So the RSL season is about to begin so let’s take a quick look at what has transpired between the end of the 2016 season and now, and how much hype those things bring to the 2017 season.
I am going to use a scale of -10 to +10 to rate the major events of the off season and what I believe their impact will be on the 2017 season
- Javier Morales leaves – I doubt we will ever know what really happened at the end of the 2016 season, but clearly the departure of Javier Morales will impact RSL going forward both on and off the field. I took about a week after the 3-1 playoff loss at LA for this one to hit and its about as negative as hype can get, gotta go with a -10 on this one.
- Jeff Cassar staying – RSL fans were up in arms over Javi’s departure and a end of the 2016 season that saw RSL win just 4 of their final 19 matches and no wins in Sept or Oct. So the news in early Nov of Jeff’s contract being extended for 2017 wasn’t exactly received with positive hype, this one gets a -5
- Burrito is gone – Another case that we may never really know what happened but between a nagging injury, issues at home, and who knows what else Juan Manuel Martinez was dealing with but clearly he had checked out by mid season and by the end of the season it was clear things had gone very wrong. His release was a not a surprise but it sure wasn’t what any of us wanted, but clearly what he wanted. His creative abilities on the field will be missed, I give this one a -7 on the Hype Meter. Read more
So this is one of those blog posts that I write, scrap, write again, scrap again and eventually find myself drawn back to no matter how many times I try to walk away from it. As seasons end and seasons get ready to start again I find myself always considering what has changed, what needs to change and while there is no doubt that the last couple of seasons have been far from rewarding for most fans as far as results on the pitch, the question is why. We have the formation change, we have roster changes galore, but what if the issue is something more? What if the issue is rooted in something other than the salary cap, other than roster rules, other than formations? What if the issue is a lack of identity?
Now before you roll your eyes, too late I expect for some, hear me out a bit. Since day one in the league, RSL has played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, a small market team, not a glamourous destination, a lack of attention from the league or national soccer media, sponsors more fitting of arena football than a professional soccer team, and so on. You can turn something like that into a motivating factor or you can turn it into an excuse, and it seems like lately we have used it as either an excuse or a crutch. Now some of you are going to really roll your eyes at this next part, so take a few seconds and do it now, cause you know you will.
So when Craig Waibel said there were a few players RSL was looking at this winter transfer window, you knew there would be some speculation, how could their not be? But in the last 24 hours things have been kinda funny, kinda exciting, but not very rewarding as everything seems to still be in that rumor stage. Given the drama of several handshake deals falling thru last year, I will get excited when paperwork is signed and official announcements made.
Still, let’s talk about things a little bit. First up, Landon oh Landon, how would the RSL family react if the rumor of Landon to RSL were more than just a rumor (I really, really doubt it even should qualify as a rumor). So it all started with a report that Landon was in Salt Lake City, so that must mean he is signing with RSL right? Oh could he be one of thousands who come here each winter week to get some time on the slopes? Could he just be visiting friends? Could he be here for some completely unrelated reason? Yup and to be honest as much as I respect Landon, this isn’t a player that builds RSL for the future. I said it on Twitter, if this were a move for a team that just needed one piece to go from close to Champions, then great and wonderful he is a guy who can make a difference for any team.
That isn’t the case in my book, I was reminded that most of our starters and roster are coming back from the 2016 season and I remain unconvinced is some cases if that is a good thing or not. I believe it is time for RSL to start rebuilding, not a complete but clearly we need a faster, more dynamic team on both sides of the ball. The heart and passion showed early in the season was replaced by a team that looked confused and disinterested at the end of the season. The stat that still haunts me is how often we failed to win when we scored first, and countered by how often we were able early in the year to fight back after giving up the first goal and get a result. So I would say thanks but no thanks to a Landon to RSL deal at this point, because I want us to start building for the next 3-4 years and beyond, not just do enough to make the playoffs and get a few contracts extended another year.
