Tag Archive for Alvaro Saborio

Real Salt Lake look to end Landon Donovan’s career on Sunday

There is little doubt that Landon Donovan is the best player in MLS history, he probably is the best American soccer player to date, and while many fans are torn about him, cheering him in the red, white and blue of the USMNT, while booing him when he is in the various colors of the LA Galaxy, the reality is that love or hate him, everyone respects him.  On Sunday Real Salt Lake will look to end his MLS career, and given the history between these two teams over the years both in the regular season and post season it could go either way.  In regular season action RSL is 6-8-1 in matches played in LA, a 0-1 loss at StubHub Center in July was the balance for a 1-0 win by RSL there on opening weekend of the 2014 season.

All time these two teams are tied at 11-11-7, after the 0-0 draw last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium.  These two are frequent opponents in the post season, in 2009 it was a PK shootout win for RSL at MLS Cup, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference Finals on their way to a MLS Cup win, and last year it was RSL with 2-1 aggregate win in the Conference semifinals on their way to another MLS Cup appearance.  So Sunday will be two teams so very familiar with each other than winning or losing is often a matter of inches, shots off the framework or of the fingers of diving keepers are the norm, and it could likely come down to who can punish the other team’s mistakes.  RSL have a bit of momentum despite the draw at home, they finished the regular season with two wins and a draw, while the Galaxy finished it with a draw and two losses.  RSL gave up just a single goal in their 4 matches in October, while the Galaxy gave up 6, which was very unusual for the Galaxy who ended the regular season with an insane +32 goal differential as the league’s top scoring team with 69 goals scored, and tied for the league’s best defense with just 37 goals allowed.  The Galaxy were mighty good at home with a 12-1-4 record, their only loss was opening day to RSL, the amassed 44 goals at home while only giving up 14 goals for a +30 home goal differential.

So what will Real Salt Lake need to do in order to get past the Galaxy and on to the Western Conference Finals for the 5th time in the last seven years (08 ,09, 11, 13)?

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Real Salt Lake look to make history at Seattle – Match Preview

A couple years ago Real Salt Lake went on an amazing unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, that streak was ended by Seattle, now RSL will be looking to set a new record for most matches without a loss to start a MLS season with a win or a draw at Seattle.  The record would be nice but for me it is about a team that has overcome so much already this season proving that together they are capable of amazing things.

With a completely new coaching staff entering into the 2014 season, including a rookie head coach in Jeff Cassar, expectations were tempered and when you factor in a rather brutal schedule (or what looked like on when it was released) I can assure you that nobody was talking about setting a record for most matches without a loss to start the season.  Then came the actual matches, the injuries, the call ups, more injuries, and some ugly matches, and here we sit heading into the 13th match of the season with a 6-0-6 record.  There are so many places that one has to give credit, the breakout season that Joao Plata is having with 6 goals and 3 assists, the surprise off season signing of Luke Muholland who has added 3 goals and 2 assists while playing in every RSL match so far this season, the dominance of Jeff Attinella when filling in for Nick Rimando with a 0.75 GAA, 2 clean sheets and a MLS save of the week.

Of course we also have the things that don’t surprise us, Kyle Beckerman’s commanding presence at the back of the diamond, which over the last two years have seen him claw his way back into the USMNT and onto the World Cup roster.  I am so very proud of the heart and passion that Kyle has brought to RSL over the years, nobody deserves a trip to the World Cup more than the most consistent player in MLS.  We have another MVP type season coming from Javier Morales, with 4 goals and 5 assists he continues to put his stamp on RSL and MLS as one of the best creative players the league has had.  The consistency of the RSL defenders, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, along with some great work from Aaron Maund as well.

That just scratches the surface of things that have lead RSL to where they are, when you think about Seattle, you have to think Clint Dempsey (8 goals, 3 assists) and Obafemi Martins (5 goals, 6 assists) two guys who struggled to make an impact at the end of the 2013 season but who have lifted the Sounders to the top of the MLS table early in 2014.  The Sounders have also gotten a real boost from some new players this season as Chad Marshall came over from the Crew and has looked like a younger and better version of himself in Rave Green while leading the Seattle backline, in the midfield Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa have fit in nicely working with Osvaldo Alonso, and a mix of Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans and others.  At 8-3-2 the Sounders have done something that most MLS teams can rarely pull off, they have given up the first goal in 6 of their matches and found a way to come back and claim wins in 4 of them, that is impressive.

