For Real Salt Lake the 2018 season opened with a road draw at FC Dallas that was both rewarding and frustrating, but a point from the road is a point from the road. Now it is time to talk about the home opener on Saturday afternoon when RSL will play host to expansion side LAFC. LAFC are an interesting side who were able to shock the Sounders and beat the defending MLS Cup champs in Seattle on opening day last weekend. LAFC is an interesting expansion side, while their roster is a mix of MLS vets and new international players, the fact they are using just 22 of their roster spots is unusual to say the least. In their first match they only dressed 17 players leaving on spot completely open.
There are some faces RSL fans will recognize, top on that list is Benny Feilhaber, followed closely by MLS journeyman Steven Beitashour, Laurent Ciman, Jordan Harvey, Walker Zimmerman and a few others. The big names signings are Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, with plenty of room for more as the season progresses. They also have an open one year International spot which they got from Atlanta United, you have to believe that will be used sooner rather than later. In their first match against Seattle they looked like an expansion side, a lot of energy, a lot of mistakes but they play with pace and they love to get the ball into the area to create chaos but they were only able to get 5 shots off during the match. It was an 11th minute goal by Diego Rossie that will go down as the first goal in LAFC history and it was enough to ruin the home opener for the Sounders.
Real Salt Lake looked to be a similar villain and ruin the 2018 home opener for FC Dallas, but the 25th minute goal by Joao Plata wasn’t enough as the late pressure from FC Dallas resulted in a rare RSL own goal by Marcelo Silva. Forcing RSL to settle for just a single point in their first match of the season, but also allowing them to bring home a rare road point from the state of Texas. It was far from a perfect match, but RSL did show some good signs of life and Nick Rimando reminded us that he is really, really good.
Expansion teams haven’t done too well in Salt Lake over the years, only one has won on their first every trip to Utah. It just happens that was last year when Atlanta came to town and picked up a 3-1 over RSL, we were able to pick up a home win last year over ATLs expansion brothers MN United and that is what we will be looking for again on Saturday.
It is time to start a new season of MLS action and for Real Salt Lake it is about delivering on the pitch, Mike Petke has had almost a full season to adjust the roster and tactics of the team and now we need to see that the run at the end of last season wasn’t a fluke.
So, what is that expectation? For me it remains the same each regular season, 15 wins and 50 points. If you make that happen you will make the playoffs. If we had hit that last season we would have ended at the 4th seed in the playoffs, making the playoffs has to be the goal of the regular season, doesn’t it? How do we get there?
Better at home, only one team that made the playoffs in the West last season did it without double digits wins at home (Vancouver). So, can RSL get 11 wins at home? One thing they will need to do is score more goals, while a +10 goal differential may seem good at home with 26 goals scored and 16 allowed, PDX and SEA both had a home +20, Houston had a crazy +26 at home. So to pick up an additional two wins at home, RSL will need to find a way to score more, 7 teams in the West scored more home goals than RSL. The reality is that we failed to take advantage of the elevation at home, we didn’t push other teams to deal with the elevation and it came back to haunt us, I expect that the team’s fitness from day one will be much better in 2018 than what we saw last year.
Yesterday I posted a bit about some of the organization changes during the off season, and they were impressive to say the least. Now we look at some of the roster additions.
If you want to see the future of RSL it became fairly clear this offseason, a good number of homegrown options with a few key pieces picked up from the international market. A huge move that many fans will be excited about was the full transfer of Brooks Lennon from Liverpool, the youngster will now get to fight for minutes with the RSL first team. Aaron Herrera and Corey Baird became the latest academy products to find their way to the first team roster. That list now includes, Danilo Acosta, Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Jose Hernandez, Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo in addition to Herrera and Baird. That is a big chunk of the roster and one that shows that the future has run thru Casa Grande and going forward will run through Herriman.
The other off season pickups are an interesting mix of guys, Adam Henley is a defender born in Tennessee but raised in the UK and having played in both the Championship and Premier league for Blackburn will bring some great international experience to the team. Shawn Barry is an American born player from Florida, who spent his time playing at various levels in Europe and will bring a variety of experience with him to RSL. He will give the backline something it has lacked in the past a player who is adept with both feet, he is a natural right footed player with the ability to play various positions. Clearly with the injury to Tony Beltran that will leave him sidelined for the start of the 2018 season the team needed to pick up some depth on the back line and they did just that with the pickup of Henley and Barry.
