Tag Archive for Alvaro Saborio

The 2014 Real Salt Lake Journey is about to begin

This weekend RSL kicks off their 10th season in Major League Soccer, before they do I thought taking a look at some of the challenges they face would be a good idea.

I know the easiest things to focus on will be the coaching change, an aging roster, limited changes on our roster to keep pace with other clubs making moves, but for me the 2nd full year of ownership by Dell Loy Hansen will actually be the area of greatest concern.

Oh I know some of you will jump on the fact that I am not going to name sources, but with people’s jobs on the line that is just the way it is, so if unnamed sources bother you then stop reading now.  First is the issue that DLH is a businessman, and a very good one but his experience with professional sports is none.   This is something that can be overcome with a knowledgeable staff and it would be hard to argue that Bill Manning and Garth Lagerwey aren’t among the very best in MLS, but if you hesitate to listen to their advice or if you have trust issues because they were hired by the previous owner, well then you will likely run into issues.   I get it, you have bought into an organization but you still feel like an outsider at time because the relationships between Dave and many are so tight (having weathered real storms over the years), I can see how you might not be sure of who you can really trust or not.  Clearly there also is the need to be wary given the financial state the team was in when you signed up and over the next couple years as a co-owner.

All of those things when you think about them make great sense, I hope by now that things have become more clear, from the top to the bottom of the organization people have bought into “the team is the star” and the ‘RSL Family” mentality.  Fans, players, coaches, front office staff, all have invested a lot into the team, maybe not in dollars and cents, but in passion, in dedication, and all have done so to see the team grow and succeed.  I do feel that if the trust issues, they go both ways, don’t get resolved this year (as early as possible) it could really lead to issues on and off the pitch.  Players come here because we have something special going on, it is in the locker room, it is in the stands, it is on the pitch and off of it.  If you doubt me, talk to guys like Lovell Palmer, or others who have left the team, or talk to the new guys who within a couple weeks learn that something different is happening here than at a lot of clubs.  Yeah we have a chip on our shoulders here, small market team, smaller budget than most, years of fighting to get national attention, but never for a moment have we seen that chip be anything than wanting better for the whole of RSL.

Mr. Hansen it is your money and as such you get to do what you want with the club, but understand that every decision at every level impacts the whole, you have fans, players and staff that want nothing more than to see RSL be as great as we all know it can be.  You can lead us there, but we must learn to trust each other or things will never be as good as they can be.

OK, on to those other things

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RSL vs SKC – 2013 MLS Cup Match Preview part II

So if you missed part one of my MLS Cup Preview you can check it out here.

To continue with my look at he matchups-

  • Midfield – This one is tough as it depends on where Graham Zusi lines up,  if he is in the midfield it is fairly even, but if he is up top as a forward then an edge to RSL.  Another key factor is which Benny shows up, if the Feilhaber of the regular season shows up then RSL is in good shape, if the guy who has stepped up in the playoffs is there, then it becomes a better battle.  Let’s be honest, Kyle Beckerman is better than Oriol Rosell, Ned Grabavoy is better than Benny over the course of the season, Luis Gil is better than Peterson Joseph and Javier Morales and Zusi are a wash.  Yeah I am saying edge to RSL.
  • Forwards – Edge RSL – A healthy Alvaro Saborio is a difference maker unlike anyone that Sporting can offer up, now Claudio Bieler is a damn good forward but his form of recent has been less than ideal. RSL can also offer up a very in form Robbie Findley, who had 6 regular season goals along with subs like Olmes Garcia with 5 goals, 4 assist in less than 1,000 minutes, or Devon Sandoval with 3 goals in under 900 minutes in the regular season, oh and Joao Plata. On the SKC side, I actually like Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong but they seem to be a bit lost without Kei Kamara in the formation. Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer are wildcards but I give the edge here to RSL.
  • Intangibles – Edge SKC – I get the home field advantage but SKC was just 9-5-3 at home, not exactly dominating, but their 29 to 15 edge in goals scored was very impressive.   Sleeping in your own bed vs a hotel can be a big difference maker, but I imagine some of the weather issues may negate a bit of the home field advantage.  Clearly the SKC front office did their part to try and stack the crowd with as many home fans as possible and it is hard to blame them for that. One advantage RSL will have is experience, it is possible that 6 starters from the 2009 MLS Cup could be in the staring XI for RSL on Saturday (Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley), I don’t believe any SKC players have played in a MLS Cup before.
  • Overall – RSL – I know you will say that is a homer pick, but I think Sporting is a damn good team, however they aren’t the same team without Kei Kamara as they are with him.  Without that spark SKC just seems to be lacking that special factor, for RSL when Sabo went out with an injury it took just minutes for Devon Sandoval to step up and deliver big time results in big matches.  Unless someone does that for SKC on Saturday then I expect that RSL will win this match. 2-1

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RSL vs SKC – 2013 MLS Cup match preview part I

This is what it all comes down to, two teams battling for the right to be called the best team in MLS, the regular season is a grind of toughness but the playoffs are when you have to shine your best when the spotlight is the brightest.  It is funny that a lot of folks had Sporting KC picked early to be here, but very few thought after the off season roster changes that RSL would have what it took to get to this point, but no matter the thoughts in March, it is RSL and SKC playing in December (that is a whole other topic).