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Real Salt Lake puts undefeated streak on the line in Rocky Mountain Cup Showdown

If on March 7th you had said that you thought RSL would be undefeated after their first 10 matches, people would have laughed at you, but here we are.  It has been no small feat either, 6 of those 10 on the road, having 3 matches against the last two winners of MLS Cup, facing familiar foe Portland, revamped Toronto FC, oh and heading to Houston and Chicago two places RSL traditionally haven’t done very well, but here we are.  Now comes the first leg of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Cup, and while I have been rather dismissive of this “rivalry” with the Rapids in recent years the majority of fans still love it, and with RSL losing it for the first time in 6 years last season I guess it has picked up some steam again.

The Rapids entered this season with a lot of hopes, but then weeks before the season started they lose head coach Oscar Pareja to FC Dallas and the guy who provided such great motivation to a young over achieving roster last season is gone and the confusion about who would replace him went on for weeks until almost without other options they named Pablo Mastroeni as their head coach, a fierce competitor who saw his career cut short with numerous injuries.  Still as any player turned coach will tell you it takes time to transition, and while dealing with injuries and still a very young team they have started the season OK, 4-3-3 from their first 10 matches, but are just 1-2-2 in their last 5 matches.  We know that no motivational speeches are needed for either side, as players have embraced the fan driven rivalry, and I have little doubt that the Rapids don’t see a RSL side without Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, or Alvaro Saborio as prime for the picking.

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Real Salt Lake look to remain undefeated against Philadelphia Union – match preview

So there are two meanings to that title, first is that RSL in 6 meetings has never lost to the Union, and of course RSL will look to remain undefeated in week 6 of the 2014 MLS regular season.  Since joining MLS, the Union are 0-2-4 with 5 goals scored and 9 goals allowed against RSL.  Of course they have never lost to RSL at PPL Park, a pair of 1-1 draws and a 0-0 draw in the most current match in Chester.  Last year the Union came close to beating RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium but a short handed stoppage time goal equaled the score at 2-2 and crushed the hopes of the Union fans for that first victory over RSL.

This year the Union have made some improvements to their roster, they picked up Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, Fred, Austin Berry and most recently Andrew Wenger and with the first 2 have started all five of the Union’s matches and has helped their midifield lift it’s level of play. The Union will likely be without Danny Cruz and Sheanon Williams both of who are recovering from injuries, of course that is a mighty short list compared to the 11 players on the RSL list (some of who are possible or probable).  RSL will be without Joao Plata, Nick Rimando, Luis Gil and most likely both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, but as has been the case since the start of the season there are guys who are stepping up to fill those spots, we saw both Rich Balchan, Abdoulie Mansally and Jeff Attinella all get their first starts of the season last week in a match where they played major roles in helping RSL keep a clean sheet in their 0-0 draw with Sporting KC.

So can RSL find a way to keep their streaks alive?

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Real Salt Lake dismantle Toronto FC 3-0

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.

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Real Salt Lake vs Toronto FC – Match Preview

So within a couple weeks of RSL coming up short in MLS Cup, all the attention around MLS shifted north of the border as Toronto FC started spending money like a rapper in a strip club, the MLS version of making it rain.  Gilberto was signed as a DP, but he was the appetizer for their fans, as the team would announce both Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe would be joining them heading into the 2014 MLS season.  Now Toronto wasn’t the first team to spend big buck on Mega DP’s, but they were the first to do so on this scale of both transfer fees and salaries.

As a RSL fan, I have seen a club built a very different way, a way that has seen a consistency over the last 5 plus seasons that have kept them at the top levels of MLS. During that time we saw LA push and lead the league in creating the DP rule, then the two DP rule and eventually the league settled on 3 DP’s per team.  We have seen big names come before Toronto made their moves, we had Beckham, Henry, Marquez, Blanco, Keane, and others come and go with varying levels of success.  Clubs have most often found themselves in one of two quickly diverging paths, spending huge amounts of money on a select few and hoping to fill in pieces around them (LA, NY, SEA), or spreading their money around more players building deep rosters and selectively using the DP rule when needed (RSL, SKC, HOU, POR).  Both types of teams have found success in both the regular and post seasons of MLS over the last few years.

Now Toronto wants to join in on the fun, the second method didn’t work for them so they are trying to spend their way to success, and while it may not be the way I think teams should be built, I don’t blame them.  Since joining the league in 2007, they have yet to make it to the post season, in fact if their had been relegation in place TFC wouldn’t be in MLS.  Making that worse is the fact that TFC has had amazing fan support from day one, so do I blame their ownership for making a huge shift in spending?  Nope not at all.

