Tag Archive for Chris Schuler

Real Salt Lake start the 2nd half of season looking forward, not backwards

It has been a very long time since RSL sat with a losing record at the midway point of the season, but at 5-6-6 that is exactly where we are.  Now some will make excuses as to why we are here, off season losses of Borchers, Wingert, Grabavoy, and others, or will point to the formation change and it taking time to figure out the 4-3-3, or injuries and national team call ups.  The harsh reality is we haven’t been good enough, often touted as one of the deepest teams in MLS, our first 11, our 18 man match day rosters, the 23 players with minutes and our coaching staff, simply haven’t been good enough.  That is hard for any of us to hear, it is hard to say (part of why there have been so few posts lately), but it is the truth and unless we are willing to admit there is a problem, we will never solve it.

I am not going to focus on the negative too much, but let me be clear this issue is on both sides of the ball, this issue is at home as well as on the road, and while you can never take anything away from the heart and passion that most of our players play with, the results haven’t followed.  At the midway point of the season we have allowed 20 goals, which if about the middle of the pack this season in MLS, 8 teams have allowed more and 10 teams have allowed fewer.  As a team that has the best keeper in MLS in Nick Rimando, you would think we would be better than middle of the pack, but injuries, suspensions and other issues have kept RSL from having any real consistency on their back line except Tony Beltran.

It is on offense that perhaps the most glaring issues have been for RSL in the first half of the season, just 15 goals scored and only 1 team in the league has scored fewer (Colorado). At the halfway point of the season RSL has 3 players who have scored more than a single goal, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio with 3 each and Luke Mulholland with 2. If you want to know why I am fully supportive of the idea of RSL breaking the bank to bring back Yura Movsisyian well, there you go. Now to be fair, Jaoa Plata our leading scorer from last year has just returned to action, but at the same time a healthy Sabo has simply under produced and failed to finish chances that in the past would have lead to goals.  Both Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Jamie scored their first goals last week, but both guys that RSL paid huge transfer fees for, and large salaries either have to deliver or we have to make changes.

Then there is the league leading 5 red cards, 2nd worst 37 yellow cards and while we are the 11th place team in fouls committed, we are the 2nd most fouled team.  Yeah something about these numbers really make me question the officiating in MLS, but that is for another day.   So Saturday night can RSL start the second half of the season on the right foot?

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Disappointment, despair, whatever it is both RSL fans and players feel it heading into Galaxy match

I have heard from several sources that the players are as upset and in many case more upset than the fans at the way the season has started for Real Salt Lake, and who can blame them it hasn’t been pretty.

9 points from 8 matches isn’t how RSL usually starts a season, but for me the points are less important than the eyeball test, in which RSL simply hasn’t looked very good for a full match, heck for a half, or if we are being brutally honest for a 15 minute stretch.  Yes there have been passing combos that have inspired, saves that have made the highlight reel, but overall this has been simply ugly. It has been a very, very long time since I remember seeing RSL rated just #15 in the USA Today Sagarin ratings.

In recent RSL history, this is our worst start at 2-2-4, last season we were 3-0-3 after 8, 3-3-2 in 2013 and 5-3-0 in 2012.  For me the question on my mind is what happens in the next 2 matches?  I believed and still do that the key to making the playoffs and hitting that gold standard of 15 wins/50 points is to win you home matches and to get results against teams from the East.  4 points from these next two matches would put us at 14 points the same as 2013, but lagging behind our 20 points of last season or 19 points after 10 matches in 2012.  A pair of wins would put us at 16 points from 10 matches and that wouldn’t be a bad place to be.

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Real Salt Lake look for progress vs upstart Vancouver

If you follow MLS closely you saw a few things coming, first you saw that the Vancouver Whitecaps were on the verge of becoming a powerhouse team. They were very young, very talented, very energetic, and playing as if they had nothing to lose, in fact the more I watch them play the more I am reminded of the evolution of RSL in the last part of 09 and the 2010 season. It as then run to MLS Cup when things just clicked for RSL, and it was exciting to watch, and it launched RSL into being one of the best teams in MLS over the last 7 seasons.

The flip side of that is RSL trying to reinvent itself, gone is Jason Kreis, gone is Garth Lagerwey, gone is the diamond midfield, the result has left some fans (including myself from time to time) scratching their heads about the new formation.  Still there is the very solid defense, Rimando in net is still the top keeper in the league, the backline is faster, more athletic, and so far this season they have been just as stingy as they were last year. With 4 goals allowed in our first 5 matches this season, we are at the exact same place as last year, 3 clean sheets in the first 5 last year and yes 3 in the first 5 this year. Last year a flukish 3-3 draw with San Jose accounted for a majority of our goals allowed, this year a flukish 3-3 draw with Philadelphia has accounted for a majority of the goals allowed.

