Saturday was a cold, wet mess but Real Salt Lake found a way to get a very important home win. The first half was more than a bit disjointed but in the second half we began to see more of what we expect from this RSL team, solid play, smart passing and teamwork. The game winning goal was a perfect example of that as a midfield turnover went from the feet of Damir Kreilach (international newcomer) to Corey Baird (new homegrown player) to Jefferson Savarino (Designated Player) who converted the goal. With a short rest and travel to the East coast, the next challenge will be Wednesday’s match in the big apple against NYCFC.
There are only two teams left in MLS that haven’t tasted defeat yet, FC Dallas (1-0-3) who have been far from impressive and NYCFC (4-0-1) who sit at the top of the Eastern Conference. I have to be honest I have watched about a total of 30-40 minutes of NY2 action this season, so I don’t have a lot to offer on what to expect from them but this, they are averaging two goals scored per match, while giving up less than one. At plus six in goal differential only Atlanta FC has a better number than they do in that category.
With a early 5pm MT start time I expect many folks will be rushing home or to find a TV to catch what should be an exciting midweek match. RSL has only played at Yankee Stadium(are they really still playing there?) once since NYCFC joined the league, it was a 3-2 RSL win. In fact RSL has never lost to NYCFC, never drawn with NYCFC, we are 3-0-0 since they joined the league, can we make it four?
We are just a month into the long MLS season and most fans and media thought RSL would be a top contender early on this season based on their decent run at the end of 2017. Instead what we have gotten are more questions than answers, at no point in their first four matches of the season has RSL looked like a dominant team. I can take matches in which we are outplayed if the effort is there but RSL have delivered maybe 45 minutes of combined quality soccer over their first four matches. There has been a lack of energy, cohesion, chemistry and at long stretches of match it has appeared the effort level has also been lacking. The reality for me is that beyond the work of Nick Rimando, an out of position Brooks Lennon and rookie Corey Baird, there has been little to get excited about. Can RSL change that against Vancouver on Saturday?
For the Whitecaps the start of the season has been solid with a 3-1-1 record, they did get shell shocked at Atlanta a few weeks ago as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline. Still they have already picked up two big road wins at Columbus last week and at Houston in week two of the season. Vancouver won more road matches than any other team in the Western Conference last year with six, only TFC the eventual MLS Cup Champs won more last year (seven). Perhaps no Whitecap player looks forward to the matches against RSL more than Cristian Techera, while in him MLS career he has just 15 goals, a third of those have come in his 6 matches against the Claret and Cobalt. Given the holes in the RSL defense so far this season, I expect he will be looking to add to that total on Saturday.
Rio Tinto has not been a kind place for the Whitecaps, in their nine trips here they have managed just a single win, three draws and found themselves leaving as losers five times. They have scored just five goals, while giving up 13 in matches here, they gave up three last year in a snowy match that saw RSL pick up their first win of the 2017 season in a match that RSL dominated in almost every stat imaginable. It was the first match of the Petke era at RSL and the first goal for RSL scored by Albert Rusnak, and the debut of Danilo Acosta, a match in which RSL captured a bit of what they would find near the end of the season. On Saturday it is unlikely we will see the orange ball again, but one has to expect that Mike Petke will be looking recapture some of those good feelings from a year ago.
For Real Salt Lake the 2018 season opened with a road draw at FC Dallas that was both rewarding and frustrating, but a point from the road is a point from the road. Now it is time to talk about the home opener on Saturday afternoon when RSL will play host to expansion side LAFC. LAFC are an interesting side who were able to shock the Sounders and beat the defending MLS Cup champs in Seattle on opening day last weekend. LAFC is an interesting expansion side, while their roster is a mix of MLS vets and new international players, the fact they are using just 22 of their roster spots is unusual to say the least. In their first match they only dressed 17 players leaving on spot completely open.
There are some faces RSL fans will recognize, top on that list is Benny Feilhaber, followed closely by MLS journeyman Steven Beitashour, Laurent Ciman, Jordan Harvey, Walker Zimmerman and a few others. The big names signings are Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, with plenty of room for more as the season progresses. They also have an open one year International spot which they got from Atlanta United, you have to believe that will be used sooner rather than later. In their first match against Seattle they looked like an expansion side, a lot of energy, a lot of mistakes but they play with pace and they love to get the ball into the area to create chaos but they were only able to get 5 shots off during the match. It was an 11th minute goal by Diego Rossie that will go down as the first goal in LAFC history and it was enough to ruin the home opener for the Sounders.
Real Salt Lake looked to be a similar villain and ruin the 2018 home opener for FC Dallas, but the 25th minute goal by Joao Plata wasn’t enough as the late pressure from FC Dallas resulted in a rare RSL own goal by Marcelo Silva. Forcing RSL to settle for just a single point in their first match of the season, but also allowing them to bring home a rare road point from the state of Texas. It was far from a perfect match, but RSL did show some good signs of life and Nick Rimando reminded us that he is really, really good.
