For just the third time in the teams history RSL has let a coach go, and while many saw the writing on the wall this off season when former NYRB head coach Mike Petke was hired to coach the Monarchs, it became official last week. So on Saturday Petke’s RSL will take the pitch for the first time against Western Conference foes the Vancouver Whitecaps, and for RSL a win is much needed.
RSL is still fighting the injury bug as 7 potential starter are listed as either out or questionable, David Horst is out and Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund and Sunny are all listed as questionable. So while the backline will be a hodgepodge again, the likely return of Chris Schuler is a welcomed one after what was a debacle last week at Minnesota. The Whitecaps haven’t gotten off to a great start either but their 1-2-1 record at least has a win, they did drop a midweek CCL match that could have put them in the finals so there could be some fatigue and mental letdown but RSL hasn’t shown the mental toughness to punish opponents who may be down yet.
Keys to the Match:
Mental Toughness – For the first time all year RSL got off to a great start against MN last week with a early 1-0 lead but then gave up 4 goals all on plays created by mistakes from RSL players. That lack of focus, lack of mental toughness is something we noticed creeping in last year and has to be one of the top priorities of Mike Petke. Yes I know the injury to Maund created some chaos for RSL but losing a player should never lead to the kind of meltdown we saw last week. This is the match were if you wear the Claret and Cobalt you need to step up not only to impress your new boss, but to deliver the kind of play that your fans not only desire but deserve.
So this is the match where some folks had marked as their panic mark for RSL, but clearly that came earlier for DLH who dropped Jeff Cassar a couple weeks ago and now with Mike Petke coming in on Monday, so can RSL head into their new era on a up note? There will be no opponent that RSL will be as heavily favored against this season than MN United (0-3-1 with 18 goals allowed) but for a team that has only scored a single goal in their first four matches, can the RSL offense be the “animals released from their cage” that Mike Petke believes they are?
While it is easy to joke about the Loons (best nickname in MLS) have given up a ton of goals, the reality is they have scored more than most teams as well with 6 goals scored in their first 4 matches, so can the RSL defense which has been their saving grace (if there has been one so far this season) in only allowing 4 goals in their first 4 matches slow down the Loons? This matchup is really an interesting one as an expansion team will be looking to provide their fans with something more exciting than snowballs at their first ever match taking on a team desperate to regain their glory days that seem further and further removed daily.
Keys to the Match:
Score – this hasn’t changed and won’t change until RSL can actually step up and score some goals and no better chance will come their way than this match against the team that leaks goals at record shattering pace. Rusnak will be back, Beckerman will be back and it is hard to say which of the injured RSL players may make their return to the bench or starting lineup. At home a couple weeks ago the offense looked dangerous, on the road last week a lot less so. If you can’t score against the Loons you may have some real issues to deal with.
Well we are 4 weeks into the MLS season and the RSL we will see on the pitch and on the bench on Saturday will be very different than what we started with. Injuries, callups and a fired head coach will all impact the lineup that RSL can put out against the New York Red Bulls, the question is can it/will it be enough? 5 potential starters are listed as questionable along with 2 others for RSL (Joao Plata, Jordan Allen, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, David Horst, Tony Beltran and Chad Barrett), then toss in 2 starters that will be on national team duty (Nick Rimando-US, Albert Rusnak-Slovakia) and 1 starter suspended (Kyle Beckerman), oh and our head coach is gone (Jeff Cassar).
So what will a lineup look like? We will cover that later, the reality is an early afternoon match on the East coast is rarely a easy thing for RSL to deal with, we have had little luck when facing the Red Bulls/MetroStars on the East coast with just 1 win in 9 matches. Still NYRB will be missing some key pieces as well, Connor Lade is going to make the 18 man roster but I expect he won’t see action, Michael Murillo and Sacha Kljestan are out on national team duty. Can RSL play spoiler and break the current 15 match unbeaten steak of the Red Bulls at home?
Keys to the Match:
Score – RSL has just a single goal this season (last week’s goal from Yura Movsisyan) from 24 shots and 11 shots on goal. It isn’t good enough and yes you are missing some players and have been missing some the past couple weeks but the reality is simply if you can’t score you can’t win. RSL’s attack last week looked good for about 30 minutes with Lennon, Movsisyan and Saucedo up top, but this week there is no Rusnak pulling the strings so it will be a bit tougher as I expect we will see either Luke Mulholland or Luis Silva in the creative role (probably a bit of both). So can RSL take advantage of the Red Bulls who gave up 3 goals at Seattle last weekend? It won’t be easy but I love the creative play of our 3 forwards last week and expect more of the same.