Now the very exciting rumor that may hold some actual weight is Albert Rusnak, a 22 yr old attacking midfielder from Slovakia, who currently plays in the Netherlands for FC Groningen. You can check out one of the many highlight clips here. Craig dropped hints at the town hall a couple weeks ago about a young attacking mid playing in the Netherlands and today rumors started flying around about Albert. You can check out his current player profile page here
Well with just 4 matches to go it is likely RSL will make the playoffs, but over the last 5 matches there have been a lot more questions than answers. 2-1-2 in those last 5 matches with a home loss to Houston last weekend and RSL has simply looked anemic on offense and that leaves any simple mistake on defense as a point costing one. The injury report for RSL has both Yura and Joao listed as questionable, but we may see the return of Javier Morales, so the task of beating league leaders FC Dallas gets even more difficult.
While the loss to Houston was the first home loss of the season, RSL’s 8 home wins is tied for the lowest number of home wins of any Western Conference team that is above the red line at this point of the season, tied with LA. FC Dallas has a conference leading 5 road wins to go with their 10-1-4 home record and are the only team heading into Saturday to have secured a playoff spot already. So can RSL derail their goal to win the supporters’ shield?
To win this one, RSL will need to score first, FCD is 12-0-2 when they score first and just 3-8-4 when they allow the first goal. The FCD defense isn’t much better than RSL’s, they have 39 goals allowed vs RSL’s 42, and even their offense isn’t a lot better with 47 goals scored to RSL’s 42. When Dallas is good, they are really good, in 17 of their matches they have scored 2 or more goals, which when combined with 9 clean sheets explains why their record is so good. RSL has scored 2 or more goals 15 times, but with just 4 clean sheet it has been hard to get wins instead of draws. That goes a long way to explain why FCD has 3 more wins and 2 fewer loses than RSL. What will the keys be on Saturday? Read more
So I thought it was funny that on Monday night during #OnFrame the usually very optomisitc crew were a bit more timid in their opinions for the rest of the season. How so? Well a prediction of just 7 more points from the last 5 matches of the season is a bit of a downer, when I consider they should get at least that from their remaining home matches, starting with 3 points against Houston. If we don’t get 3 points from Saturday’s match with the Dynamo then we need to do some serious inward looking before we get to the playoffs.
Considering Houston is 1-9-4 on the road with 14 goals scored and 23 goals allowed, half of their road goals have come from 2 spectacular road losses a 4-3 loss at NYRB, and 2-3 loss at Portland and a 3-3 road draw last weekend at Sporting KC. The Dynamo are tied for the worst record in MLS with just 5 total wins, so while they are out of the playoffs but even with a new coach and guys fighting for their jobs they really aren’t a very good team but they already have a win against RSL. It was back in May that Houston got a 1-0 win over RSL in Houston, but a couple weeks prior to that RSL overcame giving up the first goal to them at Rio Tinto to come back and get a 2-1 win.
For RSL they are 4-3-3 in their last 10 matches, Houston is 1-3-6 over their last 10, so everything looks like it should favor RSL, but that has been the case often this year and then things haven’t gone as planned. A big question will be how bad was the injury last weekend to Javier Morales, with him unlikely to start (or maybe even be on the bench) who fills in? Jordan Allen or Luke Mulholland are the most likely choices, I for one thought that Allen did well last weekend in the first half at Portland but his style of play is different and it was clear that the adjustments were taking time, however a week of practice could make that much smoother this week.
Well the regular MLS season is winding down and while RSL sits near the top of the Western Conference and overall MLS table, questions still remain for me. When will the real RSL show up and stay? For the 15th time in 28 matches RSL gave up the first goal to their opponent on Wednesday night, and for the 9th time they managed to grab at least a point after giving up that first goal. That number speaks to the fact this club never stops fighting, but it also speaks to the fact that we give up the first goal way too often. Is it tactics? Motivation? Mental lapses? Questionable defense? Or a combination of some or all of those? I am not sure but it sure drives me nuts (and I expect others as well), as does the 40 goals allowed, only two teams in the West have given up more goals this season, and thankfully we play one of them next.
