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 every summer a good number of clubs from Europe make the trek to the US either to play in the highly suspect ICC tournament, sorry but it is preseason matches for most clubs from Europe and nothing more so calling it a tournament is “meh”. Real Salt Lake has avoided the temptations each summer to bring one of those clubs in for a friendly match, as they often have been focused on US Open Cup or the MLS season but this year that has changed as the team recently announced they would be hosting Inter Milan on July 19th (you can read details here), and it has me wondering why.
The team has only scheduled one friendly in the last 6 years, that against Xolos in 2014, you have to go back to 2009 to see RSL more active in playing host to these often attractive for fans but generally unimportant matches, so why now? Part of it could be our new ownership, with Dell Loy firmly in control and now Andy Carroll handing most operations with the departure last year of Bill Manning, it could just be that they have taken a fresh look at the opportunities that exist.
One can’t blame them, with many teams already scheduled to come stateside for the ICC matches the cost of signing a match like this is likely greatly reduced. Salt Lake also provides teams a chance to practice at altitude something many clubs value during their pre-seasons and with this match a week before Inter’s first ICC match it goes along with Andy stating that part of the goal of the new soccer complex being built in Herriman will be attracting touring European clubs.
“As the Herriman Complex evolves, we expect the Salt Lake Valley to serve as the home base for numerous world powers during their Summer tours of North America; Inter Milan’s visit to Sandy this July is the first step in that process.”
The upside for RSL is simple, first it gives them a chance to show off the plans for the new complex, but it also allows them to sell tickets to fans both of RSL and Inter Milan for a midweek match and get both revenue as well as some good press coverage out of the match.
I don’t often post press releases, but this one is an exception as it is the first second (thanks Trey for the correction) “friendly” match since 2009 vs Chivas (the real Chivas) a match that I believe was a cornerstone moment for RSL:
REAL SALT LAKE & RIO TINTO STADIUM
TO HOST LEGENDARY ITALIAN CLUB INTER MILAN
ON TUESDAY, JULY 19 AT 8:00 P.M. MT
Presented by the Utah Sports Commission, RSL v. Inter Milan
Highlights Summer Schedule in Sandy, Along with June 24 Liga MX Exhibition;
First-Ever European Side to Face RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium
SANDY, Utah (Wednesday, June 8, 2016) – Rio Tinto Stadium will host iconic and legendary Italian club Inter Milan on Tuesday, July 19, presented by the Utah Sports Commission, as Real Salt Lake faces a European side in the world-class Utah venue for the first time. Kickoff is at 8:00 p.m. MT, with RSL Season Ticket Members able to secure their seats until Friday, June 17, with the entire Stadium going on sale at that time to the general public via the stadium box office, RSL.com, RioTintoStadium.com or by calling 844.Real.Tix.
“The arrival of such a storied club as Inter Milan coming here to face Real Salt Lake is a testament to the vision our owner, Dell Loy Hansen, is developing for the sport in our community”, said Andy Carroll, Chief Business Officer for RSL. “As the Herriman Complex evolves, we expect the Salt Lake Valley to serve as the home base for numerous world powers during their Summer tours of North America; Inter Milan’s visit to Sandy this July is the first step in that process.”
Officially known as FC Internazionale Milano, and colloquially outside Italy as simply “Inter Milan” the Milan-based club is recognized worldwide for its iconic black and blue jersey, hence the nickname the Nerazzurri. Inter Milan has competed in Italy’s top flight league, Serie A, for over a century and has never been relegated in its 108 years of history.
Did we all think after coming in mid year that this year we would see more from Juan Manual “Burrito” Martinez, sure. Did we all hope that Joao Plata would return to his 2013 form after injuries last year, sure. Did we all think bringing back Yura Movsisyan would help the RSL offense, sure. Did we all think that younger guys like Jordan Allen and Justen Glad had a ton of potential to make RSL better, sure. Did any of us think Sunny would step in and make this much of a difference right away, nope. Did all of us think we had serious issues at CB heading into this season, yup. Do most of us still think we have those issues at CB, probably
The first 8 matches of RSL season have come as a surprise to just about everyone, but I doubt many people are disappointed given the team has the best PPM 2.13 in the league and our 5-1-2 record is mighty good given some of the early season injuries, suspensions and mistakes. I think a lot of us noticed something different about the team early on, the amount of fight when faced with things going wrong seemed much better than last year.
While all of us are impressed with where RSL is after the first 8 matches, things could have been better a couple of bad red cards in two of the first 3 matches, along with a couple of mental and physical breakdowns late in matches left RSL exposed late and the team ended up with a couple of draws in matches that could have and probably should have been wins. Imagine what people would be saying about a 7-1-0 start by RSL. Still you have to deal with the hands you are given sometimes and I believe the team learned a lot about itself in those tough situations, something that will pay off over the long MLS season.