It would be hard to argue that these aren’t the two teams that deserve to be here, RSL spent most of the post All Star Match calendar at the top of the MLS table, only to drop to 4th in the final weeks, while Sporting was a top 3 side in the Eastern Conference almost the entire season.  While you might argue that the Eastern Conference was the weaker side of the bracket, it is hard to argue against SKC as a top team in the league.

The two sides faced off once this season in a physical match that ended up being more about what was and wasn’t called by the officials than what the actual play was on the pitch, add in that the match came during  Gold Cup and that RSL was missing 4 players to national team duty and you can toss that 2-1 SKC win into the trash heap.

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Back to Practice for Real Salt Lake as MLS Cup looms

After a few days off to celebrate the holidays, RSL returned to practice on Sunday with a spirited 90 minute session that featured a variety of drills.  It was good to see Alvaro Saborio back to what appears to be close to full fitness, Chris Wingert was also an active participant but I believe he is still in some pain from the rib injuries suffered in the first leg against Portland. Devon Sandoval missed practice but Jason Kreis was confident (as was RSL PR man Sam Stejskal) that Devon would be ready to go by MLS Cup.

The drills started out small with smaller groups taking on each other in passing and possession drills and the scale kept getting larger and larger as practice went along, towards the end the keepers and groups of players broke off and started working on taking and defending PK’s (a sure sign that we are in full playoff mode).

Listening to a number of players and Jason talk after practice the group is fully aware of the task in front of them, they seem very focused while someone remaining relaxed.  Perhaps that is the veteran influence as RSL has a good number of players from the 2009 MLS Cup win on their roster (Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley) and with 6 straight seasons of playoff runs and this years US Open Cup run, every player on the roster has dealt with high pressure situations. That experience should provide a calming effect next Saturday as the big match hype has to be dealt with.

I was able to catch up with a couple of players after practice, first up is Lovel Palmer:

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Real Salt Lake find victory over the LA Galaxy and something more

Rio Tinto Stadium has always provided a good home for RSL, while not every match sells out the team draws a good crowd no matter the conditions or opponent being played.  Since the team moved to their home stadium, the club has never really suffered from a bad season, they have made the playoffs every year since the move.  That is 6 straight seasons for those of you counting, the longest streak in Major League Soccer, and getting close to the league record.  Four times in those 6 seasons RSL has made it to a conference final and on Sunday they will start their bid to play in and win their second MLS Cup title, which is a very good record for a team not even 10 years old yet.  On Thursday night, something interesting happened at Rio Tinto, something that has happened a couple times before but not nearly as often as some of us would like.  The crowd and team both seemed in sync with an energy level and passion that is rare in sports, that combined desire to help the other in whatever way possible.  You could see it in the eyes of the players on the first couple attempts on goal that went unsuccessful, you could hear from the fans in the stands who were perhaps as loud as I have ever heard them (despite it not being a sellout crowd), it kept building all night.  Sometimes it was positive and passionate, like the Seba goal and a few times not so positive, like the wrongly called off goal (even if you want to call Borchers offside, it was passive at best), but it was loud for the vast majority of the match and at points louder than I ever remember it being in the past.

The end result was a very entertaining 2-0 RSL win, or pair of wins.  It is hard enough to beat the Galaxy in an elimination match but last night RSL had to do it twice as Toledo made a mystery call on what should have been a Javier Morales goal that would have ended the match in regulation.  Instead RSL was forced to play 30 additional minutes and get another goal to end up with the deserved result, and while some may say it all comes out in the end, we saw Alvaro Saborio pick up an injury in that extra time, and had a majority of our players forced to play 30 minutes more with their next match just 3 days away.  We may never know what really happened on that call, or what impact the extra 30 minutes will have on RSL as they host the Timbers on Saturday, I do know my heartbeat was faster in those extra 30 minutes than it probably should have been.

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Why the US Open Cup matters, and matters so much to Real Salt Lake

Tuesday night Real Salt Lake will play the second most important match they have ever played at Rio Tinto Stadium, the 2011 CCL final was the most important.  This will be the third time RSL will be able to lift a trophy at home, they failed in their two previous attempts (2008 Western Conference Final & 2011 Champions League Final).  Of course it is funny how some people don’t put much weight behind the US Open Cup, saying that MLS teams rarely take it seriously, that US Soccer doesn’t really care about the tournament, but it is kinda strange when you compare the realities to those statements.