So for the first time in Rio Tinto history, RSL opened the MLS season at home and while that first match rust was clearly evident there were also signs of potential. The highlight was the PK save by Nick Rimando against Giovinco, but other than that the 0-0 draw played out a lot like one would expect a 0-0 draw, not a whole lot of excitement.
The question is heading on the road for week two can RSL find a way to create more chances and score goals? It has been since August of last year that RSL won a MLS match, so getting things back into the positive column would be good. If this were a match against the Fire of the last few years one could feel really good even when playing on the road but the reality is that Chicago may be the most improved team in MLS. The additions of Dax McCarty and Juninho immediately make them better, add in DP forward Nemanja Nikolic and an ever improving David Accam and all of a sudden you have a team that is a lot more dangerous than in the past.
The last time RSL lost to Chicago was back in 2011, and overall these two have beaten the other 6 times with 7 draws, so this is a fairly balanced competition, 2017 should be seasons that both teams look to improve their overall performance.
Keys to the Match:
With RSL the issue will be consistency across 90 minutes, late last year and even on opening day they came out and looked very flat for the first 10-15 minutes if not longer and the reality is you can’t do that against Chicago, as TFC who’s starters gave up 3 early goals to Chicago in the final match of their respective preseasons. So my first key is to simply start solid, this will be the home opener for the Fire who have excited fans when they are a bad team and this year are very excited about their team. Getting past the first 15 minutes without giving up too many chances will be critical, the weather will be iffy so playing in control will be important.
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.
So I thought it was funny that on Monday night during #OnFrame the usually very optomisitc crew were a bit more timid in their opinions for the rest of the season. How so? Well a prediction of just 7 more points from the last 5 matches of the season is a bit of a downer, when I consider they should get at least that from their remaining home matches, starting with 3 points against Houston. If we don’t get 3 points from Saturday’s match with the Dynamo then we need to do some serious inward looking before we get to the playoffs.
Considering Houston is 1-9-4 on the road with 14 goals scored and 23 goals allowed, half of their road goals have come from 2 spectacular road losses a 4-3 loss at NYRB, and 2-3 loss at Portland and a 3-3 road draw last weekend at Sporting KC. The Dynamo are tied for the worst record in MLS with just 5 total wins, so while they are out of the playoffs but even with a new coach and guys fighting for their jobs they really aren’t a very good team but they already have a win against RSL. It was back in May that Houston got a 1-0 win over RSL in Houston, but a couple weeks prior to that RSL overcame giving up the first goal to them at Rio Tinto to come back and get a 2-1 win.
For RSL they are 4-3-3 in their last 10 matches, Houston is 1-3-6 over their last 10, so everything looks like it should favor RSL, but that has been the case often this year and then things haven’t gone as planned. A big question will be how bad was the injury last weekend to Javier Morales, with him unlikely to start (or maybe even be on the bench) who fills in? Jordan Allen or Luke Mulholland are the most likely choices, I for one thought that Allen did well last weekend in the first half at Portland but his style of play is different and it was clear that the adjustments were taking time, however a week of practice could make that much smoother this week.
Well the regular MLS season is winding down and while RSL sits near the top of the Western Conference and overall MLS table, questions still remain for me. When will the real RSL show up and stay? For the 15th time in 28 matches RSL gave up the first goal to their opponent on Wednesday night, and for the 9th time they managed to grab at least a point after giving up that first goal. That number speaks to the fact this club never stops fighting, but it also speaks to the fact that we give up the first goal way too often. Is it tactics? Motivation? Mental lapses? Questionable defense? Or a combination of some or all of those? I am not sure but it sure drives me nuts (and I expect others as well), as does the 40 goals allowed, only two teams in the West have given up more goals this season, and thankfully we play one of them next.
The Portland Timbers, the defending MLS Cup champions, have seemed to be a team on a season long celebration hangover. They are clinging onto the final playoff spot in the West with a 9-11-8 record and 35 points from 28 matches. The Timbers have just 3 wins since the 4th of July and a 3-5-3 record during that time period. Those 3 wins all came at home and all in what would appear to be convincing manner, 3-1 over Seattle, 3-0 over SKC and 4-2 over Seattle again.
