I remember as a kid whenever I would point my finger at someone my mother would remind me that three more were pointing right back at me and I would offer that same thing to the RSL fanbase.
Yes it is easy to point fingers at Sorin, the official that clearly lost the match early on and if you want to carry it to an extreme made the match look a whole lot like a WWE match. Where anytime the good guy does anything close to being against the rules the punishment is swift and harsh, meanwhile the villains can do no wrong, or at least not in the eyes of the official who either seems blind to it or seems to miss it all together. I thought it was one of the worst officiated matches I have ever seen in MLS, calls were missed, calls were ignored, minor transgressions over punished, yeah it made for a very difficult match to watch. I am thankful that I watched at home and not from the sidelines taking pictures, where I likely would have been asked to leave before halftime.
Still pointing a finger at the ref leaves us with three fingers pointing right back at us. It was early in a match when two RSL players reacted or overreacted to what should have been a easy yellow card for Jermaine Jones, but instead Luke pushes and Kyle swears at the official and they get the yellows. If RSL players hadn’t gotten the point by that time of the match and knew that they needed to tread very carefully, but they didn’t seem to get it and the result was a sloppy challenge in the midfield and RSL going down a man.
So at the midpoint of the season before last weekends 1-1 draw with Montreal and then Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at Vancouver I started writing a blog post wondering if the glass was half full or half empty when it comes to RSL. I have my own opinions on this that I will share but I think we have to step back a bit first and ask what are we judging this based on?
Do we compare this year’s RSL vs RSL of years past? If so what year, 2009 when we had a mediocre year but were able to make a successful run at MLS Cup, remember we were 11-12-7 and our run in large part was boosted by being moved to the Eastern Conference for the playoffs? Or do we compare to 2013, a huge year where RSL was just 3 points shy of the Supporter Shield, made it to the final of the US Open Cup and lost in heartbreaking PK’s in MLS Cup? Perhaps the most accurate would be to compare it to last year, the first time since 2007 that we missed the playoffs, where often when faced with adversity it seemed the team simply gave up at times? Is it fair after our 19th match to judge the team at all?
A lot of valid questions, for me I will try to compare the team to both our combined past, as well as the rest of the league at this point of the season.
So in a match that on paper RSL should have had no struggles with they did as for the 3rd straight time hosting a lower division team in US Open Cup action, RSL gave up the first goal, and for the second time in those 3 matches they spotted their opponents a two goal lead. I get that we often see RSL go with a mixed lineup of players, with some bench or reserve guys getting minutes and that can lead to a disruption of the normal chemistry, but there is still little excuse in giving up the first goal in matches like this.
RSL’s starting lineup was: Jeff Attinella, Boyd Okwuonu, Jamison Olave, Aaron Maund, Chris Wingert, Luke Mulholland, John Stertzer, Burrito, Javier Morales, Jordan Allen and Devon Sandoval
There simply is no reason why this group was unable to be successful against a decent Wilmington side, but the failure to use our width and little success getting the ball into dangerous places simply was disappointing. Clearly the Hammerheads had studied up on RSL and they knew how to disrupt our passing lanes and were good at knowing when to apply pressure and where. Too often Burrito was forced back into the midfield to help out, Jordan Allen saw the ball too infrequently and when Devon would hold the ball up, few others got into positions to support the attack. All of this left RSL with limited chances in the first half, mainly set piece efforts and shots from distance.
So let me be clear, there were some very pretty moments in the match for RSL and one only has to listen to Brian Dunseth remind us that Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez is “Killing careers one vine at a time” or read what RSL head coach Jeff Cassar had to say after the match
“I wish I knew what he was going to do every time because he does some really special things. He (Martinez) got out of some really tricky situations. All of our attacking players are extremely talented and when they’re playing with each other you can do special things you can do some things that you don’t necessarily think are going to happen because you trust the player that is giving the ball to you. I think that we can still get even better. That is what is exciting.”
to understand there were some simply amazing moments on Saturday night. Still if you watched the match you know how bad the first 20 minutes or so looked as Vancouver came out like it was a playoff match and were pressing high and causing chaos for the RSL defense. Still despite the early mistakes and pressure, RSL didn’t give up a goal in fact RSL created a few good chances on counters early on but were unable to get the early goal. I think the biggest difference between last year and this year (so far) is that in ugly close matches last year we lost leads and often lost matches. So far this year even when we have lost leads, we have managed not to lose those matches, we have recovered or withstood adversity early on this season and as things get better (play, form, fitness, injuries) results should stay very good.
When RSL gave up a late goal on Wednesday night in Champions League play, it was because they were pushing everything forward looking for a second goal to stay alive in their series and it felt great at the end. Effort, heart, passion, desire all were shown in spades on Wednesday night, so what would happen on Sunday?
Well early on Orlando gets a goal called back on an offside call (iffy at best), and you know the saying that “the ball don’t lie” well we would find out much later how true that is. First it would be two early yellow cards to Demar Phillips (not sure why he was starting vs Chris Wingert in the first place) that would send RSL down a man with 70 minutes to go. It was just a few minutes later that Chris Penso points to the PK spot and this time Joao Plata steps up and coverts it to give RSL a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute. As often has been the case RSL played better with 10 men than they were with 11 men, but before the half would end things would level. Not the score but a straight red card to Darwin Ceren would mean both sides would play the second half with 10 men.
In the second half RSL would continue to create some chances and in the 66th minute one pretty goal would give them a 2-0 lead as Joao Plata would get his second of the day on a great play started by Burrito that lead to a sublime cross by Tony Beltran that Plata put into the back of the net. RSL would force Orlando to chase them for the remainder of the match, but in stoppage time things simply would go all wrong in a hurry.
