Real Salt Lake hosts Houston, looking for a win – Match Preview

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With the turf coming up at Rio Tinto after Saturday’s match RSL will look to rebound from their loss at LA with a win over Houston.  The biggest question is what Houston team will they face, the team that scored 11 goals in their first 3 matches, or the one who has scored just 2 in their last 4?  The one thing in common that both RSL and Houston have is that they both were recently spanked by the Galaxy (the best team in MLS the last few weeks).

So RSL will need to find a way to quickly put last weekend out of their minds and focus on getting the full 3 points against Houston before they head out on the road.  They will do so without Plata, could be without Burrito, and have a Javi and Sunny that are still working their way back to full fitness, and facing a team that has looked to play more conservatively than they did at the start of the season.  After being thrashed at home by the Galaxy, they went on the road at Columbus and played a much more defensive style and while they still ended up on the losing end of the match, they did play much better.  I expect against a RSL team that has scored goals in every match, that once again on the road Houston will be looking to play defensively and hope to counter or take advantage of any RSL mistakes. While they picked up a red card early in the match against Columbus, it was back up keeper Tyler Deric who saw red and was replaced by their regular starter (so far this season) Joe Willis.

So one area of focus all year in MLS matches has been the officials, and it has been for good reason as many strange calls have been made or not made so far this year.  Nima Saghafi will be the ref in charge of the match, it will be just his MLS match as the main official. In his previous match there was a red card and two PK’s given, the red card looked very legit but the PK’s had a bit more question about them.  We will see how this new official handles the match on Saturday.

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RSL put undefeated streak on the line at LA Galaxy – Match Preview

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I get that it might lack the prestige to some of Seattle vs Portland, or New York vs New York, but for my money there simply is no better rivalry in MLS than RSL vs LA.  It is as much about how things are done within the organizations as it is the battles on the pitch for me.

You have LA, the team that probably writes most of the MLS roster rules over the year, and given the investment AEG has made in MLS over the years it almost is understandable. The DP rule was created to allow the Galaxy to sign David Beckham, he wasn’t the first player the league discussed changing the rules for but he was the one that made it happen. Their current roster are mega DP’s like Steven Gerrard, Gio dos Santos and the best DP in MLS history Robbie Keane, with that they have European imports Nigel de Jong, Ashley Cole, Jelle Van Damme.  They also picked up MLS stars Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee, which compliments guys like Robbie Rogers, AJ DeLaGarza, Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villareal, Baggio Husidic and Sebastian Lletget. I am always amazed how they keep this type of roster within the cap, but that is the magic of allocation money.

On the other hand, RSL have brought in players but never break the bank guys, the biggest signings in the club’s history have come in recent months with the arrival of Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez late last year and the return of Yura Movsisyan this year.  The core of the team are the guys who were brought in almost a decade ago, Nick Rimando, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, and Tony Beltran even returning guys like Chris Wingert and Yura.  Then toss in some of the young players, like Glad, Plata, Allen, and guys who have yet to make an impact like Kavita, Holnes, Acosta, Attinella, and others.  RSL has pushed the salary cap not with the huge signings but by raising the salaries of their veteran core, which probably takes as much work as the mega DP route that LA takes.

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Real Salt Lake proves you don’t have to play pretty to win in 1-0 victory over Whitecaps

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So let me be clear, there were some very pretty moments in the match for RSL and one only has to listen to Brian Dunseth remind us that Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez is “Killing careers one vine at a time” or read what RSL head coach Jeff Cassar had to say after the match

“I wish I knew what he was going to do every time because he does some really special things. He (Martinez) got out of some really tricky situations. All of our attacking players are extremely talented and when they’re playing with each other you can do special things you can do some things that you don’t necessarily think are going to happen because you trust the player that is giving the ball to you. I think that we can still get even better. That is what is exciting.”

to understand there were some simply amazing moments on Saturday night. Still if you watched the match you know how bad the first 20 minutes or so looked as Vancouver came out like it was a playoff match and were pressing high and causing chaos for the RSL defense.  Still despite the early mistakes and pressure, RSL didn’t give up a goal in fact RSL created a few good chances on counters early on but were unable to get the early goal. I think the biggest difference between last year and this year (so far) is that in ugly close matches last year we lost leads and often lost matches. So far this year even when we have lost leads, we have managed not to lose those matches, we have recovered or withstood adversity early on this season and as things get better (play, form, fitness, injuries) results should stay very good.

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Real Salt Lake looks to remain unbeaten vs Vancouver

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I sure didn’t pick RSL to be this good, this soon but heading into a long road trip in a couple weeks it sure will be helpful to have gotten off to such a positive start to the season.  The reality is but for a few last minute mistakes RSL could be sitting at 5-0-0, despite already having given up 2 PK’s and having been given a league leading 3 red cards.  So a 3-0-2 start is a very good way to have started the season, despite the injuries and suspensions.

