Real Salt Lake 1st quarter report card

So 8 matches in the book and that represents just under ¼ of the MLS season, so how exactly has RSL done?  I keep having to remind myself of what RSL GM Garth Lagerwey said before the start of the season “We will be better in June than we are in March, and we will be better in September than we will be in June” and if that is the case we should all be very happy, RSL currently is one of 4 teams with 11 points and only 4 teams have more than 11 points.  That means that 11 teams are currently behind RSL in the standings, and just 4 are in front of us and for a team that has had to deal with losing 3 All Star level players and a bevy of injuries early in the season, it isn’t as bad as some might think.  So let’s take a bit deeper look at things.

First the record of 3-3-2 is how we got to our 11 points, now 5 of those matches have been away from home where RSL is 1-3-1 and that simply isn’t good enough.  Losses at Colorado, Dallas and DC United all hurt, but only in the Dallas match was RSL really outplayed, and that match also saw RSL missing an additional 5 players due to various national team call ups in addition to injured players.  Still our road performance has to improve; I firmly believe that RSL will need to at least duplicate their 6 road wins if not improve as they have done the last few seasons (4 wins in 2010, 5 wins in 2011, 6 in 2012).  Last year the team also had a fairly impressive (compared to the past) -1 goal differential on the road with 19 goals scored and 20 goals allowed, after a -6 the year before, currently the team is at a -2.  I expect that for RSL to finish in the top 3 in the West (avoiding the wildcard) that they will need to pull an average of 1.20 points per road match (based on their recent finishes), currently the team has 4 points from 15 possible an average of just 0.80 per match.

At home the record is a much better 2-0-1 with the lone blemish the 1-1 draw with the Rapids, it is interesting that the best half of soccer that RSL has played all year came against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year, the 2-0 win over Seattle was keyed by a huge first half when it looked as if RSL could do no wrong.  The match against the Rapids was a real give and take match that had a much more defensive feel to it, something that is far too common at Rio Tinto Stadium. While the first half of the Seattle match simply took your breath away with the aggressive and dynamic attacking effort that RSL put forward, it was the 1-0 win over Chivas USA that to me has been the best RSL match of the season.  Both sides played a fairly attacking style, both sides played physical but not dirty, and there simply wasn’t a time during the match that something wasn’t going on to keep your attention focused.

So as a team if you take into account the turnover, the injuries, and the comment of Garth Lagerwey, it would be hard to be too critical of the team at this point, I would give the overall team effort a B- so far.

It has been interesting to see how individuals have responded this first quarter of the season, some of the names of the most impressive efforts were unfamiliar at the start of the season but now represents some of the new class of fan favorites for RSL.  Nobody has been more impressive than Olmes Garcia, RSL spent a lot to get this 20 year player from Colombia and the expectations were like those of most young players, slow progress.  Yeah that didn’t last due to injuries and Garcia’s efforts on and off the pitch.  It is rare that a young man comes in with the attitude of Olmes, in his first trip to the US just weeks before the start of the MLS season, he has jumped on learning English, in making friends in the locker room and showing his skills on the pitch.

Most folks would be happy with one new, young player making an impact so early in the season, but RSL fans aren’t most people and Garcia isn’t the only newcomer making people take notice. Last year in the second round RSL drafted Sebastian Velasquez who made a splash last year and has continued to develop this year, the team’s second round pick this year is making a splash as well, Devon Sandoval has already gotten his first MLS start and come close to opening his MLS scoring account.  He is a strong, big forward who has shined during reserve action and provides the team with an exciting option who has size, skill and surprising speed for a bigger player.  Of course there is also the smallest player on the team, Joao Plata, who came to RSL from Toronto and has already found his way onto the stat sheet with 2 assists.  He may be just 5’2″ but he plays without fear, and with speed to spare he is a daredevil for RSL either starting or off the bench.  I have to give these three guys solid A’s for exceeding expectations so far this year.

Of course it hasn’t been just the new guys who have made some waves or grabbed attention so far this year, I think that you would have to include the continued development of Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, Chris Schuler and Yordany Alvarez as real signs of the direction that RSL is heading in, each of them have played a huge role early in the season for RSL and each of them have shown why the RSL staff has such faith in them.  We have also see the rock solid performances from Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, Ned Grabavoy, and Alvaro Saborio who all have lived up to expectations.  I would give these guys a solid B for the first quarter of the season.

There are some guys who joined RSL either late last year, or this off-season who also are proving to be difference makers, guys like Lovel Palmer, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Khari Stephenson, Abdoulie Mansally, and Josh Saunders. Each of these guys has played critical minutes providing RSL with the depth to deal with injuries, national team call ups and whatever else might come up. There is also returning RSL player Robbie Findley, who got his first goal of the season against Seattle but picked up an injury that he is just returning from, but who clearly has improved his overall skill set during his time in the UK.  I would give this group a B- or C+, not because they haven’t been great but because their role has been a bit limited for various reasons so far this season.

There are no real under performers for me, there is Javier Morales, Chris Wingert and Nat Borchers, each of whom have battled surgery in the off season and are just starting to make the impact each of them is capable of, I would give them an incomplete. Along with them are guys who have seen a lot of reserve team action but are still waiting to make an impact with the first team, names like David Viana, Enzo Martinez, Carlos Salcedo, Aaron Maund, Cole Grossman, and John Stertzer.

I am excited by what I have seen from RSL in the first quarter of the season, as it shows the potential that could make RSL a very dangerous team as summer turns into fall, but potential is just that and it has to be nurtured and developed to turn into results.  The second quarter of the season will be very different from the first, as the next 8 matches will feature 5 at home (4 against fellow Western Conference teams).  It will give RSL a chance to move up the table and to grab some critical points over the next couple of month, I expect it will be a very fun ride for the fans of RSL.

That’s How I See It

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