On the offensive side of the ball things have been a bit different for RSL, those first 5 matches last year saw RSL score 8 goals, we are down 2 with just 6 this season.  Interestingly enough 5 matches in last year Joao Plata had 2 goals, and of course he has been out injured to start the season, also a bit telling last year Alvaro Saborio had 3 goals in RSL’s first 5 matches and he has just 1 this season.  Still the change in formation, the injury to Joao, both are reasonable explanations on why the offensive side of things might be lacking just a bit. Still it isn’t the results that have left people (including myself) scratching our heads it has been the departure from what was considered by many the most attractive style of soccer in MLS, our dominating possession, overwhelming passing numbers and precision to what is to the eye a much more frantic style of the 4-3-3.

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RSL face their biggest challenge so far this season Sporting KC

For Real Salt Lake Saturday night will provide one of measuring stick moments of the season, when they head to Sporting Park and take on SKC.  Most folks acknowledged that moving SKC and Houston to the West made a very tough conference even tougher, for RSL that is especially true given their history with both sides.  Tough hard fought matches are the norm when these two meet, last year saw a 0-0 draw but more often than not the guys from KC have gotten the better of RSL, a over all 8-5-4 advantage for SKC, with a very good 5-1-3 when the match is played on their pitch.

Both sides have been kinda neurotic in how they have played so far this season, RSL adjusting to the 4-3-3 and national team callups, SKC dealing with some big roster changes (gone are Collin, Saad, Bieler, Sapong and both Kronberg and Gruenebaum) then toss in a hamstring injury to Zusi and you see a very different looking side than you have been used to.  To the credit of both sides they have adjusted fairly well, with 2 wins and 2 draws, SKC did lose one match while RSL still have to taste defeat this season.

The teams have two opponents in common early on in the 2015 season, both sides had 0-0 draws against Portland, and both sides faced Philly, while RSL were lucky to get a 3-3 draw in a very strange match. KC came from behind with two stoppage time goals to get a 3-2 win in a match were they were really outplayed for the vast majority of the match.  Those results lead me to believe that both sides are really looking for their new identity in 2015, be it personal or formation changes.

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Real Salt Lake vs Toronto FC – Despite missing stars a critical match for both teams

Perhaps no two established teams in MLS have more questions being asked of them this season than RSL and TFC, can RSL in the 2nd year of Jeff Cassars leadership continue to be a dominant force in the West?  Can RSL make the transition to the 4-3-3 work?  For TFC can they make the playoffs?  Will another year with huge signings and what is likely to be the highest payroll in MLS result in success or will the oft chaos in the organizations leadership lead them to the rocky shore yet again?

It is hard to believe that both of these teams are heading into just their 3rd match of the season but have so very much at stake, it is ridiculous that this match is being played this weekend at all.  See both teams had a bye week last week when both teams had full rosters, but no we get a match missing several key players on both side.  For RSL there will be no Nick Rimando, no Alvaro Saborio, no Luis Gil, and no Elias Vasquez, and for TFC there will be no Jozy Altidore, no Michael Bradley, no Marky Delgado, no Quillan Roberts, and no Chris Mannella, all on national team call ups.  Then add in the injuries to Joao Plata, and Pecka on the RSL side, and Steven Caldwell, Mark Bloom, Eriq Zavaleta, on the TFC side which will also deal with the suspension of Justin Morrow.  The reality is this match will be played with 11 combined likely starters missing between the two squads, and that is never a good thing and probably has the folks at Fox scratching their heads as this is their prestige national TV match for the weekend.

Still the match is going to be played, and the match is a hugely important one for both sides, as RSL are looking for their first win of the season after a pair of draws in their first two matches of the season.  Toronto will be looking to figure out which team they really are, the one that dominated in their opening match a 3-1 win over a improved Vancouver side or the one that got handled 2-0 at Columbus?

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Real Salt Lake ready for 2015 home opener against Union

After a 0-0 draw at Portland last weekend, RSL will look to secure 3 important points at home Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union.  Yes, I called these important points, the reality is the Eastern Conference is the weaker conference in MLS so every time RSL faces a Eastern Conference team at home 3 points are important and against a Union team that is really still looking for an identity and were very unimpressive at home in week 1, the points are very important.

The Union picked up a couple of DP’s last year to boost their roster, former USMNT player Maurice Edu to be their defensive leader and Cristian Maidana to be their offensive leader, they added a 3rd DP in forward Fernando Aristeguieta who is on loan to them, but if you watched their match last week against the Rapids, you saw a team that still has more questions than answers on the pitch.  It is to be expected as Jim Curtin continues building the team he wants, I believe they have a lot of interesting pieces on their roster but as a team they seem to still be more interested in no losing than in winning matches.  They will be looking for their first ever win over RSL they are 0-2-5 in matches against RSL, and are 0-2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

For Real Salt Lake, the transition to the 4-3-3 continues and as we saw often in the Desert Diamond Cup and last weekend in Portland, that formation can mean a lot of frantic action on both sides of the ball.   Or does it just look that way?  RSL had the edge in possession, overall they had a passing completion rate of 76% (a bit low for traditional RSL) but they 364 to 297 edge in passes over Portland.  Where the formation may have fallen short of expectations was on the offensive side, where RSL managed 9 shots (Portland had 18) but only had 2 on goal.  If RSL is going to be a more offensive team with this new formation, those numbers will have to go up.

