Six down & Twenty Eight to go for Real Salt Lake

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So perhaps no loss hits RSL fans harder than a loss to the Rapids, and when it is on a sloppy goal by a former RSL player it gets even worse.  I am not sure where the team that came out with tons of energy and aggressive play against Seattle went, but I sure did miss them last Saturday.  I get that playing on the road is tough, and while they might say 15K fans were there, if you saw the match you know that number was closer to 11-12 at best.  It wasn’t as if RSL didn’t have their chances, they controlled most of the possession, 59.6% actually, they had their shots 10, heck we even had a PK attempt, but on the night nothing went RSL’s way and the result was a 1-0 loss.

Sure it let the Rapids get their first win of the season, it gives the Rapids an edge in the Rocky Mountain Cup, but we all know that in the end that cup will be ours. Still the loss was a rough one that was compounded by RSL’s injury issues as clearly neither Alvaro Saborio or Javier Morales are fully fit to the level of RSL fan expectations, combined with Robbie Findley and Joao Plata being unavailable for that match, RSL’s offensive options were limited and while it was good see Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia in first team action, it simply wasn’t enough.  I know it is easy to be critical of the efforts all around after such a great match against Seattle, but remember that it was rather clear by some of the calls in the first 15-20 minutes of the match that the Rapids were playing a very physical, brutish style.  It is a bit of a shame that the officials stopped calling the match tightly, as I thought it broke things down to rather ugly soccer for both sides as it became a foul fest, and while Atiba Harris can celebrate his goal, I am left amazed that he didn’t get a yellow card for any of the 4 fouls called against him, or the half dozen others that weren’t called at all.

So here we sit after 6 matches, a stretch that we knew would be rough (5 of 7 on the road to start the season), complicated by injury issues, roster changes and transition, with a record of 2-3-1 and while that simply isn’t what any of us like to see it matches what RSL has been saying that we would struggle early for all those reasons listed above.  I do take away some good things, 3 different players have scored goals, 5 different players have added assists, and we have seen some young players get minutes and look good.  Now I can’t say that any of our players has been amazing so far this season, but I think several have had a level of performance worth noting.

While Chris Schuler has made some mistakes early on, in almost every case he has been able to recover or a teammate has had his back.  For a player again regaining full match fitness after injury issues the last two seasons, it is progress that has me optimistic about what the rest of the season might hold.  Kwame Watson – Siriboe may have lost his starting spot to Nat Borchers in recent matches, but I still think he has shown very well this season on and off the pitch, he is a great guy who I think adds a lot to our roster.  Tony Beltran, perhaps no player has quietly caught my attention more this season than Tony, between his signing a new deal with RSL and picking up his first national team cap, he simply has been nothing but pure quality for RSL.

It goes beyond the defense, in the midfield I think Sebastian Velasquez has really shown what his potential is, few players in this league look forward to taking on the opponent with the ball at their feet.  Sebastian sure loves doing this and most often it has result in RSL being able to move forward with their offensive efforts, as opposed to having to pass the ball backwards and look to recreate the lost momentum.  I know that sometimes that level of confidence can be a bad thing, but I think his work rate and skill on the ball offer a unique chance for RSL’s midfield to be even more dangerous.  Hopefully the recent broken hand injury won’t impact his ability to continue contributing during this early part of the season.  Another player who has forced you to notice him is Luis Gil, the off season saw him grow both physically and in confidence as one of the anchors of the US U20 team that has qualified for this summer’s U20 World Cup.  I think sometimes Luis tries to do a bit too much on his own but he is clearly becoming a player more comfortable in any of the midfield positions that RSL asks him to play at.

Up top, I think the only thing that can slow down Robbie Findley and Joao Plata, are the injuries both are trying to recover from.  Both have shown that speed can be a very dangerous thing for opponents, I also like that both of them have shown the ability and effort to do the hard things off the ball that create both space and opportunities. I know both are close to being able to get back on the pitch, and I for one can’t wait.  In their absence we have seen the emergence of Devon Sandoval, the rookie forward from the University of New Mexico may have caused me to blow my NCAA bracket (darn Lobos) but on the pitch he has been a pleasant surprise.  Hard work, willingness to chase down every ball, fight for every opportunity, those are the things that RSL is all about, and when your head coach talks about a rookie being an example of those things, well you are doing something right. With a long summer of World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup matches ahead for Sabo, Devon could get a lot more minutes than even he might have expected this year and I have a feeling he is going to make the most of them.

So while the final results might not be what RSL fans are used to, we are a group spoiled by our own successes.  I don’t believe there is anything (other than the laundry list of injuries) for us to be worried about, I continue to go back to what GM Garth Lagerwey said “ We will be better in June that we will be in March, and we will be better in September than we will be in June”.  Nothing I have seen so far this year makes me doubt that statement in the least.

That’s How I See It

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