Archive for December 2013

The top Real Salt Lake moments of 2013, the year of “almost”

So it is the time of year when most blogger/pundits/reporters put together their light of the highlights and lowlights of the past year, so it seemed only fitting that I take a look back at what was a very interesting year for Real Salt Lake.  I started out wanting to look at the 5 best things and the 5 worse things of the year and found that the two lists were very similar and often the events were very intertwined with each other.  For how long the MLS season is, just under 11 months, it was couple weeks that provided a lot of the material for my lists.  Anyhow, here we go:

The Top 5 highlights of the 2013 RSL season

5. US Open Cup run – it seemed as if RSL had destiny on their side as each and every coin flip by US Soccer gave home field advantage to RSL and despite questionable starts in several of the matches RSL was able to advance to the Open Cup final, a level they had never reached before in the tournament. It was in the Open Cup run that we got to see Devon Sandoval really step out of the shadows of being a rookie and show his potential, something that would benefit RSL for the rest of the season.   It was also great to see RSL pull in over 10,000 fans to each of their US Open Cup matches, in fact over the 5 matches RSL averaged over 14,000 fans, showing that a serious run at the USOC actually was important to both the club and the fans.  In almost every match played RSL put out a lineup that featured most of their top players another indication of how the club viewed the importance of the tournament, I hope that we see this same level of commitment in years to come.

4. Extra time win over the LA Galaxy in playoffs – Over the years I think this has become one of the best “non-rivalries” in MLS, from the style of play on the pitch to the way the clubs are run there really aren’t two clubs as polar opposites in the league.  So a highlight of the year has to be eliminating the Galaxy from the playoffs, and to do so in a match where some questionable calls again seemed to be strongly against RSL (hint this match should have ended in regulation time) just put a smile on the faces of all the RSL fans in the stands for that match.  I thought it was interesting how much attention had been given to the combo of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane leading up to the series and how after it the talk was all about the duo of RSL centerbacks Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler.

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Real Salt Lake lose the 2013 MLS Cup, but all is not lost

So it breaks our hearts, as fans, as supporters, we know it breaks their hearts as players, coaches and staff to lose such a big match.  It hurts even more to come so close only to have the fickle hand of the soccer gods us the framework to tease and deny us so.  It is interesting to me that 4 times the framework worked against us, but that word framework is exactly what we should be focusing on for a lot more positive reasons.

In a year when nobody from staff to fans really would have thought that RSL would compete for all 3 major trophies, we did, and we did so with a framework of veteran players, combined with new and often younger players.  It was a year when I was lucky enough to hear more than one of the new arrivals to RSL mention how different this club is, how the relationships in the locker room and the relationships with the fans is something they hadn’t seen anywhere else.  I am proud of that, I am proud that we have players who not only play the game together but who take the time to know each other, become friends with each other, I love that our coaches and staff want to get to know players before they sign them.  I think it speaks volumes that personality and motivation is as important as talent when players are brought here.

It speaks loudly to me as a fan that our players take time to connect with the fans, to sign autographs, pose for pictures, they do it after matches, after practices, I have seen them do it away from the stadium as well. I am proud that over the years I have been able to watch, take pictures and write about the men who make up RSL, and I hope that it continues for a long time to come.

The next few days and weeks could shake the very foundation of RSL, depending on what happens with Jason, other coaches and staff members as well as players, and that scares me. Not because they might leave to pursue bigger dreams or other opportunities, it scares me because any time you lose a family member it hurts.  And if you like it or not, this Real Salt Lake thing is a family, the fans, the players, the coaches, the staff, each of us invest a big part of ourselves into doing the best we can in the name of Real Salt Lake.  Losing Jason Kreis would be devastating, since a lot of what RSL has become is because of his involvement from day one in this club and this community.  Should he leave it would hurt, but we would pick up the pieces, just like we did this year when quality players and fan favorites like Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola, and others left the team.  Just like when Robin Fraser left a couple years ago to take over at Chivas USA, but we moved on, we brought in new guys and we continue on this journey.

