It came down to the wire, but a new CBA has been agreed to, so the MLS season can get under way. What exactly does that mean for RSL heading into the 2015 season?
With some big off-season changes both in the front office as well as on the pitch, this clearly is now Dell Loy’s team with his choice for coach Jeff Cassar entering his second season and Craig Waibel as the Technical Director in place. So what are your expectations for RSL heading into the 2015 season? Remember this year we will see MLS action, CCL action, USOC action, as well as the addition of USL Pro side Real Monarchs, construction of a new stadium for them, the possible addition of a NWSL team, that is a whole lot of soccer (and yes we love it).
So let’s start with the bread and butter of RSL, the regular season, over the last 5 years 3 clubs in MLS have been the definition of regular season success, the LA Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake. For the last 5 years both LA and RSL have won at least 15 matches and ended with at least 50 points, Seattle has done it the last 4 seasons. RSL has made the playoffs every season since 2008, the longest active streak in MLS.
Well it is match day and that means it is time to take a look at what I think will be the players and match ups that will be the key factors in the match. It has been interesting this week to hear what the players, fans, and coaches have had to say about RSL vs Seattle and if this is a rivalry in the making or something different.
I think it comes down to what you consider a rivalry, for me it probably more about the intensity of the matches both being played and in the stands. I don’t believe I have to hate a team or their fans for them to be a rival, but some do. I think the intensity of matches as well as the importance of the matches between RSL and Seattle have created a rivalry but one that if probably focused more on respect than hate. I consider that both are teams that joined MLS well into the history of the league, each side has taken a very different path to success both on and off the pitch, one is building their history day by day and one has laid claim to a history built in other leagues. More on the rivalry aspect later;
Javier Morales – While I don’t expect Javi to start the match, you never know, but I do think that with several road matches in front of RSL in coming weeks that they will try to get Javi into the match at some point to get him further on his road to full match fitness. This could be a very good thing for RSL, or a very bad thing. Javi has never scored a goal or provided an assist against Seattle in the 6 regular season matches he has played against them, and has often been victimized by a “hack-a-Javi” style of defense. Still it should be interesting to see how he does on Saturday.
So if you looked at the stat sheet from Tuesday or watched the match you have little doubt who was the dominant team, but we live in a results driven world and for RSL the result wasn’t there. Heck you can go back to the first match in Costa Rica, where despite being down a man for 30 minutes, RSL dominated possession, passing, shots, and shots on goal, but came up short in a 1-0 loss, to know that without scoring goals from all those chances, well it is hard to win a match.
Despite the weather on Tuesday, the match was very high action and fast paced in the first half with both sides creating some good offensive chances. RSL had the better of play and had several chances to score, but as has happened too many times this year, we failed to finish those chances. It should come as little surprise to anyone that as the second half progressed that Herediano packed it in and slowed down both the pace and the match as often as they could. As the end of the match drew near we were left with a match that the official had lost control of as Herediano simply laid down, fell down, faked injuries, and even took intentional yellow cards for delay. I am left wondering if when they first started those tactics (about the 70th minute) if he had issued a yellow or two for delay if the match might not have digressed to the pathetic level it did.
Still to lay blame on the officials or tactics/antics of CS Herediano for the loss would be wrong and missing the point. In a must win match, you must score, you must take shots when they are presented to you, and must finish your chances. RSL had 11 corner kicks, 18 free kicks, and 26 crosses from open play, and despite ending up with 18 shots and 8 of those being on goal, RSL was unable to get the single goal that would have advanced them to the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Tuesday night in Salt Lake City is forecast to be cold, wet, and nasty. That is only appropriate given that the play on a bit nasty as both sides will be looking to be the team that will advance from group 2 to the knockout rounds of the Champions League. CS Herediano holds the upper hand as they currently have 9 points to RSL’s 6, for RSL the reality is simple: Win. OK not that simple, RSL must either win 1-0, or they must win by 2 goals in order to advance. A 1-0 win would see the two sides go to the tiebreakers, and it would be the 6th tiebreaker (GD in all group stage matches) that would give RSL the win with the 1-0 result (it would boost RSL’s overall GD to a +3, and drop Herediano to a +2). A two goal win by RSL would give us the second tiebreaker (head to head GD) as RSL lost the first leg 1-0, so a 2 goal win would advance RSL via a different tiebreaker.
RSL faces a huge question on Tuesday, who will fill in for Alvaro Saborio? Where will the goals come from? RSL has scored just 3 goals in their 3 CCL matches so far this year, Saborio has two of them and Kyle Beckerman the other. All of RSL’s goals in Champions League action have come in the second half of matches. Real Salt Lake are 3-1-1 in their last 5 league matches and currently 5th in MLS with a 17-11-5 record.
CS Herediano on the other hand have scored 3 of their 4 goals in the first half of their matches, each of their goals has been scored by a different player: Elías Aguilar, Pablo Salazar, Waylon Francis, and Enoc Pérez. It was Aguilar who scored against RSL when the teams faced off in Costa Rica. Herediano are 2-1-2 in their last 5 league matches and currently sit in 3rd place in league play with a overall 7-3-6 record.