RSL visited Portland in third week of the season and it ended up being a contentious 2-2 draw that saw RSL get a 1-0 lead early, go down to 10 men in the 31st minute, go up 2-0, give up a goal, go down another man and then give up another goal to end up with a 2-2 draw. The sides faced off a second time in June at Rio Tinto and again RSL got off to an early 1-0 lead, then gave up 2 first half goals but managed to come from behind to secure another 2-2 draw vs the Timbers.
So the rubber match will take place in Portland on Saturday, it is huge for both teams as RSL look to keep pace at the top of the Western Conference playoff race while the Timbers look to keep the 3 team close behind them for the final playoff spot beneath them.
It is often repeated but nothing can be more straight forward for RSL, the easiest and most direct path to CONCACAF is to win the US Open Cup. RSL will again start a bid to win the USOC on Tuesday night as they host the USL side Wilmington Hammerheads.
No matter what lineup RSL puts out for the match people will ask questions, should we rest starters with a big match with Portland on Saturday, or with 12 days off should all players be ready to go? I would like to see RSL go with as many starters as possible, with almost two weeks off making sure players are sharp and ready for a very busy couple months with 11 matches before the end of July. That busy schedule could be why Jeff Cassar goes with a mixed lineup to get some of the bench guys minutes as it is likely they will be needed to fill in during the busy schedule.
Wilmington brings in a team that has struggled in USL action with just 16 points in 12 matches, their top scorer is Bruno Peone, which is a bit odd given he is listed as a defender. They are a balanced team with 15 goals scored and 13 goals allowed for a plus 2 goal differential. RSL is sitting with a similar +2 goal differential with 23 goals scored and 21 allowed in their 13 MLS matches.
So after what was probably the most disappointing season in RSL history, I didn’t expect us to be good in those early years as we built a team, but coming off a 2013 MLS Cup final appearance, and a 3rd place finish in 2014, to finish just above the Rapids at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2015 and to miss the playoff was far from expectations. So lots of things went wrong in 2015, a lot of injuries, a new formation, and simply an ever improving league, it is hard to know what happened and looking back at this point is rather pointless as we head rapidly into 2016.
I think it is important for fans to remember it wasn’t until the 3rd season under Jason Kreis that RSL made their run to MLS Cup, a season in which the team barely made the playoffs on the closing weekend of the season. So as we hit the 3rd year of the Jeff Cassar tenure, the expectations for a much better season and a return to the playoffs is expected. In the offseason the team made several moves to improve, the biggest of which is bringing back Yura Movsisyan, but that isn’t the only move the team has made. RSL picked up well traveled Nigerian midfielder Sunday “Sunny” Obayan, who is expected to fight for that 3rd midfield spot alongside Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman. Add in a healthy Joao Plata and a full preseason for Juan “Burrito” Martinez and the front 3 look to be set and very dangerous.
So we have come to the final part of our RSL roster review as the team heads into the 2016 season, in part 1 we looked at keepers and forwards, in part 2 we looked at the midfield. Now we will look at the defenders, an area where RSL struggled with injuries, new players and of course our adjustment to a new formation. 2015 was not a good year for the RSL defense, the 48 goals allowed was the 3rd worst total in RSL history and the highest number since the 2006 season.
Defenders – This position has the most questions heading into 2016, here are the current players on the roster
- Tony Beltran – The only thing close to a consistent player on the back line in 2015, Tony actually had one of his best seasons and continues to distinguish himself as one of the best outside backs in MLS. Tony started the most matches(31) and played the most minutes(2774) of any RSL player in 2015, his play was one of the highlights of the 2015 season. I think we can expect more from Tony in 2016 as he continues to be more and more of a leader on the pitch and the on the backline.
- Jamison Olave – Most of us were surprised when RSL brought Olave back, but after losing Nat Borchers the team needed a proven CB and Olave is that. Unfortunately 2015 was a mixed bag with Jamison, he had moments where we got those highlight reel defensive saves and bursts of near superhuman speed, but we also got 3 red cards and with a few injuries. With just 22 matches played in 2015, the 2nd lowest total of his MLS career, we can only hope that after signing a new contract in the off season that we will get a bit more action on the pitch and fewer red cards from Olave in 2016.