5 years 3 clubs in MLS have been the definition of regular season success, the LA Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake. For the last 5 years both LA and RSL have won at least 15 matches and ended with at least 50 points, Seattle has done it the last 4 seasons.  RSL has made the playoffs every season since 2008, the longest active streak in MLS.

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