The Portland Timbers, the defending MLS Cup champions, have seemed to be a team on a season long celebration hangover. They are clinging onto the final playoff spot in the West with a 9-11-8 record and 35 points from 28 matches. The Timbers have just 3 wins since the 4th of July and a 3-5-3 record during that time period. Those 3 wins all came at home and all in what would appear to be convincing manner, 3-1 over Seattle, 3-0 over SKC and 4-2 over Seattle again.
RSL visited Portland in third week of the season and it ended up being a contentious 2-2 draw that saw RSL get a 1-0 lead early, go down to 10 men in the 31st minute, go up 2-0, give up a goal, go down another man and then give up another goal to end up with a 2-2 draw. The sides faced off a second time in June at Rio Tinto and again RSL got off to an early 1-0 lead, then gave up 2 first half goals but managed to come from behind to secure another 2-2 draw vs the Timbers.
So the rubber match will take place in Portland on Saturday, it is huge for both teams as RSL look to keep pace at the top of the Western Conference playoff race while the Timbers look to keep the 3 team close behind them for the final playoff spot beneath them.
RSL’s form has been improving over the last few weeks and peaking at the right time is what it is all about in MLS. With wins over FC Dallas, Colorado and Chicago at home last month we saw what we knew RSL was capable of, domination over weaker opponents, fighting hard against quality opponents and defeating rivals.
Wednesday night I believe RSL’s biggest match of the rest of the regular season will happen at Rio Tinto as they play host to the LA Galaxy. RSL and LA both have played 27 matches and both teams have 43 points from those matches, both would love to finish in the top 2 in the West and avoid a playoff first round match. LA won their first match in over a month this weekend with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew, to be fair it was a solid win but like RSL’s win over Chicago last month it was an expected win.
For RSL we may be getting LA at a time they are ripe for the picking with Van Damme, Gerrard on short term injuries and unlikely to play, Gyazi Zardes out for the season and Robbie Keane a question mark after he made his farewell from international duty with Ireland last week. Still as RSL has seen almost any lineup that Bruce Arena puts out is dangerous and with weapons still like Lletget, dos Santos, Boateng and Mike Magee, this is a team that can score a lot of goals and a defense that is only giving up 1 per match.
I know I am one of the few fans who consider LA our greatest rivals, given our history with them in the playoff and the fact that despite the occasional blowout the two teams almost always put on a great show when facing each other. LA holds a 1 match lead in regular season matches where they have 13 wins to RSL’s 12 with the two sides drawing against each other 7 times. At home RSL has been dominant with a 6-3-6 record and a 26 to 19 goal advantage. RSL will be looking to make amends for the early season 5-2 disaster back in April, a match in which RSL scored first but couldn’t close the door on their opponents. This year is a real anomaly with RSL having just 6 wins from the 12 matches in which they scored first, but also having 6 wins from the 14 matches in which they gave up the first goal. Which RSL will we see on Wednesday night?
In a early Friday night match, RSL will play host to the Colorado Rapids in a key matchup in the Western Conference. The Rapids sit in 2nd place with 43 points in 24 matches, while RSL is just behind them with 40 points in 26 matches. This match will also decide the winner of the 2016 version of the Rocky Mountain Cup, RSL won the first leg 1-0 at home, while the Rapids won by the same margin in the second leg in Colorado. RSL must deal with the fact that the Rapids simply don’t lose often, just 3 losses in 24 matches the fewest in MLS with most teams having at least double the number of losses. Playing into RSL’s favor in this match is the fact that the Rapids have just 2 road wins this year and all 3 of their losses have come on the road. The Rapids have a -4 goal differential on the road, while RSL enjoys a +8 at home and are undefeated with a 7-0-5 record at Rio Tinto.
With just 8 matches remaining in the RSL season, there is little time left to close the gap between the teams above them in the standings and try to avoid a playoff play in match. Four of the next 5 matches, including this one will be played at home for RSL so there is a great chance to extend their unbeaten streak at home and move up the table at the same time as both. In order to take advantage of their home matches RSL will need to find their scoring touch again, after an early season run of multiple goal matches, RSL has scored 2 or more goals just twice since mid June.