It is an interesting question that plaques fans around Major League Soccer, and one that RSL fans are familiar with, “What matters most”? Each year there are four trophies that MLS teams have a chance to compete for, the US Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and a select few teams compete for the CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Which of these is the most important for teams and their fans?
I think that the Supporters’ Shield has lost a lot of the prestige it once held, now I know that some people will say that the new format of the season shouldn’t matter as MLS often played what was an unbalanced schedule in the past, and they are correct. What those people miss is that in every season before 2012, every MLS team played every other MLS team at least twice a year, once at home and once away. 2012 marks the first time that the schedule failed to at least have that commonality to it, and while teams often would play more than those matches, they always at least played those. So while the Supporters’ Shield holds a lower spot for many than it once did, it does still hold a couple of huge rewards for the team that wins it. First, the team with the best record can look forward to being the home team throughout the playoffs and that includes hosting MLS Cup if they make it that far. Second, and maybe more importantly is a spot in the following years CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
Then there is the red headed step child of soccer in the US, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. I am not sure why this tournament has failed to take grip in the US, but I believe a part of the reason is that while soccer is very popular in the US, the lack of TV coverage both of MLS and the US Open Cup mean few people know the players or teams. Of course some of the soccer purists I know will say that US Soccer’s constant changing of who can play in the tournament and how hosting rights are determined also hurt the legitimacy of the US Open Cup. I am not sure if the US Open Cup will ever become as popular and important to fans and teams as it should be in the US, until there are core changes in the tournament, but while there is prize money at the end of the rainbow again the biggest prize is a coveted CCL spot.
It is another FIFA break and for Real Salt Lake that means another round of national team call ups. This time 5 RSL players are off to represent their national teams, first up is Luis Gil who is with the US U-20 team in Spain for the Marbella Cup.
You can check out this great interview with U-20 coach Tab Ramos from the US Soccer website where he talks about the tournament in which the US will take on CONCACAF rival Canada on Wednesday, Oct. 10, followed by Scotland on Friday, Oct. 12 and Azerbaijan on Tuesday, Oct. 16. This is a great chance for the U-20’s to get ready for next year’s qualification and U-20 World Cup.
Then there are the call ups that are part of this latest round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, for the USMNT both Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando again were called in for the US which has a pair of matches. On Oct. 12th the US will play at Antiqua & Barbuda and then return to the US for a match on Oct. 16th against Guatemala which will be played at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City.
Will Johnson will again be representing Canada in their pair of matches, at Honduras and home against Cuba. While Alvaro Saborio will be suiting up for Costa Rica as they also have a pair of matches, El Salvador on the road and then Guyana at home. Read more
So on the last day to make roster moves, RSL made a move that nobody saw coming. They signed David Viana who had been with Atletico Madrid C (their reserve team) for the past year, but had spent time training with the first team. He had to return to Europe to get his paperwork in order and it is my understanding that his Work Visa is done and now they are just waiting on his ITC (International Transfer Certificate). It is my understanding that he should be ready to go on Oct. 10th when RSL’s reserve side will take on Houston’s reserves in a make up match. Then with so many players being gone on call ups (Beckerman, Johnson, Saborio, Gil, and maybe Rimando) and the injury of Ned Grabavoy, he could make the trip to Seattle for the match against the Sounders on Oct. 17th.
A lot of people wondered why a promising young player would leave Europe and come to MLS? It is a great question, it is my understanding that the move was about two things: He wanted to go somewhere he could play, and his agent believed it was a perfect fit with RSL. On thing was made really clear this week, it wasn’t a move made for the money. When the MLS Players Union released their latest salary information, we can see that David will make under $50,000 this year. To me that speaks volumes about the motivation level of this young player to not only try to get minutes, but to make a difference.
So I know a lot of people have asked me why I left SB Nation. It is rather simple, they wanted a site manager, and I wanted to just write a blog. When I joined SB Nation it was a loose knit group of blogger, and as the network has grown it is a much more structured organization. I wish Matt and whoever else may join up with them to continue running RSL Soapbox nothing but the best.
For me I started writing a RSL blog back in 2007, you remember back in the bad days, the dark days, back when the local media was focused on everything except the team and when most bloggers were relishing in pointing out what was wrong. I wanted to look at what was right, and use my passion for RSL and MLS, along with my knowledge of business and marketing to help bring my viewpoints and opinions to people. I have never claimed to be an expert on soccer, or anything else. I started as a fan on opening day and I remain a fan first today.
Here you will find my thoughts on Real Salt Lake, Major League Soccer, sometimes Liverpool, it is my believe that while I love all three of those organizations, they like me are far from perfect. I remember a drill sergeant back in Army basic training, telling me “you don’t make a knife sharper by running it through butter, no you find the hardest thing around and you grind the knife against it”. I believe we can make RSL and MLS better, not by resting on our successes but rather by always looking for ways to improve, to get better. So you will get my thoughts about matches, players, the staff, fans, and everything else that impacts RSL and MLS. I hope you will enjoy reading about my perspective on things.