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.
So Let me start this by explaining that while I understand there were huge issues with the online stream of this match, first know that had nothing to do with the RSL front office or media team they were not in charge of any of the technical side of the feed. Second know issues were had on the feed of the Colorado match as well, and there was no feed of the SKC vs Crew match. Finally for all of you who watched the second half via my periscope, thanks that was kinda fun. If you want to check that out, it is here.
I expect the lineup we saw in this match is what the team is expecting to go with in the first leg of the CCL series with Tigres:
Rimando, Beltran, Olave, Maund, Phillips, Beckerman, Sunny, Morales, Plata, Movsisyan, Martinez
That is depending on injuries, based on what I saw last night both Luke Mulholland and Chris Wingert on the bench in non-uniform outfits and neither took part in warmups. I expect we will see a much more second team based lineup on Saturday knowing that the team will then travel to Monterrey in front of their match next Wednesday.
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:
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.
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?
Oh Saturday night was one of emotional swings that RSL fans probably haven’t felt since December, the energy in the stadium in just minutes into the game as RSL takes an early lead on a great goal by Joao Plata. Then to follow that up just minutes later with Ned fighting through some tackles in the area to get the ball to Sabo who curves an amazing ball into the net to give RSL a 2-0 lead in under 10 minutes. It doesn’t get much better than that, and you could see the confidence start to bubble up both with the players and in the stands. The guys played perhaps the best 45 minutes of the season (so far) and it was a joy to watch as things just seemed to click.
Then came the second half, and upon hearing that Whitecap head coach Carl Robinson was rather boisterous in his halftime talk, the result was a Vancouver side that played better, pressured the ball better, started to use some of their pace better and their subs were spot on as the match progressed. While usually we see teams start to suffer from the elevation later in matches but the weather conditions seemed to have negated that normal advantage RSL gets, and it showed as the match entered the last 10 minutes and stoppage time.
Now on twitter after the match I mentioned that Jeff Cassar has said often that he would likely make more aggressive subs than what Jason may have made, it is just his style and clearly with the subs on Saturday (as well as the bench selection). Hindsight is always easy, and it was always funny how fans questioned Jason’s choices to go a bit more defensive minded when fans wanted more offense, and now with more offensive minded choices by Jeff, I find myself, and others wondering why those weren’t more defensive changes.
So in my match preview post, I pointed out how the passing and possession style of RSL would cause issues for TFC who often look to force a mistake or counter and attack, on Saturday night RSL had 434 passes completed at a 80% rate, while TFC had just 265 and a completion rate of 73%. That resulted in RSL dominating the possession by a 60.5% to 39.5%, and RSL was much more effective with their possession.
I thought the absence of Jonathan Osorio would be huge as he was the main link for TFC between their defense and Michael Bradley, the result was the Bradley often found himself having to come further back to get the ball and that limited his effectiveness as a playmaker and provider. The TFC midfield simply couldn’t match up with RSL’s on Saturday, despite the play of Bradley, only 7 passes found their way to Jermain Defoe who only got 2 shots off and neither was on target. Gilberto took 5 shots with a couple forcing saves by Nick Rimando but on the night the RSL defense was very solid and despite some good attempts by TFC, they simply never were able to find the back of the net.
I will say that I got mighty lucky with my preview picks on the scoring Saturday night, I predicted a 3-1 RSL win with Sabo getting the brace (check), and Luis Gil getting one (check), I did pick Bradley to get a goal for TFC and he came within a couple of inches with a shot from distance that froze Rimando but bounced off the frame. Not a bad round of predictions.
If you watched the RSL victory over the LA Galaxy last fall in the 2nd leg of their playoff series, then little during Saturdays 1-0 win in LA was probably surprising to you. Just like the fall match, RSL was victimized by some strange calls including a clear goal being called back on a mystery call but instead of letting it get them down, they powered on and managed to still pick up the victory.