The Rapids come in just one win in their last 5 and have ended up with draws in their last two matches at LA and last weekend vs Orlando at home. The Rapids have scored just 27 goals this season and their scoring is very balanced with 9 players having multiple goals and none of them having more than 4. The arrival of Jermaine Jones this off season has helped change the mentality of the Rapids on the pitch to that of a team that battles and fights for everything and the mid-summer arrival of Tim Howard gives them a true leader in goal. They also picked up MLS journeyman Sebastian LeToux in the summer window to give them an added physical presence up top to help with scoring. We may not see Jones due to an injury, but this is till a very good team that plays huge defense and takes advantage of their scoring chances.
It seems like just yesterday that the RSL season was kicking off and fans were unsure of what to expect after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and with just 10 matches left in the season I expect many fans are still finding themselves wondering what to expect.
RSL sits currently in 3rd place in the Western Conference with a 10-7-7 record and 37 points or 1.54 points per match (a good improvement over the 1.21 ppm from last year). A 1.54 ppm would have put RSL in 4th place in the West last year, shield winners New York Red Bulls ended the season with a 1.76 and won a tie breaker with FC Dallas to claim the shield. Currently MLS is lead by the Colorado Rapids with a 1.86 points per match, RSL’s 1.54 is tied for 5th in MLS at this point.
This weekend RSL will travel to Seattle to take on the Sounders who’s fans are probably feeling like RSL’s fans did last year, when things looked real bleak by August. The Sounders are 7-12-3 with a 1.24 ppm and 8 points out of the last playoff spot in the West, but things in MLS can change quickly. Both teams are coming off wins (RSL 3-1 over CHI & SEA 3-1 over ORL) and both have two wins in their last 5 matches. Both teams needing wins to close the gap with teams they are chasing, for RSL it is LA, Colorado and FC Dallas the 3 teams in front of them in the West and their next 3 opponents (all at home). For Seattle it is Vancouver, San Jose and Portland the 3 teams between them and a playoff sport, 4 of their next 5 matches are against those teams. Both teams are 8 points behind that key team (FCD in 1st & PDX in the final playoff spot), so it would be easy to label it a must win for both, but Seattle is clearly the more desperate team.
A 0-0 draw at home against an opponent that you should beat is simply disappointing and that is exactly what RSL fans were treated to. When RSL dominates an opponent and fails to get a result, at least the match can be entertaining, at least fans can draw hope that eventually the goals will come, but when the team simply looks disjointed it leaves one with lots of questions. So 14 shots for RSL, to 12 for New England, 2 shots on target for RSL and 1 for New England, a 52% to 48% edge in possession for RSL but much of that seemed to be in our own end of the pitch.
Prior to the match there was another issue facing RSL, a member of the Salt Lake Tribune’s sports staff was denied access to the Rio Tinto press box and their RSL credentials were revoked. There are statements from both sides that support their stance on the issue and for me the reality of the situation is probably somewhere between the two statements. I have never been a huge fan of Gordon Monson, largely because he writes about the Utah Jazz and I care nothing about the NBA. He has over the past two years written two articles about RSL that I have found interesting, both question how decisions are being made after Dell Loy Hansen took full ownership of RSL. Both take issue with what Monson called the dismantling of those who helped build RSL from a disappointing expansion side to a dominant force within MLS.
Was his take a bit simplistic? Yes in some ways, but were there also some legitimate questions being asked? Yes, one would have to be blind to the rapid pace of change at the top of RSL once DLH took over. First losing Jason Kreis as head coach, due to a lowball offer and then losing GM Garth Lagewey who was looking to take on more responsibility (which seemed to make sense at the time) but then letting Bill Manning go as well, and wondering why not hold onto Garth given that move had to be in mind. These are all questions that many fans have asked me online and offline over the last 3 years.