Archive for MLS Playoffs

RSL above the line and looking to stay there vs Seattle – Match Preview

Real Salt Lake sits above the red line and while their positioning there is based on tie breakers against teams with matches in hand, the reality is those teams Dallas and Houston have been struggling.  On Saturday another huge Western Conference showdown will take place at Rio Tinto and RSL will need to do something that no team has been able to do in the last three months, beat Seattle. While RSL has lost just two of their last eleven matches, it has been thirteen matches since the Sounders were last handed a loss.

You expect the Sounders, winners of last year’s MLS Cup, to be a top team in the West. They spend the money, most often wisely, which gets them the big names that should carry a team to the playoffs and beyond. Still this league is anything but a sure thing and the Sounders sat in eighth place at the end of June with a 5-7-6 record, they will enter Saturday’s match at 11-7-11 and in front of RSL by six points with a match in hand.

So while RSL can claim the same numbers of wins as Seattle at 11-14-5, it is the seven loss gap that is why Saturday becomes another “must win” for RSL at home, a swing of six points could be the difference in getting some security in staying above that red line.  RSL’s recent form has been a reflection of their season with huge swings of consistency in matches and from match to match. So while you will get a dynamic first 45 minutes like they had against the Timbers in the first half last weekend, you then get a second 45 where they very often look like a team desperately looking to hold on to a result, which they did.

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For RSL the first 6 matches of the MLS season will be telling

I know you can never read too much into how a team does at the start of the season but I think for RSL this year you can.  First they will have two hugely important matches in CCL against a top level opponent in Tigres that should help get them ready for MLS action.  Second, the first 6 matches are huge as 3 of our 4 home matches before the May to mid June grass replacement at Rio Tinto will take place in the first batch of matches.  So let’s take a closer look at those first 6 matches:

  • Opening Day – at Orlando FC – Sunday, March 6th
    • You can expect a very full house in Orlando for their kickoff of their second season in MLS, in fact they are trying to again get 62,000 plus fans into the Citrus Bowl.  Last year RSL was unable to take advantage of a Kaka red card and settled for a 1-1 home draw on July 4th. In a battle of teams that embrace lions, RSL should be able to win the battle of Prides to open the season on a positive note.
  • Home Opener – Seattle – Saturday, March 12th
    • Every match with the Sounders has been a battle as the two sides seem to bring out the best in each other. Over the last 5 years we are 6-2-5 facing the Sounders, 4-1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.  With the Sounders adjusting to life without Obafemi Martins there may be no better time to lay a beat down on them than our home opener. A early match that will have points on the line that could decide playoff positioning.

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Rimando snub angers RSL fans – some numbers

So today Major League Soccer announced the winner of Keeper of the Year, the vote went in favor of DC United’s Bill Hamid:

2014 Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year: Bill Hamid – D.C. United

Bill Hamid had a breakthrough season between the pipes for D.C. United in 2014, his fifth season with the club. Hamid was one of the key components of D.C.’s amazing comeback in which the team claimed the top spot in the Eastern Conference after setting a league-worst record in 2013. This year, Hamid recorded the most minutes of his career for D.C. United with 2,700, and set regular season career highs with 10 shutouts and 110 saves. The Virginia native finished second in league shutouts, three behind Vancouver’s David Ousted, and recorded the second-best goals against average with a 1.13 average among goalkeepers that played more than 2000 minutes. Hamid’s success did not go unnoticed, as he went on to earn his second-ever cap for the U.S. men’s national team, playing a full 90 minutes in the Americans’ 4-1 loss to Republic of Ireland on Nov. 18.

The Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award was voted on by media, MLS players and MLS club management based on regular season performance. The other two finalists were Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and Columbus Crew SC’s Steve Clark. Below is a breakdown of the voting for the top four candidates:

nick

So I get that things like this in part are a popularity contest, there is also the fact that Salt Lake is a small market and yes that often plays a role in votes like this.