I am excited that Chris Schuler is healthy, that Kwame Watson-Siriboe is on the mend, that we have so many talented young forwards like Devon Sandoval, Joao Plata, and Olmes Garcia. That Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez continue to show why they are the next generation of quality midfielders for RSL. That all of that is happening while guys like Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, and others are playing some of their best soccer of their careers.  Next year will bring us new challenges on and off the pitch I am sure, and while it will take some time for the sting of the loss in KC to wear off, the future is amazingly bright and I am already excited to see what 2014 will bring.

I remember someone asking me why I got the RSL logo tattooed on my calf several years, they wondered what will happen when you lose interest, or when you move away.  I explained to them that soccer isn’t about a match, or even a season, it is about a lifetime spent cheering on the club you choose to support.  For me that is RSL, on the good days and on the bad days, it will always be RSL for me.  Yes we lost some big matches this year and that hurts, but we got to play in some big matches this year, we made it to the US Open Cup final for the first time in club history.  We played in our second MLS Cup in 4 years, something teams that have been in MLS since day one would love to be able to say.  We spent most of the summer as the top team in the league, despite being impacted by more national team call ups than any other team in the league.  Winning can make you strong for a day, or a week, but losing and getting up to battle even harder the next time around is what build a legacy.  The 2014 RSL home opener is March 22nd, see you there.

That’s How I See It

RSL vs SKC – 2013 MLS Cup Match Preview part II

So if you missed part one of my MLS Cup Preview you can check it out here.

To continue with my look at he matchups-

  • Midfield – This one is tough as it depends on where Graham Zusi lines up,  if he is in the midfield it is fairly even, but if he is up top as a forward then an edge to RSL.  Another key factor is which Benny shows up, if the Feilhaber of the regular season shows up then RSL is in good shape, if the guy who has stepped up in the playoffs is there, then it becomes a better battle.  Let’s be honest, Kyle Beckerman is better than Oriol Rosell, Ned Grabavoy is better than Benny over the course of the season, Luis Gil is better than Peterson Joseph and Javier Morales and Zusi are a wash.  Yeah I am saying edge to RSL.
  • Forwards – Edge RSL – A healthy Alvaro Saborio is a difference maker unlike anyone that Sporting can offer up, now Claudio Bieler is a damn good forward but his form of recent has been less than ideal. RSL can also offer up a very in form Robbie Findley, who had 6 regular season goals along with subs like Olmes Garcia with 5 goals, 4 assist in less than 1,000 minutes, or Devon Sandoval with 3 goals in under 900 minutes in the regular season, oh and Joao Plata. On the SKC side, I actually like Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong but they seem to be a bit lost without Kei Kamara in the formation. Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer are wildcards but I give the edge here to RSL.
  • Intangibles – Edge SKC – I get the home field advantage but SKC was just 9-5-3 at home, not exactly dominating, but their 29 to 15 edge in goals scored was very impressive.   Sleeping in your own bed vs a hotel can be a big difference maker, but I imagine some of the weather issues may negate a bit of the home field advantage.  Clearly the SKC front office did their part to try and stack the crowd with as many home fans as possible and it is hard to blame them for that. One advantage RSL will have is experience, it is possible that 6 starters from the 2009 MLS Cup could be in the staring XI for RSL on Saturday (Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley), I don’t believe any SKC players have played in a MLS Cup before.
  • Overall – RSL – I know you will say that is a homer pick, but I think Sporting is a damn good team, however they aren’t the same team without Kei Kamara as they are with him.  Without that spark SKC just seems to be lacking that special factor, for RSL when Sabo went out with an injury it took just minutes for Devon Sandoval to step up and deliver big time results in big matches.  Unless someone does that for SKC on Saturday then I expect that RSL will win this match. 2-1

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RSL vs SKC – 2013 MLS Cup match preview part I

This is what it all comes down to, two teams battling for the right to be called the best team in MLS, the regular season is a grind of toughness but the playoffs are when you have to shine your best when the spotlight is the brightest.  It is funny that a lot of folks had Sporting KC picked early to be here, but very few thought after the off season roster changes that RSL would have what it took to get to this point, but no matter the thoughts in March, it is RSL and SKC playing in December (that is a whole other topic).

