When RSL was 2 matches into the MLS season, I doubt most people thought that when the team had 20 matches under their belt that they would be at the top of MLS. If you look at the stats, RSL has the most points 37 in MLS, their 1.85 points per match average is also tops in MLS, as is the +14 goal differential, their 11 wins, their 5 road wins. With 32 goals scored they are tied for the top total in MLS with the Philadelphia Union, RSL’s 18 goals allowed is tied for second fewest in MLS with Portland, while New England have given up just 16 goals so far this season.
All of this came to a bit of a head on Saturday as RSL headed into Texas, missing 4 normal starters on national team duty, missing a couple other players with injuries or suspension, so was it a bit surprising when the team picked up their first every win in Texas with their 3-0 defeat of FC Dallas? Not really, RSL has had to play with their lineup and even their formation often since the start of the season for various reasons, it is why 20 players have over 500 minutes of MLS action already this year, and 6 others have also gotten time in MLS matches. Both of those are more than the entire season for RSL last year, a rather amazing stat if you ask me.
On Saturday it was the same thing as we again saw different players step up, as Abdoulie Mansally stepped into the starting lineup, another match with Nat Borchers and Carlos Salcedo as our centerbacks, alongside Chris Wingert. In goal we saw Josh Saunders get the start and play really well, only to pick up an injury late in the first half that eventually would take him out of the match early in the second half, we should know more early this week about the extent of his injury, but I sure hope it isn’t a serious one that will keep him out of action long. That allowed for Jeff Attinella to get his first MLS minutes, and he looked like it was just another day, making some great saves and helping RSL keep the clean sheet.
Sometimes out of a crisis comes something good and unexpected, this could be the case for Real Salt Lake and their injury issues. I would never wish for a player to be injured but as we have seen that when doors are opened for others, sometimes we get very pleasant surprises. I think perhaps the best half of soccer that RSL has played in a couple of years came earlier this year when we were missing a couple of the normal key pieces. It was a match where Devon Sandoval and Robbie Findley looked as good up top as Robbie and Yura used to, where the combination play of Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez featured as much energy as Andy Williams used to bring.
So now RSL faces Alvaro Saborio being out a couple weeks and several others (Robbie Findley, Olmes Garcia) having some injury issues as well, and it was interesting to hear RSL head coach Jason Kreis mention the possibility of having to adjust our formation to meet what players are fit and ready to go. It got me thinking, could RSL go with a 4-5-1? Maybe, but for me, I would love to see a try of a 4-3-3, now it is a bit risky, and I am going to put a couple players in some positions that they might not normally think of themselves in, but heck given the result last week, is there much to lose?
It was an interesting match on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, the pace of the match was almost frantic, the style was almost brutal at times, and it was entertaining for 90 minutes. RSL saw both Robbie Findley and Luis Gil score their first goals of the 2013 season, proving that Alvaro Saborio isn’t the only RSL player who can score. Rookie Devon Sandoval made his first start for RSL, and didn’t disappoint as he quickly won over fans with his high energy and ability to create chaos for the Sounders. While Robbie went out early with an injury sustained on his acrobatic goal, which hopefully will not be too serious, it allowed Joao Plata to get his longest appearance of the season and he delivered some quality play.
So I have to tell a little story about the match on Saturday that I am sure will amuse some, so I often pick on some of the Sounders fans (it really is a minority of them) that act as if MLS didn’t exist until they entered the league, and like history will show of the US vs Costa Rica match in Denver, there are a lot more people who say they have followed the Sounders for decades than actually ever showed up at their USL matches (at least the ones I attended in the late 90’s and early 00’s). On Saturday during the second half their was a lone Sounders fan sitting in the front row of one of the North end section, just behind where I was talking pictures and while I understand fans being upset when their team is losing, this guy made me laugh. Every call by the official that went RSL’s way was deserving of his taunts because the official was clearly wrong, despite this guy having no angle to view any of the calls. Had I not been in an “official” role with my credentials to take pictures, I would have loved to turn around and ask him if he bitched and moaned this much when the Sounders won a match, which of course would have been followed by a “oh wait you haven’t yet this year” type of snide comment. Instead I just chuckled, and as the match ended I turned around to talk to him but he was gone, as the RSL fans told me he had “pouted” off in a storm when it looked like his team wouldn’t get a result. Now almost every fan thinks the official is wrong when they go against their team, I get that, it was the unabashed way in which he so clearly didn’t care about what was actually happening, but rather just watching the match thru what clearly had to be rave green glasses that was kinda amusing. I did fear that he might get a punch in the mouth at a couple of points but clearly the nearby RSL fans were much nicer than I am.
