Starting on Saturday, June 1st Real Salt Lake will face the San Jose Earthquakes, the 2013 Supporter’s Shield winner, at Rio Tinto Stadium it is the first of 4 MLS matches they will play in June. Three of those matches will be played at home, after hosting San Jose, the defending MLS Cup Champions will come to town on June 8th and while the Galaxy will be missing a few players on National team duty, so will RSL. RSL will be looking for some revenge for the 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Galaxy earlier this season at Rio Tinto Stadium.
During the World Cup qualifying break RSL will play host to the Charleston Battery in the 4th round of the US Open Cup, a match that RSL will need to win if their plans of hoisting the US Open Cup and using it to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. RSL advanced to the 4th round via a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks, a match that required a pair of extra time goals to advance. I expect the team will be up for the match, as it will lead into a 10 day break for the players.
RSL will then pick up the MLS schedule on June 22nd when the Seattle Sounders come to town for their second visit of the year, the first match saw RSL pick up a 2-1 victory, which while nice was far from satisfying after the loss to the Sounders in last year’s playoffs. This match will end the trifecta of home matches against Western Conference foes, all three of which made the playoffs last year. After the disappointment of giving up a late goal to the Chicago Fire last weekend, which forced a 1-1 draw, the goal of getting 10 points from the 4 match homestand became a bit more difficult but still something within the range of possibilities.
A bit more detail about each of the June matches:
Well a four match home stand provided RSL with a perfect chance to gain ground on their Western Conference opponents but a late goal given up to the Chicago Fire leaves RSL with just a 1-1 draw to show from what on paper was a dominating performance. I like stats as much as the next person but in soccer I have found that few stats really matter, the couple that really do are scoring first (RSL is 5-1-2 this year when scoring first, 14-1-0 last year) and the home team will most often win in MLS (RSL is 64-28-34 all time at home), beyond those two there is little on the stat sheet that matters. Take Saturday as an example, RSL had a 67.5% to 32.5% edge in possession, RSL had 572 passes, Chicago had 251, RSL completed 87% of their passes, Chicago just 73%, RSL took 20 shots to 12 for the Fire, had 9 of those on goal to just 2 for the Fire, but the final scored didn’t reflect that, instead it showed 1-1. It is what it is, and while it is a bitter pill to swallow for players, staff and fans, it shows that there is no such thing as an easy match, no such thing as a sure thing in soccer. Now it is about moving forward.
On Tuesday night, RSL will again attempt to advance in the US Open Cup, they will face a NASL side in the Atlanta Silverbacks, a team that they should by all accounts defeat with any 11 of their players in the lineup. Of course this is soccer and there are no sure things, last year RSL went out on a limb and bought the hosting rights for their opening US Open Cup match. In return the visiting Minnesota Stars thumped RSL 3-1 in a match that could have been much worse on the scoreline as RSL looked flat and the Stars had nothing to lose in a match where few would have picked them to win. So be it a year later or 3 days later from disappointing results, it is about how you pick yourself up, about how you respond.
If there is a match this season that RSL should be a no questions asked win, it would be hosting the Chicago Fire at home. Think about this, the Fire have scored just 6 goals so far this season, while surrendering 16, so their 2-7-1 record is no real surprise to anyone. I have for the last several seasons believe that the Fire were as good as Marco Pappa played, but now he is gone along with his 21 goals and 12 assists (his tally for the last 3 seasons). I thought the replacements brought in by the Fire would be able to lift the load, Jeff Larentowitcz is as tough as they come in MLS, and Joel Lindpere has been one of my favorites since entering the league, but neither seem to have found their groove with the Fire. Instead the Fire find themselves looking for an identity again, something this team seems to have done each year since the departure of Blanco.
Now is when Real Salt Lake need to get a streak going, everyone from the fans to the staff know that this stretch of 4 league matches at home with 3 against tough Western Conference opponents is going to be huge. What we can’t do is overlook the Chicago Fire, who actually have a winning record against RSL, 6-3-6 overall and 3-2-2 when playing us at home. At home this year RSL is 3-1-1 with just 6 goals scored and 4 goals allowed, the Fire are 0-4-1 on the road this year, with 1 goal scored and 9 allowed. Real Salt Lake is finally starting to look healthy but with a US Open Cup match looming next Tuesday, will the lineup reflect the 3 matches in 8 days they will be facing. If ever there was a trap game for RSL winners of 3 of their last 4 matches, it might be this one.
Nick Rimando – As the journey towards the All Time MLS Clean Sheet record progresses, Nick keeps racking up things like Save of the Week, he just picked up his second one of the season this week. So far this season Nick has picked up 3 clean sheets and has kept his GAA at 1.00, in his career he has faced the Fire 29 times with a 1.23 all time GAA, with RSL he has been in goal 10 times against the Fire with a 0.80 GAA. Perhaps one of the biggest nights outside of MLS Cup’s for Nick Rimando came on November 14th, 2009 when after 120 minutes of shutout soccer, Nick stood in goal for the PK shootout against the Fire at Toyota Park, 3 times he stopped them and that was enough for RSL to pick up the victory and move on to MLS Cup. I hope he doesn’t have to stop any PK’s on Saturday, but we have already seen him do so twice this season.