5 years ago I would have agreed that most MLS teams dialed it in when it came to the US Open Cup, the format changed often and it was hard to get fans interested in it.  Then came back to back to back titles by the Seattle Sounders, who showed that it was the easiest path to Champions League.  Last year more teams put out top lineups and the final between Sporting KC and Seattle was played before 18,000 plus fans and saw SKC win in a PK shootout.  This year we saw more teams (not all) put serious effort into US Open Cup, it sure was the case for RSL.

In the first Open Cup match for RSL, they put out a mixed lineup (Saunders, Palmer, Watson-Siriboe, Salcedo, Wingert, Morales, Alvarez, Velasquez, Beckerman, Sandoval, and Findley) and used all 3 subs (Plata, Grabavoy, Stephenson).  It took RSL extra time to get their 3-2 win over Atlanta, but clearly showed that the team was going to take the tournament seriously.  The second match for RSL was against Charleston again saw a very experienced lineup used (Saunders, Wingert, Maund, Borchers, Beltran, Velasquez, Beckerman, Morales, Grabavoy, Garcia, Sandoval – subs Stephenson, Plata, and Findley) and again it took 120 minutes for RSL to secure their 5-2 win.

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Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly III

If there has been a bigger MLS regular season match this season than the Friday night showdown between RSL and Seattle, please tell me what it is.  Real Salt Lake has been holding on to first place in both the Western Conference and overall MLS table for a couple months, the Sounders are the hottest team in MLS, so when they meet for the final time of the regular season with a possible swing of 6 points on the line, well expect a very intense match.

Of course every time these two teams meet it tends to be intense, only 2 of the 11 regular season matches have been decided by more than a single goal (a 2-0 Seattle win in March 2009, and RSL’s 2-0 win in June of this year), there have been 3 0-0 draws in the regular season series that sees RSL hold a 5-2-4 advantage and even a 2-1-2 edge in Seattle. The Sounders have 7 wins in their last 10 matches and 4 straight wins and have clawed their way into second place in the West, RSL had a rough July but went 3-1-2 in August to and have scored multiple goals in their last 4 matches.

The Good:

Kyle Beckerman – I always get a good laugh out of MLS fans who seem to have a strict love/hate relationship with Kyle, it is the same at the USMNT level. I get it, he plays hard, he is always in the middle of the action, and if your team is playing against him you will likely resort to making fun of his hair.  Why, because you can find so few flaws in his game, if he is called on to be the guy who breaks up plays in the midfield before they can develop, he does it, if he is called on to be more offensive minded, he can do that too.  No matter what the coach asks of him, he can do it.  Yes he does have a +10 when it comes to fouls committed vs fouls suffered, but surprisingly he has only been whistled for 24 fouls all season.  Off the pitch he is a laid back, mellow guy, soft spoken and great with fans, but when he steps on the pitch he is a warrior pure and simple.  I remember hating him when he was with the Rapids, that is the kind of player he is, you hate him when he is playing against your team, but when he is on your side, you can’t help but love him.

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Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly III – Match Preview

How the West will be won, step one beat the Timbers, for Real Salt Lake it is simple, win and then win some more.  The Western Conference is tight and with all of our remaining MLS matches against teams in the Western Conference, well the easiest way to stay ahead of everyone is to “just win baby”.   As I looked at records (home and away) of the top teams in MLS it looks as if everyone finishes off the season the same way they have played to this point, well RSL should be sitting pretty at the end of it all, but things rarely go the way you would expect.  So if RSL can pick up all 12 points at home, it would go a long way towards securing that top spot.

First up is a foe that now is very familiar to RSL, the Portland Timbers, who like RSL haven’t exactly been cruising to victories the last month or so.  Portland has just two victories in their 8 matches since July 7th, while RSL has 3 wins in their 9 matches since July 3rd, RSL however is building off a comeback 3-3 draw at Portland just 9 days ago and a huge 4-0 win at home over the Crew last weekend.  The Timbers blew a late lead against RSL and then fought bravely but lost 1-0 at Seattle last weekend.

For RSL this year it has been the late goal that has been one of the keys, with 12 goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half of matches, and 19 in the final 15 minutes of the second half, 31 of our 48 goals scored come near the whistle.  Against the Timbers we saw a late RSL goal earn the draw in Portland but the Timbers have only given up 6 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches all season (RSL has given up 14), their most vulnerable time is the start of the second half, where they have given up 11 goals in minutes 46-60.  One thing is for sure I don’t think this one will end without at least a couple of goals being scored, as both sides a hungry for points.