Perhaps the strong start is actually a result of these things, RSL has already had 19 players see first team minutes, has gotten goals from 6 different players. No player has gotten off to a hotter start than Joao Plata, with 4 goals and 3 assists, but the performances of several guys has been noteworthy, including how quickly Sunday “Sunny” Stephen has adjusted both to RSL and MLS. The second serving of Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez has been better than the first as he has shown the ability to be as creative as any player in MLS with the ball at his feel, and as Javier Morales returns from injury the options for RSL simply make the job of picking just 11 starters difficult for Jeff Cassar.

Vancouver owned RSL last year, winning all 3 matches against us by a combined 7-1 scoreline, in fact RSL hasn’t beaten Vancouver since Jeff took over as head coach we are 0-4-2 against them. This year’s Whitecaps side has struggled to start the season, after a pair of losses to start the season, Pedro Morales carried them to wins at Seattle and over Houston, but he left injured against the LA Galaxy a match the ended in a 0-0 draw and then last weekend at DC United they got beat badly by a pair of former RSL’ers as both Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio put in two against them in a 4-0 loss. To be fair the Whitecaps have battled injuries since the start of the season, and of their 6 goals 4 have come from the PK spot.  In fact each of the 6 goals they have scored this year have come from a set piece, something RSL will want to avoid giving them.

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Real depth to be tested at Sporting – RSL vs SKC match preview

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It is now beyond RSL’s depth as suspension and injuries force the team to bring up a couple of Monarch’s players just to fill out their roster when they take on Sporting KC on Saturday night.  Let’s start with the things that were avoidable, the red cards and suspensions:

  • Kyle Beckerman – Red Card vs Portland
  • Jamison Olave – Red Card vs Portland
  • Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez – MLS disciplinary action vs Portland

It is hard enough to beat a rival, even harder when it is a pretty good SKC team, but to do so without 3 starters all suspended for what one has to consider silly and pointless fouls it doesn’t do the club any favors.  Now for RSL when you add in what all of a sudden is a rash of injuries:

  • Javier Morales (broken ribs)
  • Emery Welshman (hip flexor)
  • Olmes Garcia (ankle)
  • Omar Holness (shoulder)
  • Boyd Okwuonu (concussion)
  • Phanuel Kavita (knee)

The issues were so bad and deep that RSL used a hardship clause to bring up both Emilio Orozco and Andrew Brody for the match.  I don’t expect either to see action but one never knows.

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Real Salt Lake face defending MLS Cup champs Portland – Match Preview

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Real Salt Lake will head into Portland looking to continue the improvement they showed against Seattle in this critical stretch of 6 matches to begin the season.  While there is still room to be better on both sides of the ball, the way RSL reacted after giving up the first goal last Saturday shows a fight that was often lacking in 2015, and the team should be able to build upon that.  Without Javier Morales the side was still able to create chances, but Seattle was able to dictate much of the match be played at their pace and style, it sounds like Javi will rejoin the starting lineup for Saturday.

However, Jamison Olave has picked up a knock and hasn’t trained fully with the team this week, add in that the match is on the turf and it could a smart move to rest him this weekend. That could open the door to give Justen Glad his first start of the season, or to move Chris Wingert over to the middle of the backline and bring back Demar Phillips who is done serving his one match suspension. I expect the first option is probably the way things would go given how well Glad did in the preseason, especially the match against the Crew where he and Wingert did a great job in keeping Kei Kamara from being too dangerous.

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Week 2 brings a critical matchup for both teams RSL vs SEA – Match Preview

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Real Salt Lake is desperate to remove the stigma of 2015 that crept into their season opener on Sunday, with a red card and then late goals given up to turn a win into a draw. Meanwhile the Sounders are simply looking to take “the step” to MLS Cup, in their 7th season in the league you have to believe that few teams are under more pressure to not only make the playoffs but hoist MLS Cup as the Sounders are.  So while it is just week two in a very long season, both sides will be looking to get a win on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.

One huge story for Saturday could be who doesn’t play, for RSL a rib injury to Javier Morales kept him out of training on Thursday and he is unlikely for Saturday, and RSL will be without Demar Phillips who will be serving his red card suspension.  Seattle comes in without Brad Evans who picked up an injury on Sunday, but both Erik Friberg and Tyronne Mears returned to practice for the Sounders and will likely play a role on Saturday. The Sounders will be without Oniel Fisher who will be serving his red card suspension.  The loss of two starting defenders could be a huge factor in the match on Saturday if RSL can find a way to take advantage of it.