Around the world, soccer is king, well football is king, with billions of fans who follow leagues, clubs and national teams, they attend matches in huge numbers, they buy merchandise worth billions of dollars, and they watch TV by the billions. So it is easy for some to expect that type of success to flourish in the United States, but for Major League Soccer it just hasn’t happened. In fact perhaps nothing points to the league’s struggles more than the TV ratings for the recent LA Galaxy (2 time defending MLS Cup Champions) vs. New York Red Bulls on ESPN 2, the match was a bit early by MLS standards (1:15pm ET) but had the lead in of the final match of the English Premier Season, yet despite that 250,000 people watched the match. Now think about that, ESPN 2 is in almost 100 million household, New York and LA markets are the two largest in the US, with over 30 million people, and ¼ if a million nationwide watched that match. One quarter of one percent of the households with ESPN 2 watched that match, more people watch fishing on TV than watch MLS. That fact, and it is a fact no single team (even in New York City) is going to make MLS as popular or successful as the NFL, MLB, NBA, or even the NHL.
The United States there is a flooded sports market, there are more professional and college options than anyone can keep track of and a good number of them are and will be more popular than MLS, I am OK with that fact and every MLS fan should be OK with that fact. We should rather be focused on making MLS as successful as we can, understanding the market we are in. That is an important point to make, we aren’t in Europe where soccer is the most popular sport by a landslide, where merchandise and TV deals are negotiated in billions, not millions of dollars. We can either spend all our time wondering why we aren’t as popular as the EPL, or trying to beat the NBA or NHL for fans, or we can focus on doing the best with what we have. I have been to NFL games, NBA games, MLB and NHL games, but I am a MLS fan, and have been since the league started, the reasons are simple.
Well that has to be one of the most interesting road trips in recent memory for RSL fans, only the late Montreal melt-down kept the side from picking up all 9 points, but if you had said that you would get 6 points from those 3 road matches, I think most people would have been happy with those results. Heck when was the last time that RSL scored 8 goals in 3 road matches? I can’t think of a time when we scored that many goals on the road, and that we did it while still suffering from injuries impacting our forwards is even more impressive. If you have read my blog for long you have known that I wanted a more aggressive Ned Grabavoy, who often was looking to pass instead of shoot when he was in dangerous positions, well after two goals on Sunday night, I can only hope he keeps on making runs and shooting. So how about a quick recap of the recent 3 match road trip:
The match at New England was interesting; RSL mixed up the lineup on short rest and had a solid result in picking up the 2-1 win despite giving up the opening goal. Devon Sandoval notched his first MLS goal, while Olmes Garcia picked up another and continues to impress observers. It was also nice to see RSL able to deal with playing on a turf surface without too many issues, and I liked that the team was able to battle back to not only get a result but a win. That victory marked the first time RSL had given up the opening goal but won the match this season, RSL is 1-4-1 when allowing the first goal vs. 5-1-1 when scoring first.
I have started writing this blog post a couple of times since David Beckham left the LA Galaxy, and with his announced retirement from football, a lot of people are calming a lot of things, and I just don’t buy a lot of it. Now to be honest I am happy MLS brought David Beckham over, I am glad they did it in the way that they did by creating the DP role. I probably would have been just as happy as a fan if they had brought Ronaldo over to New York Red Bulls as the league was talking about before Beckham. I am happy that it eventually ended some players being excluded from the Salary Cap, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Ruiz, and that the DP rule allowed every team the chance to sign a player to a higher salary without destroying their roster.
I am happy that Beckham was able to be on Oprah and made the late night TV rounds, I am happy that ESPN seemed to care a bit more when Beckham played. I am happy that he brought more fans out to the Home Depot Center, and for several years to every stadium he played in. I am happy that he sold a lot of jerseys, that the MLS marketing department could pimp him out like one of those cute little dogs that the celebs carry in their purses. I don’t believe for a second that David Beckham hurt MLS at all, but when I look beyond the hype, beyond the generalities, I don’t see anywhere near the impact that some do. So I thought maybe it was time to look at some key things and how David Beckham impacted them, of course like a lot of things it is hard to draw a direct causation between one person and particular results. I think too often people take a correlation and try to play it as causation, so let’s start by looking at what they mean:
“an action or occurrence can cause another (such as smoking causes lung cancer), or it can correlate with another (such as smoking is correlated with alcoholism). If one action causes another, then they are most certainly correlated. But just because two things occur together does not mean that one caused the other, even if it seems to make sense.” www.stats.org
Well Real Salt Lake heads to Canada, where they have never won a match, where they will take on the Impact who started the season as one of the surprises, but have cooled off a bit lately. Both sides played a match on Wednesday, for RSL it was a come from behind 2-1 win over New England, and for the Impact it was too little too late as a stoppage time goal wasn’t enough to get a win and they lost 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls.