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After a stunning defeat, RSL is left with some very tough questions to face.

So I started writing this blog post on Sunday night, but I wasn’t sure why I was writing it, until today. I posted that I was pulling for New England to win MLS Cup, there are several reasons but the top one is I think they have an incredible team and I love the style of soccer they have been playing since Jermaine Jones was signed and how it has in large part freed up Lee Nguyen to become the player he is capable of being.

Of course having an opinion on twitter can be dangerous as people started to criticize me because if New England wins MLS Cup Real Salt Lake won’t end up with a Champions League spot.  They are right, RSL only gets into the tournament if LA or Seattle win, and we will get their 2nd spot by default since both have already qualified.  I went on to say that I didn’t want RSL to be in Champions League next year, because I don’t believe we can win it.  The reality is everything that follows is why I don’t want us in that tournament, and in part why I don’t think we can win it.  Simply we aren’t good enough, and while the 5-0 loss on Sunday was an anomaly where we played perhaps our worst match of the season and LA played one of their best, the reality is that we simply weren’t good enough to beat them and I don’t think continuing to do what we have in large part done for the last 5 years is the way we get good enough to beat them, to beat anyone who gets in our way of the trophies we should all be passionate about getting.

None of this means I don’t love RSL, or our players but sports is not a place where blind devotion should replace logic or common sense, it shouldn’t be a place where passion replaces intelligence.  Being critical actually is a way to show how much you care, because you want, and expect more, you know that better is within reach.  You may not agree with me, hell I don’t blame you if you don’t but my opinion is just as valid as those of fans who have for years hated on Saborio, Findley or any other RSL player who doesn’t live up to their expectations.  I have so much respect for the guys who play for RSL, because they in large part define what RSL is about, they have lived “The Team is the Star” and they have embraced the idea of the RSL Family.  Still we are left with some hard facts and some hard choices, is being consistently good, good enough?

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Real Salt Lake look to end Landon Donovan’s career on Sunday

There is little doubt that Landon Donovan is the best player in MLS history, he probably is the best American soccer player to date, and while many fans are torn about him, cheering him in the red, white and blue of the USMNT, while booing him when he is in the various colors of the LA Galaxy, the reality is that love or hate him, everyone respects him.  On Sunday Real Salt Lake will look to end his MLS career, and given the history between these two teams over the years both in the regular season and post season it could go either way.  In regular season action RSL is 6-8-1 in matches played in LA, a 0-1 loss at StubHub Center in July was the balance for a 1-0 win by RSL there on opening weekend of the 2014 season.

All time these two teams are tied at 11-11-7, after the 0-0 draw last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium.  These two are frequent opponents in the post season, in 2009 it was a PK shootout win for RSL at MLS Cup, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference Finals on their way to a MLS Cup win, and last year it was RSL with 2-1 aggregate win in the Conference semifinals on their way to another MLS Cup appearance.  So Sunday will be two teams so very familiar with each other than winning or losing is often a matter of inches, shots off the framework or of the fingers of diving keepers are the norm, and it could likely come down to who can punish the other team’s mistakes.  RSL have a bit of momentum despite the draw at home, they finished the regular season with two wins and a draw, while the Galaxy finished it with a draw and two losses.  RSL gave up just a single goal in their 4 matches in October, while the Galaxy gave up 6, which was very unusual for the Galaxy who ended the regular season with an insane +32 goal differential as the league’s top scoring team with 69 goals scored, and tied for the league’s best defense with just 37 goals allowed.  The Galaxy were mighty good at home with a 12-1-4 record, their only loss was opening day to RSL, the amassed 44 goals at home while only giving up 14 goals for a +30 home goal differential.

So what will Real Salt Lake need to do in order to get past the Galaxy and on to the Western Conference Finals for the 5th time in the last seven years (08 ,09, 11, 13)?

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Can Real Salt Lake get to 15 wins? A lot on the line vs C-USA.

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.

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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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