RSL holds a slight lead in the head to head matches with 7 wins to Seattle’s 6 and 4 draws when the two sides meet.  Last year RSL won 2-0 at home and lost 1-3 in Seattle.

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Life on the edge or being a RSL fan after 1 week of the MLS season

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There are few people in soccer that I respect as much as I do Brian Dunseth, so when on On Frame Monday night he talked about RSL fans being on the edge and how too often we (fans) allow our emotions to push us to the negative vs understanding that one can be critical and acknowledge the positives as well.  He is right, and so was Matt Gacshk as he pointed out that last year the team probably drop their heads and pack it in when they go down to 10 guys so early in the match.

Both of them will tell you that they see something different with this group than last year, I agree with them. Even in the preseason matches and practices in Tucson, it seems like there is a higher degree of accountability within the team than there was last year.  I believe bringing back Yura and Chris, both guys who were here in 2009 when the team played as a team. So while as Dunny reminds us that the motto “The Team is the Star” came out of a time when the team was built around a lot of middle level salary guys and the team was successful without big name and big money DP’s, I hope and think that this year, that the mentality of playing for each other, playing for the fans and as a club being more interested in the collective good than individual glory (which can come as part of team success) will lead us to a new version of “The Team is the Star”.

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RSL suffer late gut punch at Orlando 2-2

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When RSL gave up a late goal on Wednesday night in Champions League play, it was because they were pushing everything forward looking for a second goal to stay alive in their series and it felt great at the end. Effort, heart, passion, desire all were shown in spades on Wednesday night, so what would happen on Sunday?

Well early on Orlando gets a goal called back on an offside call (iffy at best), and you know the saying that “the ball don’t lie” well we would find out much later how true that is.  First it would be two early yellow cards to Demar Phillips (not sure why he was starting vs Chris Wingert in the first place) that would send RSL down a man with 70 minutes to go.  It was just a few minutes later that Chris Penso points to the PK spot and this time Joao Plata steps up and coverts it to give RSL a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute. As often has been the case RSL played better with 10 men than they were with 11 men, but before the half would end things would level.  Not the score but a straight red card to Darwin Ceren would mean both sides would play the second half with 10 men.

In the second half RSL would continue to create some chances and in the 66th minute one pretty goal would give them a 2-0 lead as Joao Plata would get his second of the day on a great play started by Burrito that lead to a sublime cross by Tony Beltran that Plata put into the back of the net.  RSL would force Orlando to chase them for the remainder of the match, but in stoppage time things simply would go all wrong in a hurry.

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The 2016 MLS season is here, what to expect

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Today is the day, the 21st season of MLS action gets under way, in many ways 2016 is the calm after one storm and before an even bigger one, 2015 saw two new team jump into the fray of MLS (NYCFC and Orlando City SC) both came with some big names, Kaka, Frank Lampard (well eventually), David Villa, Mix Diskerud (is he still a big name?) and both struggled on the pitch to compete as neither made the playoffs in a rather weak Eastern Conference. It was also the start of the new TV deal for MLS, a new CBA, and lots and lots of new sponsorships for the league.  So with no new teams this year and a year where there simply haven’t been any of those huge signings like last year, don’t forget we also saw Steve Gerrard, Jermaine Jones, Giovani dos Santos and Sebastian Giovinco join the league, but maybe those come this summer?

There are new stars but smaller names, like Ashley Cole, Lucas Ontivero, Yura Movsisyan, Carlos Gruezo and Shkelzen Gashi, we also the return of a player I really like is Simon Dawkins now a DP with San Jose and there are a lot of open DP spots around the league.  We saw some big name players change places, Dan Kennedy, Jeff Larentowicz, and Mike Magee to LA Galaxy, Marco Pappa and Jermaine Jones to Colorado, Marcelo Sarvas to DC United, Maximiliano Urruti and Mauro Rosales to FC Dallas, Christian Miadana to Houston, Harry Shipp to Montreal, Brad Davis and Justin Mapp to Sporting KC, Will Johnson and Clint Irwin to Toronto FC and Blaz Perez to Vancouver.

All of this before we see 2 new teams likely join the league in 2017 and then 2 more in 2018, so even without those huge name signings it is a big year for the league as those new sponsors will want to see some ROI and the league needs to find a way to get the TV numbers moving up in a hurry.

So as a fan what should you expect?  Will it be another year with the big clubs missing out on MLS Cup (come on none of you picked Portland vs Columbus last year, don’t lie about it)? Well it is a crap shoot to try to pick who will win what at this point of the season, MLS has too many variables to be very accurate but I do have some thoughts

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