Real Salt Lake has always enjoyed the role of the underdog, the little guy, but after 11 matches without a loss and 9 MLS matches without a loss, and a lot of people jumping on the RSL bandwagon, the success could be a double edged sword.
Now that doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t be proud of what they have accomplished, I mean it is fairly impressive when you consider the offseason changes, the injuries, national team call ups and such. After 20 matches RSL is/has:
- Top Overall Team in MLS with 37 points
- Top Team in points per match with 1.85
- Tied for most goals scored with 32 (Philadelphia & Vancouver)
- Tied for fewest goals allowed with 18 (Portland & New England)
- Most wins in MLS with 11
- Most road wins in MLS with 5
- Best overall goal differential with a +14
- Top team in the Sagarin ratings in USA Today
- Top team in the Sportsclubstats.com ratings – a 98.6% chance of making playoffs
Not bad for a team that lost Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola, and a number of other players via trade or release. The mix of replacement players has been diverse, MLS draft picks, trades, Homegrown players, and other acquisitions as RSL got younger, faster, and cheaper. It was the first time that I remember that the team actually filled all 30 roster spots, and that depth has been tested time and time again already this year, with 18 players having played at least 500 minutes in MLS action, and another 6 having played at least some time in MLS matches. Those both are more than all of the 2012 season for RSL, that is a lot of reason to be excited about what has happened so far and what the rest of the season might hold.
Still I am reminded of what Jason says after almost every match, win or lose, “you can’t let your highs be too high or your lows too low”. He is right, MLS is a strange league and one with a lot of parity, you only need to look at the slow start of the Galaxy last year who ended up with a strong finish, or the 2011 run of Sporting KC who started really slow but ended up on a hot run.
One thing that is clear this year is the attention the club has put on US Open Cup, knowing that there is a trophy, a nice check, and a spot in the next round of the Champions League. We have gotten a huge boost by winning a lot of coin flips to host all of our matches so far, and the August 7th Semifinal against the Portland Timbers will be at Rio Tinto. Neither side has ever made it to the Open Cup final, but both the teams on the other side of the bracket have multiple Open Cup titles as the Chicago Fire and DC United will see who will advance to the final.
On the MLS front, I think the front loading of the schedule (a little bit) will help, but there are some really big matches still to go, 9 of 14 remaining matches are against teams that are currently in playoff positions. 5 of those matches will be on the road, while two other road matches are big rivalry matches as we still have to finish off the Rocky Mountain Cup with a trip to Colorado, and then a trip to Seattle which is always a tough place to play.
I expect that RSL will make a run at the Supporter’s Shield, given the depth that so far this season has exceeded expectations it is hard to see the team dropping off too much over the final 14 matches, but only 7 points divide RSL from the 5th & 6th place team in the Western conference (LA and Colorado both have 30 points) and RSL has one match left with each of them. RSL also has 3 matches still (1 at home & 2 on the road) against second place Portland who sit with 33 points from 19 matches.
The playoffs are always an interesting thing, 3 of the last 4 winners of MLS Cup have come entered in one of the last playoff positions, including RSL’s 2009 run. Since then only the 2011 Galaxy have finished at the top of their division and won MLS Cup. So talk of the mythical MLS treble (US Open Cup, Supporter’s Shield, and MLS Cup) is very premature for me, as no team has ever been able to pull it off.
So while everyone is talking about RSL, remember these are the same folks who paid us little attention in the past, so take their praise with a grain of salt. However, I do suggest you remember what RSL GM Garth Lagerwey said before the season started, “We will be better in June than we are in March, and we will be better in October than we will will be in June”. If Garth is right then the summer and fall could be a very fun time to be a fan of RSL.
We sure will get a big test on Saturday as we play host to the top team in the Eastern Conference, Sporting Kansas City, the match is a sell out but I hear that some Standing Room Only tickets might go on sale Saturday morning. It is a 8pm start with fireworks after the match.
That’s How I See It