For the 3rd straight match (2 MLS & 1 CCL) Real Salt Lake have had to settle for a 0-0 draw, and while head coach Jason Kreis addressed the fans after the match to say the team has been saving up goals for the playoffs, I am not sure everyone is buying it.
Like the last two matches RSL has played the team dominated every aspect of the match, except for the scoreboard. Saturday night it was 62.7% possession to 37.3%, it was 514 passes to 291, it was a 85% passing accuracy to 74%, it was 17 shots to 5, but only 3 shots on goal and none of them found the back of the net.
Heading into the playoffs there is no doubt that the RSL defense is up to the task, with just one goal allowed in the last 5 matches, and just 3 allowed in their last 10 matches. A stretch where RSL is 5-1-4, but if you take out the 4 goal performance against Chivas USA a month ago, RSL has scored just 6 goals in those last 10 matches. One of those is a good thing heading into the playoffs but the other not so much.
So the starting lineup featured Kyle Reynish in goal, Tony Beltran, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Chris Wingert, and Kenny Mansally on the back line. The midfield was Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil, and Jonny Steele, while up top it was the duo of Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio. So with a number of key starters missing, and a couple of guys just returning from injuries, it was fairly impressive how RSL were able to dictate the match on both sides of the ball.
I thought that the high pressure applied throughout the match by RSL was a great look at how we will have to play the next few series if we want to make a run at MLS Cup, it allows us to keep the ball on the opponents half of the pitch and create a lot of chances. It was overly clear that RSL still lacks some quality on crossing the ball into the area, both in the run of play and on set pieces. A bit of that can clearly be attributed to the lack of having Javier Morales in the lineup, but RSL has to find a way to get others able to provide quality balls that our forwards can take advantage of.
I know from twitter that Luis Gil wasn’t really happy with his performance, but I thought he did well considering that he was playing with Ned who clearly was looking to regain his touch and match sharpness, and Jonny who for most of the match appeared to be playing a more defensive role. Kyle Beckerman was as solid as always, a tough task when your head is bobbling all around the stadium. It was interesting to see the spark of energy and offensive creativeness that was created when Sebastian Velasquez came into the match, a nice sign of what RSL might be able to capitalize off the bench in the playoffs. David Viana also got his first real minutes off the bench for RSL, and while he showed signs of the things that make him a very interesting prospect for RSL, it was clear that he hasn’t yet built up that communication and understanding with his teammates that will allow him to take full advantage of his abilities, yet.
I was again impressed by Kenny Mansally’s ability to get up and down the pitch quickly both with and without the ball, now his quality of service and shots was a bit below expectations but I believe a lot of that is likely associated with a lack of minutes in recent months. Kwame was impressive and often found himself coming forward to apply pressure higher up the pitch, he showed no signs of the injury that kept him sidelined for several weeks. Chris Wingert moved to Central Defense for this match, and while it was clear that RSL missed the size advantage of Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave on set pieces, I was very impressed with how well Chris adjusted to the new position. Tony Beltran again showed why I think he will be a key player for RSL to resign this off season, he was able to get forward supporting the attack, able to run down Whitecaps who may have gotten past our high pressure with ease, and overall I thought had a very solid night.
Kyle Reynish wasn’t forced into action often but when he was he clearly was channeling his inner Nick Rimando, as he looked unbeatable. It has to be a tough job backing up one of the league’s all time great keepers who never seems to pick up many injuries, but for me as a fan it is very reassuring knowing that we have Kyle ready to go heading into the post season.
It was good to see the duo of Fabi and Sabo together again up top, but a bit troubling to see how frustrated each of them got (for different reasons) on the night. It seems as if Fabi simply got tired of the constant physical play by the Whitecaps defenders and midfielders, as Mr. Toledo seemed content on not calling much until the emotions and physicality boiled over. Sabo on the other hand seemed very frustrated with the lack of service he was getting, and I can understand that with all the lineup changes on the night, but I also have to say that he missed out on a few chances when there was great delivery.
It was a tough night for RSL but one that I think will prepare the team well heading into the playoffs against a Seattle side that we know is likely to push very hard at home for goals in the first leg and hope they can get a lead to protect for the 2nd leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
That’s How I See It