The highlight of the match, or highlights had to be the extraordinary effort in goal of Nick Rimando who made several key stops but none more important than the stoppage time PK stop of Robbie Keane to keep both the clean sheet but also to ensure the RSL victory. Several times mistakes forced Nick to clean up opportunities that the Galaxy had, some required his normal saves and others will likely get him nominated for save of the week. Nick in true RSL fashion was quick to point out that it was a collective team effort that secured the victory:
It’s tough to get a result, let alone a shutout here, and they came at us like we knew they would and I thought the defense played great, and by defense I mean the whole team.
Nick is right, work by everyone on both sides of ball is always a key to how RSL plays and we saw a lot of that, and while not every thing was perfect the mistakes were either quickly covered by a teammate or the Galaxy failed to capitalize. It was good to hear that Nat Borchers mentioned that the team pushed for Aaron Maund to get the start and that confidence in him was rewarded by a solid effort against some of the most dangerous offensive players in MLS.
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.
So at the start of the season not many folks would have picked RSL to make it to MLS Cup, by the middle of the season it looked as if RSL was on track to sweep the trophies available to them this year, and heading into the final weeks of the season it looked as if RSL was in real trouble with a 2-2-2 record in their final six regular season matches. Yet as has been seen almost every season in MLS history, it is about getting hot at the right time. RSL was able to hold the LA Galaxy to a 1-0 win in the first leg of their playoff series and then able to dominate them in the second leg and secure a 2-0 win in extra time to advance to the Western Conference finals.
It would be more matches against the Portland Timbers that would decide who would advance to MLS Cup, it would be the 5th and 6th matches between the two teams this season (including US Open Cup action). The first leg saw one of the more intense matches of the MLS season as both sides were swinging for the fences early and often, and despite giving up the first goal of the match RSL battled back and secured a 4-2 win at Rio Tinto. The second leg was again a match played at a frantic pace, but with RSL withstanding every offensive attack the Timbers could manage and with Robbie Findley cleaning up a loose ball in the area and putting it past Ricketts giving RSL the 1-0 lead that would be the final score as the Claret and Cobalt advanced with a 5-2 aggregate total.
Rio Tinto Stadium has always provided a good home for RSL, while not every match sells out the team draws a good crowd no matter the conditions or opponent being played. Since the team moved to their home stadium, the club has never really suffered from a bad season, they have made the playoffs every year since the move. That is 6 straight seasons for those of you counting, the longest streak in Major League Soccer, and getting close to the league record. Four times in those 6 seasons RSL has made it to a conference final and on Sunday they will start their bid to play in and win their second MLS Cup title, which is a very good record for a team not even 10 years old yet. On Thursday night, something interesting happened at Rio Tinto, something that has happened a couple times before but not nearly as often as some of us would like. The crowd and team both seemed in sync with an energy level and passion that is rare in sports, that combined desire to help the other in whatever way possible. You could see it in the eyes of the players on the first couple attempts on goal that went unsuccessful, you could hear from the fans in the stands who were perhaps as loud as I have ever heard them (despite it not being a sellout crowd), it kept building all night. Sometimes it was positive and passionate, like the Seba goal and a few times not so positive, like the wrongly called off goal (even if you want to call Borchers offside, it was passive at best), but it was loud for the vast majority of the match and at points louder than I ever remember it being in the past.
The end result was a very entertaining 2-0 RSL win, or pair of wins. It is hard enough to beat the Galaxy in an elimination match but last night RSL had to do it twice as Toledo made a mystery call on what should have been a Javier Morales goal that would have ended the match in regulation. Instead RSL was forced to play 30 additional minutes and get another goal to end up with the deserved result, and while some may say it all comes out in the end, we saw Alvaro Saborio pick up an injury in that extra time, and had a majority of our players forced to play 30 minutes more with their next match just 3 days away. We may never know what really happened on that call, or what impact the extra 30 minutes will have on RSL as they host the Timbers on Saturday, I do know my heartbeat was faster in those extra 30 minutes than it probably should have been.