Yes I do realize it has been over 4 months since I last finished a blog post, part of the reason is a general “MEH” towards MLS and part of it has been the “MEH” that has been RSL the last 4 months. Yeah I still love our team and our guys, but there has been little to be excited about the last few months. We are 8-7-4 since that last blog post, and heck 4 of those wins even came against playoff bound teams, but this year we sit with a 14-8-11 record, yeah after that 6-1-7 start we have been rather “MEH” and sure we can explain a bunch of it. Injuries, call-ups, and so forth, but reality is that standard is higher and for me that is the 15 win and 50 point mark for the regular season. We could get there Wednesday if we can find a way to beat Chivas USA, something we haven’t done yet this year, but even that might not be enough to get us out of the “wildcard” playoff game. Yikes, who would have thought after a 6-0-6 start, that we would end up here, not me.
So yeah, I have avoided saying much online the last couple of months, but I thought I would put forth some thoughts about our match against Chivas USA, what ends up being a huge match with lots of possible implications (most of which are out of our hands). A win would jump us back to 3rd place in the West and depending on what happens in FCD vs POR this weekend could help us avoid the “wildcard” and a short turnaround to the actual playoffs. If we end up in 4th we will face either Portland or Vancouver, and neither of those are sure things or anything close to it this year. We are 1-1-1 against Portland with a 1-0 win at home, a 3-1 loss (yeah the last match I wrote about) and just last week a 0-0 draw in Portland, none of which are confidence building results. Then there is Vancouver, 0-1-2 with both home matches ending in draws for RSL (2-2 & 1-1) and a 2-1 loss in Vancouver a couple of week ago, again my confidence level doesn’t really go up with the prospect of facing them either in a one and done match.
So Wednesday night when we take the pitch against a Chivas USA side that we should be able to beat without breaking a sweat, given their league leading 18 losses and league low -31 goal differential (11 worse than Montreal with a -20), ahh but this is soccer and things often don’t go according to logic, as we have seen in both of our other matches against Chivas this year, both 1-0 losses at the StubHub center. Think about this, RSL has scored 52 goals, while Chivas has scored just 28, that gap of 24 goals scored is huge and should be enough to put RSL over the top in this match, the other side of it is even more telling Chivas USA have given up 59 goals, RSL has given up 20 fewer at just 39 goals. Those numbers are amazing, that -31 goal differential for Chivas combined with RSL’s +13, means that the gap between these two teams is 44 goals.
So beyond the on the pitch differences that on paper would make one believe that this isn’t even a contest, is the reality of what is going on off the pitch with Chivas USA. The team this year was purchased by MLS, in part to avoid legal action against the previous owners and in part to try to get the franchise heading in a better direction while they looked for a new owner. It appears that the league has found a new ownership group, but instead of taking the club over as it exists today it sounds like they will fold the club and the new owners will do a complete re-launch in a couple years. That confuses me a bit, given you have players, coaches and an academy system all in place, to scrap all that for 24 months and then rebuild it seems rather wasteful. This has to leave players in a mode of not worrying about results as much as trying to use their last remaining matches as ‘auditions” for what will likely be an distribution draft to get other teams, while I am sure those details are still being worked out, I would expect guys on Chivas know this might be their last chance to make an impression.
The reality is that most eyes when Chivas play are focused on two guys, Erick “Cubo” Torres who has 15 goals, over half of the teams total, and Dan Kennedy a keeper who has simply been exposed by bad defenses for years but is a keeper with plenty of skill and should be able to find a new home easily. Now there are others who will get some attention but those are clearly the prizes that will be the most sought when the MLS season is over.
Real Salt Lake is getting ready for their 7th straight playoff run, and you would think there are few matches that could be more of a confidence builder than facing a team that will not exists in 45 days, a team that has given up so many goals, but as we saw just a few weeks ago RSL was unable to break down the Chivas defense. The simple reality is that RSL needs to score goals to win, only once this year when they scored at least 2 goals did they lose, that was a 3-2 loss to Seattle. RSL won 11 matches this year when they scored 2 or more goals, think about that for a second, RSL has scored multiple goals in 15 matches and they are 11-1-3 in those matches. Simply put if we can score 2 goals it is very likely that we will win, only 7 times this year was RSL held without scoring a goal, and in those matches RSL is 0-4-3, yup it doesn’t get any simpler than that, score 2 you win, score none you lose.
So on Wednesday you need to see how RSL starts, 30 first half goals, 10 in the first 15, 10 in the second 15, and yes 10 in the final 15 minutes of the first half. RSL has given up 16 first half goals, with just 2 in the first 15 minutes, 5 in the second 15 and 9 in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Chivas on the other hand has scored just 8 first half goals all season, 3 in the first 15 minutes, 3 in the second and just 2 in the final 15 minutes of the first half. On the other side of the ball they have given up 28 first half goals, 5 in the first 15, 9 in the second 15 and 14 in the final 15 minutes of the first half. So the best chance RSL will have is to score early and often, and while Chivas have scored 20 of their 28 goals in the second half, they also give up a huge number of goals 31 in the second half. RSL’s second halves are a bit more stable, scoring 22 including 11 in the final 15 minutes and stoppage time, but we have given up 23 goals in the second half including 9 in the final 15 minutes and stoppage time.
So RSL needs to get a off to a good start, the last time against Chivas we simply didn’t take advantage of our chances. The image that burns in my mind as perhaps the image of the season was a series of great passes getting the ball into the goal area and it sitting on the corner of the 6 yard box and just sitting there and sitting there until what seemed like a minute later it was cleared by a Chivas defender. When we only get one shot on goal and that came from Javier Morales not any of our forwards, well we aren’t going to get those 2 goals that seem to be a key to us winning a match. All of our hearts beat hard when after months of missing action that Alvaro Saborio scored within a minute of returning to the pitch for RSL, that was 6 weeks ago and now more than ever we need Sabo to deliver. My head tells me that RSL should be able to step up and dominate this match like they did a month ago against Colorado, but my heart fears this is going to be a dog fight. What happens on Wednesday is probably going to be what sticks with me most about this season, a match we need to win, a match we should win, a match that if we win we hit that rather amazing stat of 5 straight years of 15 wins & 50 points (only the current LA Galaxy run has done that, Seattle has a current 4 year run going), it has become my measure of a successful season and one that should have been taken care of weeks ago. I am going with my head and picking a 3-1 RSL win, which is closer than it should be.
That’s How I See It