So in my match preview post, I pointed out how the passing and possession style of RSL would cause issues for TFC who often look to force a mistake or counter and attack, on Saturday night RSL had 434 passes completed at a 80% rate, while TFC had just 265 and a completion rate of 73%. That resulted in RSL dominating the possession by a 60.5% to 39.5%, and RSL was much more effective with their possession.
I thought the absence of Jonathan Osorio would be huge as he was the main link for TFC between their defense and Michael Bradley, the result was the Bradley often found himself having to come further back to get the ball and that limited his effectiveness as a playmaker and provider. The TFC midfield simply couldn’t match up with RSL’s on Saturday, despite the play of Bradley, only 7 passes found their way to Jermain Defoe who only got 2 shots off and neither was on target. Gilberto took 5 shots with a couple forcing saves by Nick Rimando but on the night the RSL defense was very solid and despite some good attempts by TFC, they simply never were able to find the back of the net.
I will say that I got mighty lucky with my preview picks on the scoring Saturday night, I predicted a 3-1 RSL win with Sabo getting the brace (check), and Luis Gil getting one (check), I did pick Bradley to get a goal for TFC and he came within a couple of inches with a shot from distance that froze Rimando but bounced off the frame. Not a bad round of predictions.
I have to pick Alvaro Saborio as my man of the match not so much for the goals but for the work he did off the ball on both defense and also for keeping his cool despite some cheap shots by Caldwell who seemed intent on baiting Sabo into reacting. Sabo is a polarizing figure for RSL fans as the local media is quick to point out, and while I always have respected Sabo’s work as a goal scoring machine, perhaps one of the very best in MLS. I was critical of his work on defense in a couple of matches, where his marking on set pieces was very suspect, on Saturday night there where no such criticism Sabo was marking well on set pieces and even provided great support by pressuring the ball in both halves of the pitch.
Still while the work of Sabo stood out to me, it was one of those matches where everyone did their job and did it very well. So while Olmes Garcia didn’t get a goal or assist on the night he proved dangerous and forced TFC to adjust their defense to keep a close eye on him, this freed room for others, and that was important on the night. The switching of sides by Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy seemed a bit odd to me at the start of the match but wow I thought it provided some great results as both looked more dangerous on the offensive side of the ball then they have all season and there was no drop off on the defensive side of things. Javier Morales was brilliant all night at pulling the strings, and once again despite some nasty tackles that the officials seemed intent on overlooking, he remained calm and was able to break down the TFC defense almost at will on Saturday.
Perhaps one of the more interesting matchups was Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman in the midfield battle of USMNT teammates, it was interesting to see how they did as much of the prematch hype was around which player was better. To me two things are clear to me, just as clear as they were before the match, they both are great players and while Kyle probably has a bit better overall effectiveness with RSL than Bradley does with TFC that could change over time. So do you measure which is better based on how their teams do, or on their personal performance? Both were the main distributor of the ball for their team, Kyle was able to spend more time in the offensive half of the pitch according the the heat maps of the match. Bradley has some great plays and showed why TFC were willing to spend a great deal of money to get him, but there is nobody who could have watched that match and believed that Bradley is worth 10 times more or 10 times more effective of a player than Kyle Beckerman. So while Bradley may be a slightly better player, Kyle is more effective with his team, and way more of a overall value.
On Saturday evening it was announced that RSL would be sending a fourth player to be a part of the USMNT for their midweek match with Mexico, and while I would have loved to have seen Chris Schuler get that call, it was Tony Beltran who also was a part of the January camp and the Gold Cup squad this last summer that will fill in for injured Brad Evans. One thing has to be sure, all the RSL defenders sent a message to both Jurgen and the rest of MLS, they are not to be taken lightly. Consider that they have faced some of the biggest names (and paychecks) among MLS attacking players and have not been beaten, Keane, Donovan, Wondolowski, and now Defoe all have come and all have found that to beat RSL demands something very special. One moment of the night was both a concern as well as a bit of a celebration, Chris Wingert picked up what appears to be a groin injury, that made way for Rich Balchan to make his RSL debut after dealing with a number of injuries last year. While I hope the injury is a minor one, it was great to see the hard work that Balchan has put in being rewarded. It was also great to see Devon Sandoval make his 2014 RSL debut coming on late for Olmes Garcia, hopefully Devon will be able to stay healthy and provide even more offensive options for RSL.
All in all it was a great night for RSL, a very solid crowd that arrived early and was very loud throughout the match and they were rewarded with one of the best 90 minute performances RSL has had in a long time. Up next for RSL is a trip back to Sporting Park and a rematch of MLS Cup 2013, oh my that should be very entertaining.
That’s How I See It