On Saturday night in their 2-1 win over Houston we saw RSL do something rare in MLS, get a win after giving up the first goal. For RSL it is actually the second time this season they have done it, they also did it again Seattle in our 2-1 win over them. The only team that has shown the ability to come from behind better than RSL has been the LA Galaxy who have won 3 and gotten 2 draws after giving up the first goal.
There are few people in soccer that I respect as much as I do Brian Dunseth, so when on On Frame Monday night he talked about RSL fans being on the edge and how too often we (fans) allow our emotions to push us to the negative vs understanding that one can be critical and acknowledge the positives as well. He is right, and so was Matt Gacshk as he pointed out that last year the team probably drop their heads and pack it in when they go down to 10 guys so early in the match.
Both of them will tell you that they see something different with this group than last year, I agree with them. Even in the preseason matches and practices in Tucson, it seems like there is a higher degree of accountability within the team than there was last year. I believe bringing back Yura and Chris, both guys who were here in 2009 when the team played as a team. So while as Dunny reminds us that the motto “The Team is the Star” came out of a time when the team was built around a lot of middle level salary guys and the team was successful without big name and big money DP’s, I hope and think that this year, that the mentality of playing for each other, playing for the fans and as a club being more interested in the collective good than individual glory (which can come as part of team success) will lead us to a new version of “The Team is the Star”.
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.
You probably saw the first leg of the series last week and know that RSL has a hole to climb out of after losing 2-0 in Monterrey, you have probably heard others say that despite the loss, RSL played fairly well. I guess you could say that but for me, I honestly believe we ended up lucky not to have given up more goals, Tigres could have scored a couple more off the mistakes RSL made. Those mistakes came on defense, poor marking, bad passes, failed clearances, it simply wasn’t good enough.
On the other side of the ball RSL could have and probably should have had a couple goals themselves, so some bad luck kept the team from getting a critical road goal. Again it simply wasn’t good enough.
So a week has passed and it is kinda hard to believe that a whole lot will have changed on the RSL side, a couple days of practice (interrupted by several players getting sick). Now players will have had more minutes with the ball, so passes should be a bit crisper, shots should be of a better quality, and overall fitness should be better. Now the bigger difference from last week could be on the Tigres side, a comfortable win in the first leg, a dramatic late finish over Club America last weekend and a huge derby match against Monterrey on Saturday, so what players will they put out in the second leg against RSL?
Here are some comments Head Coach Jeff Cassar made to the media on Tuesday about the match:
So with CCL in charge media access to RSL practice consisted of 15-20 minutes of watching the guys stretch (across the field from where we were stationed) a 45 minute wait and then a quick interview session with HC Jeff Cassar and Captain Kyle Beckerman (and Joao Plata if you knew Spanish).
What did come out is that there is a bug making it’s way thru the RSL locker room, 3 players missed practice today due to it and all of them were starters in the first leg and likely starters in the second; Javier Morales, Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez and Demar Phillips. Coach Cassar said he believes all 3 would be probable for Wednesday’s match but one never knows. On the upside Luke Mulholland was a full participant in practice today so he may be a player that could make the 18 man roster.
Should those 3 players not be able to go one would have to expect some easy subs for Burrito, by bringing in Olmes Garica who has had a good preseason, for Demar Phillips you bring in Chris Wingert, but Javi’s shoes are very hard to fill, do you bring in Jordan Allen who is training to be that backup but is fairly new to the position? Do you bring in Luke and put either him, Kyle or Sunny at the point of the attack? You could bring in John Stertzer and push Kyle or Sunny forward to be the playmaker?
I wouldn’t want to be Jeff if any of those three are unable to go, but hopefully each will get some fluids and be back in action on Wednesday.
I will post my prematch thoughts tomorrow morning.
In RSL’s history in CONCACAF Champions league they have found a way to get some impressive wins at home. The last time we were in the knockout rounds, RSL got a 4-1 win in the second leg over the Columbus Crew to move on to the semifinals. In their home leg of those semifinals, they picked up a 2-0 win at home over Saprissa.
In the 2010 group stage, there was a 4-1 win over TFC at home and a 3-1 win over Cruz Azul (that wouldn’t be good enough on Wednesday), in 2012 there was a group stage there was a 2-0 win over Tauro.
In MLS action RSL had 20 home wins in the last 5 seasons where the score would have been enough to advance them or at least push the 2nd leg to extra time.
So for those who doubt the ability of RSL to comeback, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the team is capable of turning this series around and moving forward.