The Good:

Nick Rimando – I think at this point of the season we can all be fairly honest with each other, without Nick both in goal and as a team leader, we probably would be one of those teams fighting to get into a playoff position rather than leading the conference.   It was great for everyone to get to see Nick with the USMNT as it allowed him to showcase what us RSL fans have known for years, he simply is the best keeper week in and week out in MLS.   He is putting up another career year in MLS with a 0.95 GAA, 8 shutouts and 12 wins.  When Nick finally decides to hang up his boots and gloves I believe that he will hold so many goal keeping records in MLS that maybe then people will appreciate him for the qualities he brings to the pitch, I know that fans in Salt Lake and DC already know that Nick is simply clutch.

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Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly match preview

So for Real Salt Lake their match at Portland on Wednesday could be the most important match of the rest of the MLS regular season.  With just 9 league matches remaining, 3 of them will be against the Timbers, so while we saw them in US Open Cup action this will be a chance to set the tone for a third of the remaining regular season.   To be honest given the recent performances of RSL (2-2 draw at Colorado, 1-0 win over Houston, and 4-2 loss at LA) this could represent the best chance to get things back going in a positive direction, a chance to like they did earlier this summer to get on a good run of form (11 matches without a loss).  That could really help them over the longer run, were the 9 remaining MLS league matches are spread over 10 weeks, a far cry from the 10 matches in 7 weeks (June and July) or 7 matches in 27 days which is the August Schedule.

There are no easy matches for RSL the rest of the way, every match is either against a Western Conference opponent and/or a team in the thick of the playoff hunt so every point will be vital if RSL want to keep ahold of the top spot in the West or the overall table.  I am still holding out hope that RSL can find a way to pick up 9 points in their next 5 matches which include 3 at home in addition to the Wednesday match at Portland and a trip to Seattle.  The 50 point tier is a huge one as it would be hard to miss the playoffs with 50 points and it would mark (if RSL can get there before LA) the first time a MLS team has had 4 straight seasons with at least 50 points.  That is perhaps the best testament to the consistency that RSL has built since winning MLS Cup, but clearly the goal isn’t just that mark but to secure some actual silverware.  MLS Cup and the playoffs are a crap shoot where an off night can sink you in a hurry, but with RSL still seriously in the hunt for the Supporter’s Shield and with the US Open Cup final coming in just over a month, both provide real chances to add a trophy to the collection.

The Timbers are a team that simply doesn’t lose often,  just 3 losses in 23 matches and they have shown that they are a team unafraid of physical play but one that prefers to play a more attacking style (more direct than RSL) but at least better than the bunker and long ball of some teams around the league.   It has been interesting to watch how quickly a new coach and a couple of new players have been able to change the very culture of the Timbers, who remind me a lot of the 2009 RSL squad that simply refused to give up, that went “balls to the wall” from whistle to whistle and fought for each other unlike any team I have seen before or since.   It is hard in MLS or any league to face the same team several times a season, even harder to defeat an opponent several times in one season, but for both the Timbers and RSL they will be trying to do just that.  The Timbers players and staff looked gutted after their loss in US Open Cup action just a couple of weeks ago, and now with two league matches against each other in the next two weeks the stakes are just as high as the Timbers look to secure as many points as possible in their attempt to claim their first shot at the MLS playoffs in what is a very tight Western Conference.

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Real Salt Lakes takes on Houston as brutal August continues

Well we are 10 days into August and RSL is facing their third match of the month today as they will play host to the Houston Dynamo.  The Dynamo are a interesting foe, they are the team that has played in back to back MLS Cups only to come up shy each time.  The Dynamo are a very typical MLS team, they try to keep their core of players together while adding the right pieces to replace those who have left, it is a story common to fans of every MLS team and one way to common for RSL fans.

RSL has never had a lot of success against the Dynamo, just 3-9-5 and even at home RSL is more likely to get a draw with Houston with a 3-1-4 record in Utah.  This hasn’t been a good year for RSL against what is often perceived as the weaker Eastern Conference, with just a 2-4-2 record, so Saturday will provide a chance to secure 3 much needed points at home which would allow them to stay on top of both the MLS table and the Western Conference.

The Dynamo are an interesting team, since moving to Houston the Dynamo have seemed to know just when to peak in the MLS season, mid summer to late fall and it has paid off with them winning MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007 their first two teams in their new home town, playing in two more MLS Cups (2011 & 2012) and have missed the playoffs just once (2010) since moving from San Jose.  That is consistency at a very high level, given the fact that they moved cities, have moved conferences and dealt with a revolving door of players but at the helm has been Dominic Kinnear.   The changes have been huge over the last couple of years, Stuart Holden left, Ricardo Clark left (and is now back), Geoff Cameron has left, and while Brain Ching is still with the team he now plays a very limited role (0 starts, 13 appearances, 0 goals, 1 assist).

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