It would be hard to argue that these aren’t the two teams that deserve to be here, RSL spent most of the post All Star Match calendar at the top of the MLS table, only to drop to 4th in the final weeks, while Sporting was a top 3 side in the Eastern Conference almost the entire season.  While you might argue that the Eastern Conference was the weaker side of the bracket, it is hard to argue against SKC as a top team in the league.

The two sides faced off once this season in a physical match that ended up being more about what was and wasn’t called by the officials than what the actual play was on the pitch, add in that the match came during  Gold Cup and that RSL was missing 4 players to national team duty and you can toss that 2-1 SKC win into the trash heap.

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Back to Practice for Real Salt Lake as MLS Cup looms

After a few days off to celebrate the holidays, RSL returned to practice on Sunday with a spirited 90 minute session that featured a variety of drills.  It was good to see Alvaro Saborio back to what appears to be close to full fitness, Chris Wingert was also an active participant but I believe he is still in some pain from the rib injuries suffered in the first leg against Portland. Devon Sandoval missed practice but Jason Kreis was confident (as was RSL PR man Sam Stejskal) that Devon would be ready to go by MLS Cup.

The drills started out small with smaller groups taking on each other in passing and possession drills and the scale kept getting larger and larger as practice went along, towards the end the keepers and groups of players broke off and started working on taking and defending PK’s (a sure sign that we are in full playoff mode).

Listening to a number of players and Jason talk after practice the group is fully aware of the task in front of them, they seem very focused while someone remaining relaxed.  Perhaps that is the veteran influence as RSL has a good number of players from the 2009 MLS Cup win on their roster (Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley) and with 6 straight seasons of playoff runs and this years US Open Cup run, every player on the roster has dealt with high pressure situations. That experience should provide a calming effect next Saturday as the big match hype has to be dealt with.

I was able to catch up with a couple of players after practice, first up is Lovel Palmer:

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It appears #TicketGate continues for MLS Cup (Updated)

So the only question remaining behind all of the #TicketGate issues is who does blame for bad policies, poor reactions, and overall the mess fall on.  Is it TicketMaster, MLS or Sporting KC? I from the start have believed that SKC has been responsible for the majority of the mess, but it has been funny to have SKC fans try to defend their club by saying it is all on TicketMaster, who created a bad code, turned on sales before they should have been, and yes even made up the policy of only selling in the KC market.  Of course I know that none of those are true, I many years ago worked for TM and they are just a vendor who does what their clients tell them to (that still leave a SKC or MLS question.  One fan asked TM about the blocking out of market sales for the General Public portion of MLS Cup sales and here is their response:

TM policy

I know that is small, so here is the text of the TM response:

Thank you for reaching out to us regarding tickets for:
MLS Cup 2013 – Sporting Kansas City v. Real Salt Lake
Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS
Sat, Dec 7, 2013 03:00 PM

We understand your frustration and wish that we could assist you, but unfortunately, the venue/promoters for the game have set up “geo-limiting” for this game. (geographical limiting)

This means that only fans who have their billing address in the state where the game is taking place, may purchase tickets.

Please note that Ticketmaster do not own the tickets that we sell. We sell under contract for the venue/promoters and as such, we have to follow their rules and instructions for the event.

If a fan who has their billing address in the geo limited state, resells tickets, you can purchase tickets from them and attend the game.

We hope that you are able to get tickets for the game.

If you need anything else, we’re always here for you – just reply to this email or visit Ticketmaster.com.

So that should at least clear up anyone who wants to blame TicketMaster for the issues involving the sales of MLS Cup Tickets.  The original post is after the jump:

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