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.
You see what I did there? Anyhow we are entering into a season filled with expectations as is every fan of every team, but for RSL we are coming off 3 seasons of disappointment and yes making the playoffs and washing out in the first round is a disappointment. So for me the expectations are high as always, I expect at least 15 wins and 50 points during the regular season and at least one win & home playoff match for MLS action, and a quarterfinal appearance in the US Open Cup. Those are minimums for a season to be considered successful in my mind, and last year we failed, the year before we failed and even in 2014 we failed.
This will be the fourth year with Jeff Cassar in charge, and unless we can at least meet those goals I will be honest it probably should be his last. I would give him the full season to reach those goals but one has to wonder if getting Mike Petke into the RSL fold wasn’t a move to have a MLS ready head coach replacement in the wings? There have been excuses in past years, new coach, new formation, etc but this is payoff time, there are no more excuses it is time to deliver or move on.
So the RSL season is about to begin so let’s take a quick look at what has transpired between the end of the 2016 season and now, and how much hype those things bring to the 2017 season.
I am going to use a scale of -10 to +10 to rate the major events of the off season and what I believe their impact will be on the 2017 season
- Javier Morales leaves – I doubt we will ever know what really happened at the end of the 2016 season, but clearly the departure of Javier Morales will impact RSL going forward both on and off the field. I took about a week after the 3-1 playoff loss at LA for this one to hit and its about as negative as hype can get, gotta go with a -10 on this one.
- Jeff Cassar staying – RSL fans were up in arms over Javi’s departure and a end of the 2016 season that saw RSL win just 4 of their final 19 matches and no wins in Sept or Oct. So the news in early Nov of Jeff’s contract being extended for 2017 wasn’t exactly received with positive hype, this one gets a -5
- Burrito is gone – Another case that we may never really know what happened but between a nagging injury, issues at home, and who knows what else Juan Manuel Martinez was dealing with but clearly he had checked out by mid season and by the end of the season it was clear things had gone very wrong. His release was a not a surprise but it sure wasn’t what any of us wanted, but clearly what he wanted. His creative abilities on the field will be missed, I give this one a -7 on the Hype Meter. Read more
So this is one of those blog posts that I write, scrap, write again, scrap again and eventually find myself drawn back to no matter how many times I try to walk away from it. As seasons end and seasons get ready to start again I find myself always considering what has changed, what needs to change and while there is no doubt that the last couple of seasons have been far from rewarding for most fans as far as results on the pitch, the question is why. We have the formation change, we have roster changes galore, but what if the issue is something more? What if the issue is rooted in something other than the salary cap, other than roster rules, other than formations? What if the issue is a lack of identity?
Now before you roll your eyes, too late I expect for some, hear me out a bit. Since day one in the league, RSL has played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, a small market team, not a glamourous destination, a lack of attention from the league or national soccer media, sponsors more fitting of arena football than a professional soccer team, and so on. You can turn something like that into a motivating factor or you can turn it into an excuse, and it seems like lately we have used it as either an excuse or a crutch. Now some of you are going to really roll your eyes at this next part, so take a few seconds and do it now, cause you know you will.
So when Craig Waibel said there were a few players RSL was looking at this winter transfer window, you knew there would be some speculation, how could their not be? But in the last 24 hours things have been kinda funny, kinda exciting, but not very rewarding as everything seems to still be in that rumor stage. Given the drama of several handshake deals falling thru last year, I will get excited when paperwork is signed and official announcements made.
Still, let’s talk about things a little bit. First up, Landon oh Landon, how would the RSL family react if the rumor of Landon to RSL were more than just a rumor (I really, really doubt it even should qualify as a rumor). So it all started with a report that Landon was in Salt Lake City, so that must mean he is signing with RSL right? Oh could he be one of thousands who come here each winter week to get some time on the slopes? Could he just be visiting friends? Could he be here for some completely unrelated reason? Yup and to be honest as much as I respect Landon, this isn’t a player that builds RSL for the future. I said it on Twitter, if this were a move for a team that just needed one piece to go from close to Champions, then great and wonderful he is a guy who can make a difference for any team.
