When RSL was 2 matches into the MLS season, I doubt most people thought that when the team had 20 matches under their belt that they would be at the top of MLS. If you look at the stats, RSL has the most points 37 in MLS, their 1.85 points per match average is also tops in MLS, as is the +14 goal differential, their 11 wins, their 5 road wins. With 32 goals scored they are tied for the top total in MLS with the Philadelphia Union, RSL’s 18 goals allowed is tied for second fewest in MLS with Portland, while New England have given up just 16 goals so far this season.
All of this came to a bit of a head on Saturday as RSL headed into Texas, missing 4 normal starters on national team duty, missing a couple other players with injuries or suspension, so was it a bit surprising when the team picked up their first every win in Texas with their 3-0 defeat of FC Dallas? Not really, RSL has had to play with their lineup and even their formation often since the start of the season for various reasons, it is why 20 players have over 500 minutes of MLS action already this year, and 6 others have also gotten time in MLS matches. Both of those are more than the entire season for RSL last year, a rather amazing stat if you ask me.
On Saturday it was the same thing as we again saw different players step up, as Abdoulie Mansally stepped into the starting lineup, another match with Nat Borchers and Carlos Salcedo as our centerbacks, alongside Chris Wingert. In goal we saw Josh Saunders get the start and play really well, only to pick up an injury late in the first half that eventually would take him out of the match early in the second half, we should know more early this week about the extent of his injury, but I sure hope it isn’t a serious one that will keep him out of action long. That allowed for Jeff Attinella to get his first MLS minutes, and he looked like it was just another day, making some great saves and helping RSL keep the clean sheet.
It was in the middle that we saw some big changes, and they went beyond a couple of changes to the lineup up a revamp of the diamond formation to a 5 man midfield with a lone striker up top. With Yordany Alavarez stepping in for Kyle Beckerman, the formation had him playing just infront of our backlline with Ned Grabavoy along side him. It was different to watch and not sure it allowed for the normal flow of the match that we are used to from RSL, but you have to consider the end result successful. That meant 3 guys were covering the more attacking midfield roles as Luis Gil, Javier Morales, and Sebastian Velasquez all got the start and while we know these guys can be very creative it just didn’t seem to click on Saturday, at least not compared to what I think a lot of fans would have expected, but in large part that was due to the fact that the FC Dallas midfield provided some stiff competition for them with so many bodies in the midfield.
That left Robbie Findley up top by himself and while he made some runs, he saw very little of the ball and had just one shot in the 70 minutes he played. Joao Plata came on for Sebastian and RSL went back to more of their traditional 4-4-2 formation but it was the addition of the fresh legs of Olmes Garcia who really opened things up for RSL. His pace and work rate really seemed to catch the FC Dallas defenders by surprise, and in some of the space created by him we saw one of the best combination goals as Javier Morales made a great pass to Mansally who delivered a great ball to Ned Grabavoy who had made a great run into the box, Ned settled the ball and fired a rocket into the corner of the net for the 2nd goal of the match. As the clock hit 90 it was another ball crossed into the area that eventually found the foot of Olmes Garcia who picked up his 5th goal of the MLS season to secure the 3-0 win for RSL.
Now I don’t think any of us will claim that the Dallas match was a thing of beauty, but it did show that RSL are learning how to really punish the mistakes of their opponents, while minimizing their own mistakes. In fact Dallas took more shots (19 to 11) and even had more shots on goal (6 to 5), it was also one of the few matches where an opponent has more passes and possession than RSL (466 to 383 and 54.8% to 42.5%). The result was a big one as it allowed the team to continue their momentum in both MLS play and overall action, and they will need it. RSL’s next 5 league matches will be tough:
- Sporting KC (top team in the Eastern Conference)
- at New York Red Bulls (#3 team in East, and first match since NY picked up Espindola, Olave, and Steele
- at Colorado Rapids (RSL must win to keep Rocky Mountain Cup)
- Houston Dynamo (#5 in the East, but back to back MLS Cup runner ups)
- at LA Galaxy (do I really need to say anything)
You can also add in the August 7th US Open Cup Semifinal match at home against the Portland Timbers. So the team clearly has no time to rest on what they have been able to accomplish so far, and this group has shown no indication of slowing down.
We also know that RSL recently cleared a roster spot by releasing David Viana, who while talented just never seemed to be able to adapt to the RSL system (one that many players say is a very tough system to learn and play). I would expect that we will look for a central defender, as while Carlos Salcedo has done well and Aaron Maund shows potential, with Kwame Watson-Siriboe out for the rest of the season, and Chris Schuler’s status still uncertain, depth over the long summer will be needed.
With so many players getting minutes this early in the season for RSL, I think it will really pay off in the long stretch to the playoffs. We have seen in the past that a key injury can often cause big issues in the post season, but with so many players getting minutes and often in big matches, the ability to step in and step up will be less daunting than it may have been in past seasons.
I thought this post match comment from RSL head coach Jason Kreis was telling:
On Javier Morales’ one goal, two assists performance…
“He was incredible again tonight. This is a player so many people had written off – including some people in our club actually – so for us to continue to believe in him and him to believe in himself… to make something happen this year, I just couldn’t be more pleased. He’s a terrific player but more than that he’s a terrific man and it just really warms my heart to see a guy like that do well.”
I will be the first to admit that I have been impressed with some of the work of Javier this year, he seems to finally be regaining the form he had before the injury in 2011. As he continues to regain that form he proves that he is capable of some amazing things on the pitch.
RSL will still be missing some of their players this week as they head into the reserve match with Vancouver on Tuesday (10:30 am America First Field) and then Saturday night when Kansas City comes to town (8:00 pm Rio Tinto Stadium), both matches will provide some opportunities for guys to once again step up and deliver the goods, something they have been doing all year.
That’s How I See It