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What does 2015 hold for Real Salt Lake?

It came down to the wire, but a new CBA has been agreed to, so the MLS season can get under way.  What exactly does that mean for RSL heading into the 2015 season?

With some big off-season changes both in the front office as well as on the pitch, this clearly is now Dell Loy’s team with his choice for coach Jeff Cassar entering his second season and Craig Waibel as the Technical Director in place. So what are your expectations for RSL heading into the 2015 season? Remember this year we will see MLS action, CCL action, USOC action, as well as the addition of USL Pro side Real Monarchs, construction of a new stadium for them, the possible addition of a NWSL team, that is a whole lot of soccer (and yes we love it).

So let’s start with the bread and butter of RSL, the regular season, over the last 5 years 3 clubs in MLS have been the definition of regular season success, the LA Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake. For the last 5 years both LA and RSL have won at least 15 matches and ended with at least 50 points, Seattle has done it the last 4 seasons.  RSL has made the playoffs every season since 2008, the longest active streak in MLS.

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The MLS expansion draft looms large for Real Salt Lake

So with two team entering MLS in 2015 it is time again for one of the most stressful times for fans, players and staffs of MLS teams, it is no different for Real Salt Lake.  In fact with former coach Jason Kreis in charge of one of the expansion sides NYCFC, maybe it is a bit more stressful, this time around as most of the players on our roster are guys that he knows well and many of them are guys he brought to RSL.  It should come as no surprise that he has already signed former RSL backup keeper Josh Saunders and former RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and I expect he will be looking to add more.

One other major fact in the stress levels heading into this expansion draft are the many unknowns of that the roster rules and salary cap might look like next season, with the CBA between the players and league expiring a couple weeks after the expansion draft. There is one thing that should reduce the stress level of RSL fans, the reality is that we can only lose two players via the expansion draft, I guess that is an upside.

So the current RSL roster has 29 players on it, according to the MLS website, but I believe the reality is that Sebastian Saucedo’s HGP deal doesn’t actually kick in until 2015. So if the rules are same as the last couple of expansion drafts, HGP (Home Grown Players) are exempt, so for RSL that would mean the following players are automatically protected:

  • Jordan Allen
  • Lalo Fernandez
  • Justen Glad
  • Benjamin Lopez
  • Sebastian Saucedo

So either way that leaves 24 players that would be eligible for the expansion draft pool. Current Generation Adidas players are also automatically protected, Luis Gil used to be on the Generation Adidas roster, but I believe he graduated the program a couple years ago.

In the past teams have been allowed to protect 11 players, and when a player is taken a team gets to add another player to their protected list.  If a designated player has a no-trade clause that player has to be protected (at least according to the last rules).  There are some other additional rules, such as players who are out of contract still have to be protected if you want to keep them but just protecting them doesn’t mean you have to re-sign them. At a high level that is what we know about what will likely be the rules for the expansion draft.

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After a stunning defeat, RSL is left with some very tough questions to face.

So I started writing this blog post on Sunday night, but I wasn’t sure why I was writing it, until today. I posted that I was pulling for New England to win MLS Cup, there are several reasons but the top one is I think they have an incredible team and I love the style of soccer they have been playing since Jermaine Jones was signed and how it has in large part freed up Lee Nguyen to become the player he is capable of being.

Of course having an opinion on twitter can be dangerous as people started to criticize me because if New England wins MLS Cup Real Salt Lake won’t end up with a Champions League spot.  They are right, RSL only gets into the tournament if LA or Seattle win, and we will get their 2nd spot by default since both have already qualified.  I went on to say that I didn’t want RSL to be in Champions League next year, because I don’t believe we can win it.  The reality is everything that follows is why I don’t want us in that tournament, and in part why I don’t think we can win it.  Simply we aren’t good enough, and while the 5-0 loss on Sunday was an anomaly where we played perhaps our worst match of the season and LA played one of their best, the reality is that we simply weren’t good enough to beat them and I don’t think continuing to do what we have in large part done for the last 5 years is the way we get good enough to beat them, to beat anyone who gets in our way of the trophies we should all be passionate about getting.

None of this means I don’t love RSL, or our players but sports is not a place where blind devotion should replace logic or common sense, it shouldn’t be a place where passion replaces intelligence.  Being critical actually is a way to show how much you care, because you want, and expect more, you know that better is within reach.  You may not agree with me, hell I don’t blame you if you don’t but my opinion is just as valid as those of fans who have for years hated on Saborio, Findley or any other RSL player who doesn’t live up to their expectations.  I have so much respect for the guys who play for RSL, because they in large part define what RSL is about, they have lived “The Team is the Star” and they have embraced the idea of the RSL Family.  Still we are left with some hard facts and some hard choices, is being consistently good, good enough?

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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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