At the end of the 2017 season, I made a tough decision that after 10 years of writing about RSL on a fairly regular basis that maybe it was time to just be a fan again. I mean I have only used my season tickets for myself 4 times in the last 3 seasons, and while I often can find someone to buy them or to give them to, maybe it was time to sit back and enjoy them.
I was fairly content with that decision until of all things the Utah Royals were announced. I have held very mixed feelings about Dell Loy Hansen over the years, and while the on the field results since he took full ownership of the team have been lacking, his moves off the field have been impressive. When he stepped forward to save a franchise that would have otherwise folded, it showed more commitment to the organization and the community but again left me wondering what about the product on the field? It was a simple little video of the remodel of what is now the locker room of the Utah Royals that changed my mind about a lot of things. First it made my excitement level go up, they weren’t being relegated to the Monarchs new stadium, but they would play at Rio Tinto. They wouldn’t go without a sponsor, they would get a good one, they wouldn’t be treated like an afterthought instead they were being treated and shown the respect that the first team was getting. Heck if DLH could buy back in and show that level of dedication, who was I to not do the same?
So for the 11th year I will do my best to present my thoughts and opinions on all things RSL, my focus will remain on the first team but I will do what I can to add in some coverage of the Monarchs and Royals. So with that being said here we go:
When you have 10 losses before the halfway point of the season things aren’t going right, so no matter what lineup you put out, whatever the mix of first team, second team or USL guys you play, a win in a must.
I am always appalled this time of year at how the US Open Cup gets treated, it should be one of the most popular soccer tournaments in the US, it should be on TV and heavily marketed for it’s unique nature and David vs Goliath appeal. With MLS not caring, they would rather revive Super Liga in an attempt to win over Liga MX fans, it is no surprise that most MLS teams stack their rosters with reserves.
Now fast forward to RSL’s season were after 16 matches RSL is 4-10-2 and are statistically the worst team in the league, most loses (10), highest goal differential (-20) and worst points per game (0.88). A break of 10 days between an embarrassing 6-2 loss to FC Dallas and their US Open Cup match against Sacramento United FC on Wednesday should have provided plenty of time for self reflection, tactical adjustments, injury recovery for some, integration back of U20 players back into team. We should see a team hungry to get some type of result against a side that should be easy pickings, a chance for our forwards who have struggled for goals to get some confidence. A chance for defenders to figure out what has gone wrong so often this year for them, but I expect that will be the last thing that we see.
This match will conclude the first third of the MLS season for RSL and to say that everyone has been left looking for something positive out of the first half would be a safe bet. Perhaps the only highlight at this point has been the play of some of the young guys, Brooks Lennon, Bofo Saucedo, and Justin Schmidt have all delivered more than anyone could have expected before the season started. If you include newcomer Albert Rusnak in with that trio then you actually have something to be fairly positive about. Of course if that is true then you have to be honestly disappointed by the rest of the roster, where perhaps the only bright spot has been Chris Schuler.
If that all seems a bit harsh, well folks welcome to 2-6-2 with a negative nine goal differential in your first ten matches. Welcome to a team that has probably played one half of actual MLS quality soccer so far this season, OK that might be too harsh but it is close to the truth. So now with injuries still and issue, Lennon, Saucedo, Glad and Danny Acosta gone for the U20 World Cup, RSL has to find something, someone, anything to get moving back into a positive direction. Could that be the arrival of Jefferson Savarino, the 20 year old forward was loaned to RSL earlier this week and could be tossed into action very quickly with a team that is desperate for bodies and positives?
The Revolution are a side that RSL has had success against in the past in fact we have a winning 4-3-2 record against them on the road and a 9-5-5 overall record against them in MLS action. The Revs are 2-4-4 thru their first 10 matches but it has been over a month since they beat Houston 2-0, so their form is far from what they would have hoped for as well.
Well we are 4 weeks into the MLS season and the RSL we will see on the pitch and on the bench on Saturday will be very different than what we started with. Injuries, callups and a fired head coach will all impact the lineup that RSL can put out against the New York Red Bulls, the question is can it/will it be enough? 5 potential starters are listed as questionable along with 2 others for RSL (Joao Plata, Jordan Allen, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, David Horst, Tony Beltran and Chad Barrett), then toss in 2 starters that will be on national team duty (Nick Rimando-US, Albert Rusnak-Slovakia) and 1 starter suspended (Kyle Beckerman), oh and our head coach is gone (Jeff Cassar).