Both sides have 5 wins on the season and two draws, RSL however had 4 losses, while the Impact have lost only twice so far this season. These two sides have only faced each other once, a 1-0 RSL win at Rio Tinto Stadium last year, but both sides are very different teams now. RSL no longer has Paulo Jr. on the roster, he is the one who scored the goal last year, also missing for RSL will be Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Jonny Steele, and Terakazu Tanaka, all of whom played against Montreal last season. The Impact also have had a lot of roster changes since these sides last saw each other, names like Alessandro Nesta, Romero, Pisanu, Tissot and others, One thing is clear this early afternoon match will feature some players that should provide plenty of action.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe – After missing a little time with the team for personal reason, Kwame headed to Montreal to meet the team as Nat Borcher’s illness forced him to return to Salt Lake to get further treatment. It was unknown until mid-day yesterday if the second yellow card that was shown to Carlos Salcedo would be overturned (it was), but having Kwame available provides more options along the backline for Real Salt Lake, and having options is something that is always a good thing for RSL.
So today in the Sports Business Daily they did a look at MLS attendance numbers so far this season and compared them to last year, the overall trend is down 8%. However a closer look at a couple of key things show you what could be the cause. First, the Sounders which average is up 1.4% have played half as many home matches as they did at this point of last year. Second, the Montreal Impact aren’t the new kid in town, and while they played most of their early matches last year at the Olympic Stadium (which has a larger capacity) so their drop of 25% is big (over 8K per match). We also see a huge drop at Chivas USA of 37.5%, that is over 4,000 fans per match.
Now all of this is based on the numbers that the various MLS teams report for their attendance, and we know that like in other sports that often the numbers are inflated a bit to reflect tickets sold vs. actual attendance. MLS also has been reducing the number of comp tickets over the last few years and while I doubt it could account for the whole gap, it probably has an impact of 3-4% over all.
If there was a road match that RSL could go into with confidence given their past it would be at New England, but without Alvaro Saborio, without Robbie Findley, and without Nat Borchers things are never as easy as they would first appear. There were moments when RSL looked like the home team, moving the ball around trying to find gaps between the 7-9 players behind the ball, and then there were moments when slight mistakes gave huge chances to the Revolution. I have laughed at a few reviews of the matches that actually believe that this was an evenly played match, RSL dominated possession, controlled the pace of most of the match, and was by far the more attacking side.
You don’t have to believe me, here are the numbers: 13 shots for RSL, 11 for New England, 7 on target for RSL, 3 for New England, 482 passes for RSL and just 318 for New England, 81% passing accuracy for RSL (that seems a bit high) to 71% for New England, and 58.6% of possession for RSL, just 41.4% for New England. The only category that New England really dominated in was corner kicks with a 10 to 2 advantage, oh and fouls, where they have a 17 to 11 edge.
This was another match where the official ended up being a big part of the story, several major calls missed (both ways), and then in stoppage time a bad call of a handball for a PK, and a 2nd yellow card to Carlos Salcedo who had nothing to do with the play. Thankfully a PK save by Nick Rimando allowed RSL to hold on to the deserved win. For me it was great to see our midfielders taking more shots, one of the things I believe we must do, on the night Ned had some great ones (and took a beating most of the night) to end with 3 shots, Kyle had that same number, and Luis Gil added two more shots. I am not surprised that Javier Morales had no shots, he was marked closely (often too closely for comfort) by the Rev’s midfielders and defenders.
Well for the first time this season RSL is in one of those stretches that can really test a team’s depth, and it really couldn’t come at a worse time as the forward corps is riddled with injuries. Only 3 forwards travelled to the East coast for the pair of matches this week (New England on Wednesday, Montreal on Saturday) , so that will mean that we are likely to see the starting tandem of Devon Sandoval and Joao Plata on Wednesday, maybe Olmes Garcia off the bench or in the lineup on Saturday (not on turf). Outside of our forwards, the RSL depth chart is looking good with few other injuries that would impact the normal starting XI.
With the new alignment of the MLS schedule we only see Eastern Conference teams once a year, but we know a few things about the Revolution. First, they finished last year with a 9-17-8 record, and second their 2013 start hasn’t been much better at 2-3-3 with just 4 goals scored. We also know that RSL is 7-4-4 against the Revolution with 30 goals scored to their 19, and while RSL has never been known as a strong road team, they are 3-2-2 at New England with both sides having scored 11 goals. When I look at the match preview, the thing that scares me the most is Jose Carlos Rivero, who is he? He is the ref in charge of the match, he has 11 previous MLS matches under his belt, calls 25.8 fouls per match, issues 3.7 yellows per match, and has pointed to the PK spot 4 times already, and issued 4 red cards as well. Yikes.
Carlos Salcedo – RSL’s first home grown player to see the pitch in a MLS match, could get his first start on Wednesday as Nat Borchers is out with a cold, Kwame Watson-Siriboe didn’t travel with the team. It is still up in the air but with with Carlos looking very good in reserve matches and having the potential to be huge part of the RSL future, could this be his chance to show what he is capable of? RSL’s last trip to New England came on short rest and saw a number of guys not normally in the starting XI get the start, could it happen again? You can make arguments either way, but it is an exciting thought that we could see a HGP get the start for the Claret and Cobalt. Read more