Did we all think after coming in mid year that this year we would see more from Juan Manual “Burrito” Martinez, sure. Did we all hope that Joao Plata would return to his 2013 form after injuries last year, sure. Did we all think bringing back Yura Movsisyan would help the RSL offense, sure. Did we all think that younger guys like Jordan Allen and Justen Glad had a ton of potential to make RSL better, sure. Did any of us think Sunny would step in and make this much of a difference right away, nope. Did all of us think we had serious issues at CB heading into this season, yup. Do most of us still think we have those issues at CB, probably
The first 8 matches of RSL season have come as a surprise to just about everyone, but I doubt many people are disappointed given the team has the best PPM 2.13 in the league and our 5-1-2 record is mighty good given some of the early season injuries, suspensions and mistakes. I think a lot of us noticed something different about the team early on, the amount of fight when faced with things going wrong seemed much better than last year.
While all of us are impressed with where RSL is after the first 8 matches, things could have been better a couple of bad red cards in two of the first 3 matches, along with a couple of mental and physical breakdowns late in matches left RSL exposed late and the team ended up with a couple of draws in matches that could have and probably should have been wins. Imagine what people would be saying about a 7-1-0 start by RSL. Still you have to deal with the hands you are given sometimes and I believe the team learned a lot about itself in those tough situations, something that will pay off over the long MLS season.
On Saturday night in their 2-1 win over Houston we saw RSL do something rare in MLS, get a win after giving up the first goal. For RSL it is actually the second time this season they have done it, they also did it again Seattle in our 2-1 win over them. The only team that has shown the ability to come from behind better than RSL has been the LA Galaxy who have won 3 and gotten 2 draws after giving up the first goal.
So last year RSL ended the season with just 38 goals scored, only one team had fewer goals scored last year (Colorado – 33). RSL allowed 48 goals last year, 7 teams allowed more goals in but only 1 in the West (Houston). In the first 1/4 of the season this year RSL has scored 14, 3 teams have scored more (LA 18, FC Dallas & Orlando 15). The RSL defense has given up 12 goals, which puts them in the middle of the pack in MLS with 11 teams giving up fewer than 12.
If we look at individual performances, it would be impossible to not start with Joao Plata who has 4 goals and 4 assists so far, and that is with missing the last two matches due to injury. He is the only player in MLS in both the top 5 scoring and top 5 assists, which make him a real league MVP candidate thru the first quarter of the MLS season.
On the defensive side of things, you have to give huge credit to both Nick Rimando who continues on his path to holding every major goalkeeping MLS record. It easy for us who see Nick play every week to forget how special he really is in the league, year in and year out he simply is the best keeper this league has ever seen. One also has to make note of the continued development of Aaron Maund, who is one of 3 players to start every match for RSL so far this season and before coming out of the match on Saturday had played every minute of the MLS season. Aaron is still making mistakes but they are fewer and he has gotten much better at recovering from those mistakes, and one would be remiss if they didn’t mention those saves he has made on the goal line then the keeper was out of position.
I think most RSL fans would agree that the biggest surprise so far this season has been the way Sunday “Sunny” Stephen has integrated into the team so quickly and become a key to the midfield. MLS often is a league where it takes new players several months if not longer to adjust to, but Sunny who joined the team in late January, was ready to go as soon as he got here and hasn’t looked back.
The team now heads out for 5 straight road matches before returning home on June 18th, these are huge matches as 3 are against Western Conference foes where points are always at a premium. The two against teams from the East are sides that have struggled so far this season, Columbus and NYCFC both of whom have just 2 wins so far this season.
First up is the Saturday match at the Rapids, with a win RSL could reclaim the Rocky Mountain Cup but this is a Rapids team that is playing very solid defense giving up just 8 goals so far this season. It won’t be easy but a win would be a great way to start the road trip.
That’s How I See It