If there is a match this season that RSL should be a no questions asked win, it would be hosting the Chicago Fire at home. Think about this, the Fire have scored just 6 goals so far this season, while surrendering 16, so their 2-7-1 record is no real surprise to anyone. I have for the last several seasons believe that the Fire were as good as Marco Pappa played, but now he is gone along with his 21 goals and 12 assists (his tally for the last 3 seasons). I thought the replacements brought in by the Fire would be able to lift the load, Jeff Larentowitcz is as tough as they come in MLS, and Joel Lindpere has been one of my favorites since entering the league, but neither seem to have found their groove with the Fire. Instead the Fire find themselves looking for an identity again, something this team seems to have done each year since the departure of Blanco.
Now is when Real Salt Lake need to get a streak going, everyone from the fans to the staff know that this stretch of 4 league matches at home with 3 against tough Western Conference opponents is going to be huge. What we can’t do is overlook the Chicago Fire, who actually have a winning record against RSL, 6-3-6 overall and 3-2-2 when playing us at home. At home this year RSL is 3-1-1 with just 6 goals scored and 4 goals allowed, the Fire are 0-4-1 on the road this year, with 1 goal scored and 9 allowed. Real Salt Lake is finally starting to look healthy but with a US Open Cup match looming next Tuesday, will the lineup reflect the 3 matches in 8 days they will be facing. If ever there was a trap game for RSL winners of 3 of their last 4 matches, it might be this one.
Nick Rimando – As the journey towards the All Time MLS Clean Sheet record progresses, Nick keeps racking up things like Save of the Week, he just picked up his second one of the season this week. So far this season Nick has picked up 3 clean sheets and has kept his GAA at 1.00, in his career he has faced the Fire 29 times with a 1.23 all time GAA, with RSL he has been in goal 10 times against the Fire with a 0.80 GAA. Perhaps one of the biggest nights outside of MLS Cup’s for Nick Rimando came on November 14th, 2009 when after 120 minutes of shutout soccer, Nick stood in goal for the PK shootout against the Fire at Toyota Park, 3 times he stopped them and that was enough for RSL to pick up the victory and move on to MLS Cup. I hope he doesn’t have to stop any PK’s on Saturday, but we have already seen him do so twice this season.
Well Real Salt Lake heads to Canada, where they have never won a match, where they will take on the Impact who started the season as one of the surprises, but have cooled off a bit lately. Both sides played a match on Wednesday, for RSL it was a come from behind 2-1 win over New England, and for the Impact it was too little too late as a stoppage time goal wasn’t enough to get a win and they lost 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls.
Both sides have 5 wins on the season and two draws, RSL however had 4 losses, while the Impact have lost only twice so far this season. These two sides have only faced each other once, a 1-0 RSL win at Rio Tinto Stadium last year, but both sides are very different teams now. RSL no longer has Paulo Jr. on the roster, he is the one who scored the goal last year, also missing for RSL will be Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Jonny Steele, and Terakazu Tanaka, all of whom played against Montreal last season. The Impact also have had a lot of roster changes since these sides last saw each other, names like Alessandro Nesta, Romero, Pisanu, Tissot and others, One thing is clear this early afternoon match will feature some players that should provide plenty of action.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe – After missing a little time with the team for personal reason, Kwame headed to Montreal to meet the team as Nat Borcher’s illness forced him to return to Salt Lake to get further treatment. It was unknown until mid-day yesterday if the second yellow card that was shown to Carlos Salcedo would be overturned (it was), but having Kwame available provides more options along the backline for Real Salt Lake, and having options is something that is always a good thing for RSL.
If there was a road match that RSL could go into with confidence given their past it would be at New England, but without Alvaro Saborio, without Robbie Findley, and without Nat Borchers things are never as easy as they would first appear. There were moments when RSL looked like the home team, moving the ball around trying to find gaps between the 7-9 players behind the ball, and then there were moments when slight mistakes gave huge chances to the Revolution. I have laughed at a few reviews of the matches that actually believe that this was an evenly played match, RSL dominated possession, controlled the pace of most of the match, and was by far the more attacking side.
You don’t have to believe me, here are the numbers: 13 shots for RSL, 11 for New England, 7 on target for RSL, 3 for New England, 482 passes for RSL and just 318 for New England, 81% passing accuracy for RSL (that seems a bit high) to 71% for New England, and 58.6% of possession for RSL, just 41.4% for New England. The only category that New England really dominated in was corner kicks with a 10 to 2 advantage, oh and fouls, where they have a 17 to 11 edge.
This was another match where the official ended up being a big part of the story, several major calls missed (both ways), and then in stoppage time a bad call of a handball for a PK, and a 2nd yellow card to Carlos Salcedo who had nothing to do with the play. Thankfully a PK save by Nick Rimando allowed RSL to hold on to the deserved win. For me it was great to see our midfielders taking more shots, one of the things I believe we must do, on the night Ned had some great ones (and took a beating most of the night) to end with 3 shots, Kyle had that same number, and Luis Gil added two more shots. I am not surprised that Javier Morales had no shots, he was marked closely (often too closely for comfort) by the Rev’s midfielders and defenders.