So it has been a very active off/pre-season for Real Salt Lake, the roster moves top any of the previous off seasons both in quantity and quality of players impacted. The team was forced to take a long, hard look at both how to get under the MLS salary cap, RSL would have been about 1 million over without major changes, as well as how to become a better team on the offensive side of the ball.
The latter goal became evident when the history of “big” games at Rio Tinto Stadium was examined, despite being the better team in the 2008 Western Conference final against the New York Red Bulls, a 1-0 loss. The same could be said of the 2010 playoff match against FC Dallas a home draw but a series loss, the 2011 Champions League final against Monterrey, a 1-0 loss, and the 2012 playoff loss to the Seattle Sounders, another 1-0 loss. 2012 saw RSL score 46 goals, but 7 of the 10 playoff teams has as many or more goals scored than did RSL. It was no surprise that only one striker, Alvaro Saborio, remained with the team after the season, his 40 goals in MLS action over the last 3 years is only surpassed by San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski.
I loved today’s announcement of Major League Soccer integrating USL Pro and the MLS reserves together, while I am sure more details will be known in the upcoming days, weeks and months, here is the press release from Real Salt Lake on how this will impact them:
MLS AND USL PRO ANNOUNCE GROUNDBREAKING PARTNERSHIP
MLS Reserve Teams to Compete in Interleague Play; RSL to Take On Phoenix FC
SANDY, Utah/NEW YORK (Wednesday, Jan. 23) — Major League Soccer and USL PRO announced today a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership that will enhance the development of professional players in North America, strengthen the competition in both leagues, and establish a solid foundation for future collaboration.
For 2013, the partnership will include interleague play between USL PRO and MLS Reserve League teams, and the establishment of several exclusive team affiliations. These initial programs will immediately improve professional player development in the United States and Canada. Additional technical and commercial initiatives between the two leagues will be announced as they are finalized in the coming months.
As part of the partnership, the Real Salt Lake Reserves will play first-year USL Pro side Phoenix FC in a home-and-home series. RSL Reserves will host Phoenix FC in the Salt Lake leg of the series at Rio Tinto Stadium on Monday, April 22.
“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport,” MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said. “Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS. This is a win-win for all involved and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels.”
So a couple of weeks ago when I was at RSL practice, I noticed something very distinctive about how the players were split into groups. The more experienced/veteran players were in one group and the other was made up of most of your newer/younger players. Then on Wednesday at the Reserve match I got to see a lineup for RSL that was very young in comparison to our normal starting lineup which features 7 players 30 years old or older:
- Kyle Reynish – GK – 28
- Carlos Salcedo – DF – 19
- Kwame Watson-Siriboe – DF – 25
- Chris Schuler – DF – 25
- Kenny Mansally – DF – 23
- Enzo Martinez – MF – 22
- Yordany Alvarez – MF – 27
- Sebastian Velasquez – MF – 21
- David Viana – MF – 20
- Emiliano Bonfigli – FW – 24
- Justin Braun – FW – 25
At the 30 minute mark, Nico Muniz (MF – 19) came in at midfield, while Enzo went to defense as Kwame left the match (he is still recovering form injury). This left me once again thinking about what RSL might look like in 2015. Of course I also have to remember a couple of others who while they weren’t involved in the reserve match are 25 or under, like Luis Gil (MF – 18), Will Johnson (MF – 25), Tony Beltran (DF – 24), Paulo Jr (FW – 23), and Lalo Fernandez (GK – 19).
A couple of others just miss my 25 year old mark, Jonny Steele (MF – 26), Fabian Espindola (FW – 27), but could play a role in the future as well.
OK time for some of the official stuff, first off let’s go with the highlight video of the match, which you can check out on the RSL website.
Here are some pictures from the match:
So I have to be honest I am very bummed that I had to leave after the first half of the reserve match between RSL and Houston this afternoon, but the day job had to be dealt with. Still there were some very interesting things from the first half worth taking notice of, first up is that it was the official debut of David Viana who signed with the team last month on the last day of MLS roster moves. He started out playing on the left side of the midfield and I thought his partnership with both Justin Braun and Kenny Mansally who were also focused on the left side of the pitch was very good. He showed some good quality on the ball and was able to make some very nice passes, he seems have a great vision for the game and a very accurate shot. He scored RSL’s second goal of the match, and a great shot from just outside the top of the area.
In his first official match with Real Salt Lake David Viana takes a shot from distance and scores his first goal for RSL.
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 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.