That isn’t the case in my book, I was reminded that most of our starters and roster are coming back from the 2016 season and I remain unconvinced is some cases if that is a good thing or not. I believe it is time for RSL to start rebuilding, not a complete but clearly we need a faster, more dynamic team on both sides of the ball. The heart and passion showed early in the season was replaced by a team that looked confused and disinterested at the end of the season. The stat that still haunts me is how often we failed to win when we scored first, and countered by how often we were able early in the year to fight back after giving up the first goal and get a result. So I would say thanks but no thanks to a Landon to RSL deal at this point, because I want us to start building for the next 3-4 years and beyond, not just do enough to make the playoffs and get a few contracts extended another year.
Now the very exciting rumor that may hold some actual weight is Albert Rusnak, a 22 yr old attacking midfielder from Slovakia, who currently plays in the Netherlands for FC Groningen. You can check out one of the many highlight clips here. Craig dropped hints at the town hall a couple weeks ago about a young attacking mid playing in the Netherlands and today rumors started flying around about Albert. You can check out his current player profile page here
A 0-0 draw at home against an opponent that you should beat is simply disappointing and that is exactly what RSL fans were treated to. When RSL dominates an opponent and fails to get a result, at least the match can be entertaining, at least fans can draw hope that eventually the goals will come, but when the team simply looks disjointed it leaves one with lots of questions. So 14 shots for RSL, to 12 for New England, 2 shots on target for RSL and 1 for New England, a 52% to 48% edge in possession for RSL but much of that seemed to be in our own end of the pitch.
Prior to the match there was another issue facing RSL, a member of the Salt Lake Tribune’s sports staff was denied access to the Rio Tinto press box and their RSL credentials were revoked. There are statements from both sides that support their stance on the issue and for me the reality of the situation is probably somewhere between the two statements. I have never been a huge fan of Gordon Monson, largely because he writes about the Utah Jazz and I care nothing about the NBA. He has over the past two years written two articles about RSL that I have found interesting, both question how decisions are being made after Dell Loy Hansen took full ownership of RSL. Both take issue with what Monson called the dismantling of those who helped build RSL from a disappointing expansion side to a dominant force within MLS.
Was his take a bit simplistic? Yes in some ways, but were there also some legitimate questions being asked? Yes, one would have to be blind to the rapid pace of change at the top of RSL once DLH took over. First losing Jason Kreis as head coach, due to a lowball offer and then losing GM Garth Lagewey who was looking to take on more responsibility (which seemed to make sense at the time) but then letting Bill Manning go as well, and wondering why not hold onto Garth given that move had to be in mind. These are all questions that many fans have asked me online and offline over the last 3 years.
Draws at home aren’t good enough, never have been and never will be in MLS this year the home teams are 98-32-59, in the West 4 teams haven’t lost at home, 2 more have lost just once. RSL’s has had draws in 3 of their last 4 home matches after winning their first 5 home matches, so while we can take pride in not having lost at home, we need to get back on that winning side of things and on Saturday facing the New England Revolution who are 1-5-3 on the road and who have never won at Rio Tinto, there should be no better time to get a home win.
It may not be fresh on the minds of RSL players or fans, but last year at New England we did one of those mixed lineups and got thrashed 4-0. Of course RSL has had a few of those big wins over New England as well, a 6-0 and 5-0 wins in their matches at Rio Tinto back in 2009 & 10. This is actually a series that RSL holds a distinct advantage in with 9 wins, 5 losses and 4 draws and only twice in those 18 matches have we had a 0-0 draw and none since 2007. In fact 11 times RSL has scored 2 or more goals against the Revs, and have 34 overall goals against them. Being shut out last year was the first time since 2007 that RSL hadn’t scored against New England. Toss in the fact that the Revs will be without Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo and others and it’s starting to sound like this one should be a cakewalk right?
The Revs could be getting back Gershon Koffie, who has been out for over a month, they also recently added Kei Kamara who has 3 goals since joining New England from Columbus. Add in Lee Nguyen and Digeo Fagundez, and the results can change, the Revs won just 2 of their first 13 matches but have won 3 of their last 6 so this is clearly a team that is putting things together. So can RSL follow the example of LA and FC Dallas, both who beat the Revs 4-2? I expect a full strength lineup from RSL (some questions about Joao Plata and Demar Phillips who have minor injuries they are nursing). Still with LA winning last night, and both Sporting KC & Vancouver able to leap in front of RSL in the standing with wins this weekend, 3 points is critical for the Claret and Coblat.
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.