On Saturday night TFC will play their 3rd match of this new era for their club, and let’t be honest none of us know what to expect.  Do we see the team that quickly put up two on Seattle and then held on for a 2-1 win, or the club that struggled to a 1-0 win at home against DC United?  Of course there are also some questions about RSL, after a 1-0 opening day win over the LA Galaxy, RSL lost a 3-1 lead at San Jose and settled for a 3-3 draw, and then last weekend after getting a 1-0 lead over LA in RSL’s home opener the team again had to settle for a draw, this time 1-1.  So what will we see on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium?

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Real Salt Lake to host LA Galaxy in home opener – match preview

It seems almost amazing that Real Salt Lake already has two matches under their belts and now as spring has sprung they will start the home portion of their season by taking on the LA Galaxy again.  The first time around it was the Galaxy home opener and RSL was able to rain on their parade thanks to a Joao Plata goal and some amazing stops by Nick Rimando.  It was an exciting match as both side showed a little bit of rust but both showed that they can be very dangerous, it was lucky that Robbie Keane didn’t get a goal and unlucky that the officials got the call wrong on Luke Mulholland’s goal.  In the end it was a 1-0 win for RSL who notched their 5th straight opening day win, and now RSL will look to extend their undefeated home opening streak.  Oh I know that someone will think I am going to jinx them, but RSL has never lost a home opener, they may not have won all of them but never a loss.

For RSL it will be a real test as the injuries are piling up early on in the season, Findley, Sandoval, Velasquez, Morales, Allen, Maund, Schuler and Watson-Siriboe all have some type of injury issues they are dealing with. The upside is that newcomer Luke Mulholland has been a great surprise and Plata has started off the season as well as anyone in MLS. So with the home crowd behind them on a rare afternoon start, it should be a perfect chance to catch the two best teams in MLS over the last 5 seasons.

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Real Salt Lake look to spoil the Quakes 2014 home opener – match preview

Heading to San Jose for an early season match is nothing new for RSL, this will be the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons that we have played at Buck Shaw in March.  In 2011 we kicked off the season there and picked up a 1-0 win, then last year it was a 2-0 win over the Quakes on opening day.  So while we kicked off our season last weekend with the win in LA, this will be the first MLS match for San Jose and while RSL’s roster remained largely the same as last year, that is far from true for the Quakes who missed the playoffs last year despite breaking the 50 point plateau (51 points).

Sixteen players on the out side of the transaction list for San Jose, thirteen on the in side of that list:
San Jose Transfers

For me this means two things, despite all the changes they are really the same basic team, there are no huge moves, no mega DP’s for San Jose they will still rely on the same guys up top (Wondolowski, Gordon, and Lenhart) and they hope that Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi their big off season pick up from France can provide them some type of creativity in the midfield, something they lacked last year.

While San Jose missed the playoffs last year they were the hottest team down the stretch with just 2 losses in their last 14 matches, to go along with 3 draws and 9 wins but it was goals scored that kept them out as they lost that tiebreaker to Colorado (45 to 35). Their 35 goals scored last year was less than half of their 2012 total, but nobody really thought that they would get another record year from Chris Wondolowski, or that their last minute antics of that season could really be repeated on a regular basis over a full season.

The season got off to a great start for Real Salt Lake, after everyone urged caution in getting expectations too high, the exciting result in LA has a lot of people buzzing.

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Real Salt Lake finds victory in contentious match against Galaxy

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 Rimando

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.

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Real Salt Lake open season against LA Galaxy – match preview

Real Salt Lake will kick off their 2014 season like almost every other season, with a match away from home, but that hasn’t proven to be a task they aren’t able to handle. Can RSL pick up their 5th straight opening day road win? To do so they will need to beat rival side LA.

A lot of people think that sports rivalries, especially those in MLS are all about geography but if you don’t think that RSL vs LA is a rivalry, despite what some of the Galaxy players might tell you, or how MLS might promote the match, well then you clearly haven’t looked at the definition of the word lately, let me help you out:rivalry

For the last 4 seasons both the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake have won at least 15 matches and scored at least 50 points, a feat that no other MLS team has ever done before (post shoot out era), two of those years the Galaxy finished higher in the table than RSL and twice it was RSL who finished with a better position. Since 2009 the teams have played for 5 MLS Cups combined, and won it 3 times.

Heck since RSL joined MLS 10 years ago the teams have fought 25 times in the regular season and the competition couldn’t be more equal with each side winning 10 matches and 5 draws.  The competition actually goes beyond the normal win at home type of MLS results, RSL has actually won 5 times in LA out of their 13 regular season matches, with 1 draw.  It goes beyond the regular season, the teams have faced each other 3 times in the playoffs since 2009.  RSL won the MLS Cup over LA in 2009, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference final, and last year RSL was able to get the win over the Galaxy in the semifinals.

So how will the teams match up on the opening weekend of the 2014 MLS season?

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