Saturday was an interesting day for Real Salt Lake, the last match of a three match homestand that saw the team upset by a makeshift LA Galaxy squad last weekend, and preparing for a 3 match road trip. The team could even out their record with a win, a loss would have left the team with a lot more questions. Injuries would once again play a major role in the match as Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley, and Olmes Garcia wouldn’t see action, leaving Devon Sandoval and Joao Plata to get the start and the majority of the minutes. The match also saw the first start of the 2013 season for Chris Wingert, and the debut of Carlos Salcedo, the first of RSL’s HGP’s to see action in a MLS match.
You could tell that the changes to the roster caused some issues early on as passing and communication seemed to be a bit off, but RSL was able to rebound in the second half and be much more dynamic in the attacking third. Just when you thought Nick Rimando couldn’t be a more important piece of the RSL puzzle this season, he goes and picks up an assist on the first RSL goal, his outlet finds an on charging Plata with precision accuracy, Plata then feeds the ball into the area and Luis Gil once again uses his head to put the ball into the back of the net. How pretty was the play, well it is up for goal of the week.
So 8 matches in the book and that represents just under ¼ of the MLS season, so how exactly has RSL done? I keep having to remind myself of what RSL GM Garth Lagerwey said before the start of the season “We will be better in June than we are in March, and we will be better in September than we will be in June” and if that is the case we should all be very happy, RSL currently is one of 4 teams with 11 points and only 4 teams have more than 11 points. That means that 11 teams are currently behind RSL in the standings, and just 4 are in front of us and for a team that has had to deal with losing 3 All Star level players and a bevy of injuries early in the season, it isn’t as bad as some might think. So let’s take a bit deeper look at things.
First the record of 3-3-2 is how we got to our 11 points, now 5 of those matches have been away from home where RSL is 1-3-1 and that simply isn’t good enough. Losses at Colorado, Dallas and DC United all hurt, but only in the Dallas match was RSL really outplayed, and that match also saw RSL missing an additional 5 players due to various national team call ups in addition to injured players. Still our road performance has to improve; I firmly believe that RSL will need to at least duplicate their 6 road wins if not improve as they have done the last few seasons (4 wins in 2010, 5 wins in 2011, 6 in 2012). Last year the team also had a fairly impressive (compared to the past) -1 goal differential on the road with 19 goals scored and 20 goals allowed, after a -6 the year before, currently the team is at a -2. I expect that for RSL to finish in the top 3 in the West (avoiding the wildcard) that they will need to pull an average of 1.20 points per road match (based on their recent finishes), currently the team has 4 points from 15 possible an average of just 0.80 per match.
So it has been a very active off/pre-season for Real Salt Lake, the roster moves top any of the previous off seasons both in quantity and quality of players impacted. The team was forced to take a long, hard look at both how to get under the MLS salary cap, RSL would have been about 1 million over without major changes, as well as how to become a better team on the offensive side of the ball.
The latter goal became evident when the history of “big” games at Rio Tinto Stadium was examined, despite being the better team in the 2008 Western Conference final against the New York Red Bulls, a 1-0 loss. The same could be said of the 2010 playoff match against FC Dallas a home draw but a series loss, the 2011 Champions League final against Monterrey, a 1-0 loss, and the 2012 playoff loss to the Seattle Sounders, another 1-0 loss. 2012 saw RSL score 46 goals, but 7 of the 10 playoff teams has as many or more goals scored than did RSL. It was no surprise that only one striker, Alvaro Saborio, remained with the team after the season, his 40 goals in MLS action over the last 3 years is only surpassed by San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski.
So a couple of weeks ago when I was at RSL practice, I noticed something very distinctive about how the players were split into groups. The more experienced/veteran players were in one group and the other was made up of most of your newer/younger players. Then on Wednesday at the Reserve match I got to see a lineup for RSL that was very young in comparison to our normal starting lineup which features 7 players 30 years old or older:
- Kyle Reynish – GK – 28
- Carlos Salcedo – DF – 19
- Kwame Watson-Siriboe – DF – 25
- Chris Schuler – DF – 25
- Kenny Mansally – DF – 23
- Enzo Martinez – MF – 22
- Yordany Alvarez – MF – 27
- Sebastian Velasquez – MF – 21
- David Viana – MF – 20
- Emiliano Bonfigli – FW – 24
- Justin Braun – FW – 25
At the 30 minute mark, Nico Muniz (MF – 19) came in at midfield, while Enzo went to defense as Kwame left the match (he is still recovering form injury). This left me once again thinking about what RSL might look like in 2015. Of course I also have to remember a couple of others who while they weren’t involved in the reserve match are 25 or under, like Luis Gil (MF – 18), Will Johnson (MF – 25), Tony Beltran (DF – 24), Paulo Jr (FW – 23), and Lalo Fernandez (GK – 19).
A couple of others just miss my 25 year old mark, Jonny Steele (MF – 26), Fabian Espindola (FW – 27), but could play a role in the future as well.