Sorry for bailing on all of you last week, it was a crazy work week combined with a bought of the stomach flu, which resulted in very little other than those two things getting dealt with. So a catch up post is in order, and lets get started with the RSL home opener on the 16th.
The afternoon the sun was shining, the pitch was green, the stands were full of fans, it was a perfect day for the 2013 Home Opener for Real Salt Lake. The match was a physical one, which saw Matt Pickens break his arm within the first 10 minutes of the match, and while there weren’t a lot of fouls (19) or cards (3, all yellows) it was one of the more physical matches I can remember seeing in some time. With just a few minutes left in the first half, a bad play by Chris Schuler was taken advantage of my Colorado’s Deshorn Brown to give the Rapids a 1-0 lead heading into half time.
If you looked at the stats of the match, you would see that things looked rather typical for a RSL home match, things like 69.2% of the possession, a 603 to 262 edge in passes, a passing accuracy edge of 88% to 68%, but in few areas RSL’s numbers were a bit puzzling, like the 40% of duals won, or the fact of just 4 of 19 shots being on goal.
The series between RSL and Colorado has often come down to late match goals and Saturday was no exception, as in the 80th minute RSL was finally able to get an equalizing goal from Alvaro Saborio (assist to Luis Gil and Joao Plata), and in the final minutes RSL had a number of other chances to equalize. Perhaps none was better than when rookie Devon Sandoval chested down a crossed ball directly to the feet of Alvaro Saborio, but the shot was off target and in the end the scoreboard was left at 1-1.
For many that result is a big disappointment but for me it is only a mild one, given the nature of the match and the fact that our starting lineups are still forming a cohesive unit. If you had asked me if I would have been happy with a 1-1-1 start to the season, I probably would have said yes.
Still you have to wonder a bit of what might have been? Would the back line be a bit more solid with Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert in action, most likely but even with them in place, mistakes will still happen. Would the midfield have been more dynamic with Javier Morales? Sure, but he also would have taken a physical beating on Saturday given what was allowed on the pitch, so maybe his missing that match was a blessing in surprise. Are we still waiting for that first Robbie Findley goal, yes we are, but I thought he put himself in dangerous positions and now we just need the finishing. I am still waiting to see Sebastian Velasquez take some shots, and see what can happen with Sabo, Robbie, Joao or Devon crashing the box. I loved that Khari Stephenson found a chance to fire one of his legendary shots from distance, and hope to see more of them. All in all it wasn’t the match we expected but it was better than what could have been.
The disappointment of the draw with the Rapids would be added to as the winless streak in Texas would continue as RSL found it impossible to get a result against FC Dallas last Saturday. Of course if you had asked many people what they would expect from a lineup that featured just 4 regular 2012 starters (Luis Gil, Ned Grabavoy, Nat Borchers, and Chris Schuler) and one of them was playing in his first match of the season (Borchers) and one was playing out of position (Schuler), going up against a FC Dallas team that was at almost full strength, I doubt many had high expectations. Still if you look at the numbers you see that while the team lost 2-0 that possession was in their favor 52-48% and that RSL took and completed more passes than FC Dallas, but the 13 to 7 edge in shots and 8 to 4 edge in shots on goal, well the score made more sense.
The thing that is starting to stand out to me again is that RSL looks hesitant on the attack, I remember stretches last year when it looked as if players were looking for one more pass even if they were in a position to take a shot. I thought that with some of the younger and speedier players both up top and in the midfield, that we would see more shots taken to put keepers and defenses on notice and to be there to capitalize on any mistakes. It was something on Saturday at Dallas with Chris Seitz getting the start in goal, and both of our speedy forwards on the pitch (Robbie Findley & Joao Plata) up top, I just expected to see and was confused when it was lacking.
If we look at the two goals given up, one the result of bad marking in the area and one as Josh Saunders was left fending for himself without an outlet for the ball and both me that the defense has some work left to do, but again there was no Tony Beltran, no Chris Wingert, it was Nat Borchers first match back, and things seem to make a bit more sense and reasonable. However as a fan just because something makes sense or is reasonable doesn’t make it any easier to stomach and 1-2-1 isn’t a start that many of us hoped for.
Yes, I can repeat what we already know, RSL is starting with 5 of their first 7 matches on the road, that RSL is still dealing with injury and call up issues. I can again quote Garth Lagerwey who pointed out that RSL will be better in June than they will be in March, and better in October than they will be in June. Yet none of that makes these last two matches, both of which seem like RSL could have won, easier to deal with as fans.
Yes, there are bright spots already in the RSL season, Joao Plata has been a pleasant surprise, I think Devon Sandoval could be a huge impact player by the end of the year, while both have had a couple of mistakes I think Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler have looked very good. Lovel Palmer and Khari Stephenson both have been able to step in early and make a difference for RSL. I think both Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez have looked good on the pitch, but would love both to become a bit more selfish and fire off more shots.
This week will bring RSL’s second home match of the season as the distracted Seattle Sounders will come to town. Can RSL recover some swagger with their call up players returning and with the Sounders focus being on their upcoming CCL matchup against Santos? We know that the Sounders are struggling in MLS, but these two sides often bring out both the best and worst in each other, so it will be exciting to see what happens.
That’s How I See It