So what will a lineup look like? We will cover that later, the reality is an early afternoon match on the East coast is rarely a easy thing for RSL to deal with, we have had little luck when facing the Red Bulls/MetroStars on the East coast with just 1 win in 9 matches. Still NYRB will be missing some key pieces as well, Connor Lade is going to make the 18 man roster but I expect he won’t see action, Michael Murillo and Sacha Kljestan are out on national team duty. Can RSL play spoiler and break the current 15 match unbeaten steak of the Red Bulls at home?
Keys to the Match:
Score – RSL has just a single goal this season (last week’s goal from Yura Movsisyan) from 24 shots and 11 shots on goal. It isn’t good enough and yes you are missing some players and have been missing some the past couple weeks but the reality is simply if you can’t score you can’t win. RSL’s attack last week looked good for about 30 minutes with Lennon, Movsisyan and Saucedo up top, but this week there is no Rusnak pulling the strings so it will be a bit tougher as I expect we will see either Luke Mulholland or Luis Silva in the creative role (probably a bit of both). So can RSL take advantage of the Red Bulls who gave up 3 goals at Seattle last weekend? It won’t be easy but I love the creative play of our 3 forwards last week and expect more of the same.
So today Real Salt Lake let their head coach Jeff Cassar go after just 3 matches of the 2017 MLS season. I counted myself a silent person among the fan based who questioned bringing him back this year at all, but I wanted to be supportive of one of the nicest guys I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Jeff never had a bad word to say about anyone that I can remember, and I will miss him. He loved this team, the fans and the city and in the age of modern sports he was a rarity, a genuine nice guy.
Now what confuses me is the timing, yes RSL hasn’t won a match yet, yes RSL had only scored one goal in their first 3 matches but if the leash was this short and confidence this low, why in the world did they keep him and not let a new coach come in and make critical choices and have a preseason to build his staff and work on his tactics and roster requests? Now you are 3 matches in, your roster is pretty much locked up and you now need to find a coach who will likely want to change some if not all of his staff. This mid contract, mid season type of change is something we rarely see in MLS and with good reason.
I want you to read this statement from RSL’s GM, closely:
“At the conclusion of last season, we felt that while we were disappointed in the end result, Jeff had done enough to earn another shot to lead the team in the 2017 campaign. We have a high sense of urgency for progress this season, and have made many off-season changes towards that endeavor. So, while these decisions are always difficult, we, as an organization, felt that it was necessary to make the change in our head coaching position now,” Waibel said. “The process for a hiring new head coach to lead the club has already begun. We will work quickly and diligently to ensure that we find the right leader that shares our values, passion, commitment and vision.”
we had enough confidence to resign him, but that only lasted 3 matches? I am sorry this sounds like someone panicked, an owner who has blown the negotiations with Jason and Garth, and now overreacted after ignoring the glaring issues at the end of last season. I don’t get it.
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.
For only the second time in club history and first time at Rio Tinto, RSL will open the season at home as they take on Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon. Facing teams from the East are often fairly easy affairs at home, I mean RSL is 7-1-0 vs TFC in Utah and 7-0-0 at Rio Tinto. RSL holds a +11 goal differential at home vs the defending Eastern Conference Champs, but we have to remember RSL hasn’t won a match in 7 months while TFC is coming off the shortest break in MLS history between MLS Cup and opening day.
This has the potential to be a thrilling match as both clubs showed last year that the traditional score first and win rule in MLS doesn’t apply to them, there is no safe lead against either of these sides. This TFC side will look very similar to the one that played for MLS Cup in December, but for RSL there will be some very glaring differences from last year. No Javier Morales, no Burrito Martinez, no Olave and while those players are gone it is likely RSL will also be without some regular starters from last year due to injuries and callups as I expect Kyle Beckerman, Aaron Maund will no start (or likely play) due to injury, Justen Glad will be with the U-20s (along with Sebastian Saucedo, Brooks Lennon and Danilo Acosta). So it will be interesting to see what the starting XI and bench looks like on Saturday afternoon.
Keys to the Match:
There are a few keys to beating TFC, first of which is make someone other than Sebasitian Giovinco beat you. You start the match with Luke Mulholland man marking him everywhere, when Luke gets a yellow card, you swap out Sunny on Gio, and if he gets a yellow you bring in Omar Holness to man mark him. You don’t let him get behind you but you also have to no commit fouls in stupid places and let him beat you on a set piece. Last year Giovinco accounted for 32 (15 goals, 17 assists) of TFC’s 51 goals, so over 60 percent of their offense comes from one guy. So to stop TFC, stop Gio.