Wednesday night RSL fans were treated to a very exciting match, but RSL was unable to move forward in the CONCACAF Champions league losing their series with Tigres 3-1 on aggregate, here are some post match comments from Jeff Cassar, Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran (along with some pictures from the match:
Real Salt Lake
Head Coach Jeff Cassar
“Disappointed with exiting the tournament. It’s something that we really wanted to push on and make it back to the finals, but really pleased with the effort that our players put forth. Our staff – there was a lot of energy that went into preparing for Tigres because they’re a fantastic team. But, we’ve got to move on. We’ve got a really important game Sunday against Orlando, and that’s where our focus is going to be now.”
On how he feels being that close to tying the game:
“It’s painful. It’s painful no matter what. I’m a pretty positive guy. I couldn’t be more happy and more excited about what’s ahead for this team. If we have that kind of effort from everyone. We’ve talked about sacrificing for each other, and that’s what I saw tonight was players sacrificing for each other. If we continue to do things like that we’re going to have a successful year. It definitely hurts but we have to put it behind us.”
On Javier Morales PK approach and the stutter step:
“Listen, that goalkeeper is good. He is very good. He is very long, and if he goes down earlier it’s in the goal. Javier is a professional. He’s going to bounce back. It’s a PK. Sometimes you get saved. It is what it is.”
I am going to start with a personal rant, if you saw my tweets during the Capital One Cup final you know I am not a fan of cutesy PK attempts, that includes exaggerated stutter steps. Javi has made it work for him more often than not but I have never been a fan of it and tonight it bite RSL in the ass in a moment when a goal was needed most.
OK, with that out of the way. Wow, that was a hell of a match for RSL, a bit of a slow start but soon RSL put their foot on the gas and applied great high pressure causing all kinds of confusion for Tigres and especially for their keeper who seemed on the edge of a nervous breakdown until stoppage time. It was clear that RSL frustrated Tigres in the first half of the match, the insanely high line at times, great pressure on the ball, and players showing no fear of the Liga MX side. While there were mistakes made, none were costly until there was nothing left on the clock and desperation forced RSL to play to either score a goal or give one up, and unfortunately they gave one up.
I am going to start at the back and work my way forward with my thoughts on the individual performances tonight.
Every coach and player will always tell you they are playing for the win, and they are but then you have reality that sometimes says “The better team, the in form team, the deeper team wins most often” and reality is right. On Wednesday night RSL had to play a perfect match to get a win in Monterrey against Tigres and they were far from perfect, so there was no win. That doesn’t mean everything was wrong, or went wrong, there were both positives and negatives that the team can use to improve itself as the series moves to the second leg and their MLS season approaches. Recovering from a 0-2 deficit will not be easy against a quality Tigres side, neither MLS team that played their first leg at home were able to get a win vs their Liga MX opponent as both LA and Seattle ended with draws in their matches.
First a few of the positives that I saw on Wednesday, Sunny Obayan playing in his first real match for RSL looked like he both understood what was being asked of him and was able to work well with the other midfielders. That is a huge step for a player who had only a couple weeks of preseason with the team, and could be a real positive as the season moves forward. While he was playing a largely defensive role for RSL on Wednesday, during the preseason we have seen his work on the offensive side of the ball as well. In the match he attempted 24 passes, connecting on 22 of them for a 92% success rate according to the CONCACAF site, MLS had him completing 20 and missing on 4, still a great number for his first match.
So I have to start this by saying I had a great time in Tucson, the weather and people were awesome there. It provided me a good chance to see RSL in action a couple times, Wednesday 3-3 draw with New England, Friday practice session, Saturday AM 4-0 in a 45 minute scrimmage vs FC Tucson, and the 1-1 draw against Columbus Saturday night. It also allowed me to get my new camera set up correctly and ready for the season, which is a very good thing.
Saturday evening was an interesting match as RSL went with almost a complete lineup of “2nd string” guys, and while that might sound like an insult, it sure isn’t meant that way. With the CCL match at Tigres coming up the choice to rest the likely starters on Saturday night seems like a natural move and it was the right thing to do. So instead we got to see some of the future guys for RSL go head to head for 60 minutes with the likely starting roster for the Columbus Crew who were the team who represented the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup in December.
So here is what your starting lineup looked like:
Boyd Okuwonu – Phanuel Kavita – Justen Glad- Chris Wingert
John Stertzer – Danilo Acosta – Jordan Allen
Emery Welshman – Olmes Garcia – Devon Sandoval
So this morning in Tucson the first team for RSL, likely starters for next weeks CCL match, played a 45 minute scrimmage vs FC Tucson and while I got there a few minutes late it was clearly the Plata and Burrito show as Joao found the back of the net 3 times and had an assist on Martinez’s goal (Burrito had the assist on Plata’s first goal).
Now one should expect that RSL’s top guys should have been able to handle the amateur side fairly easily, and they did but FC Tucson pressed hard and played well as to give RSL a good workout. RSL focused on their positioning and communication as you could hear Nick Rimando constantly reminding guys to communicate.
A couple things stuck out to me, one was that Demar Phillips looked very involved on both sides of the ball, his positioning seemed very in flow with the match, going forward at the right time and being in position on defense whenn second was that Joao is ready to pick up where he left off in 2014 when he had a breakout year. Joao’s runs were well timed and he was able to find gaps to work in often with some great balls played to him by both Juan Manuel and Javier Morales.