Expansion teams haven’t done too well in Salt Lake over the years, only one has won on their first every trip to Utah. It just happens that was last year when Atlanta came to town and picked up a 3-1 over RSL, we were able to pick up a home win last year over ATLs expansion brothers MN United and that is what we will be looking for again on Saturday.
Both sides found themselves on the outside looking in on the 2017 playoffs at the end of last season but the two were heading in very different directions as the final whistle of 2017 blew. For FC Dallas they once again saw a blistering start of the season, they didn’t suffer their first loss until week 10 of the season. A 5-1-4 start had them looking good, but just two wins in their last 15 matches of the season ended up again being the headlines on their season. For RSL the start of 2017 was worse than slow with a 2-6-2 start, which saw the club make just their 4th coaching change in their history as Jeff was out and Mike Petke was in. The end of the season is what gives most RSL fans huge hope as the club ended 6-3-1 over their last ten matches and showed that they would be a team to be reckoned with in 2018.
So here we are, for RSL unless you travelled to Florida to see their final preseason trip to the sunshine state you likely have seen very little preseason action as most of their matches had no streams this year so while we know most of the roster, there are a lot of unknowns heading into this first match for the club. The other side of the coin is better known as FC Dallas both had a fairly well covered preseason but also two matches in Champions League for us to consider as we look at what they may bring to the party on day one of the 2018 MLS season. FC Dallas lost their CCL matchup against Tauro FC, 3-3 but Tauro’s two goals at Dallas on Wednesday night gave them the road goals needed to eliminate the MLS side from the tournament. What were able to see is a FC Dallas team that has some holes in the middle of the pitch, but one that has some dangerous offensive pieces as well.
Historically FC Dallas has a huge edge in the series with RSL, a 19-11-6 edge with 14 more goals scored than the team in Claret and Cobalt, the edge is even more dramatic when you consider that RSL has just a single win playing against them in Texas. 1-13-2 is about as bad as a team can be against a conference opponent away from home, the -21 goal differential on the road against FC Dallas is dramatic and telling, just 12 goals in 16 matches played. It was the two matches in Texas last year that were perhaps the lowest point of the season for RSL a 1-5 loss at Houston followed days later by a 2-6 loss at FC Dallas. So what can we look forward to on Saturday?
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.
I get that it might lack the prestige to some of Seattle vs Portland, or New York vs New York, but for my money there simply is no better rivalry in MLS than RSL vs LA. It is as much about how things are done within the organizations as it is the battles on the pitch for me.
You have LA, the team that probably writes most of the MLS roster rules over the year, and given the investment AEG has made in MLS over the years it almost is understandable. The DP rule was created to allow the Galaxy to sign David Beckham, he wasn’t the first player the league discussed changing the rules for but he was the one that made it happen. Their current roster are mega DP’s like Steven Gerrard, Gio dos Santos and the best DP in MLS history Robbie Keane, with that they have European imports Nigel de Jong, Ashley Cole, Jelle Van Damme. They also picked up MLS stars Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee, which compliments guys like Robbie Rogers, AJ DeLaGarza, Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villareal, Baggio Husidic and Sebastian Lletget. I am always amazed how they keep this type of roster within the cap, but that is the magic of allocation money.
On the other hand, RSL have brought in players but never break the bank guys, the biggest signings in the club’s history have come in recent months with the arrival of Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez late last year and the return of Yura Movsisyan this year. The core of the team are the guys who were brought in almost a decade ago, Nick Rimando, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, and Tony Beltran even returning guys like Chris Wingert and Yura. Then toss in some of the young players, like Glad, Plata, Allen, and guys who have yet to make an impact like Kavita, Holnes, Acosta, Attinella, and others. RSL has pushed the salary cap not with the huge signings but by raising the salaries of their veteran core, which probably takes as much work as the mega DP route that LA takes.
So with CCL in charge media access to RSL practice consisted of 15-20 minutes of watching the guys stretch (across the field from where we were stationed) a 45 minute wait and then a quick interview session with HC Jeff Cassar and Captain Kyle Beckerman (and Joao Plata if you knew Spanish).
What did come out is that there is a bug making it’s way thru the RSL locker room, 3 players missed practice today due to it and all of them were starters in the first leg and likely starters in the second; Javier Morales, Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez and Demar Phillips. Coach Cassar said he believes all 3 would be probable for Wednesday’s match but one never knows. On the upside Luke Mulholland was a full participant in practice today so he may be a player that could make the 18 man roster.
Should those 3 players not be able to go one would have to expect some easy subs for Burrito, by bringing in Olmes Garica who has had a good preseason, for Demar Phillips you bring in Chris Wingert, but Javi’s shoes are very hard to fill, do you bring in Jordan Allen who is training to be that backup but is fairly new to the position? Do you bring in Luke and put either him, Kyle or Sunny at the point of the attack? You could bring in John Stertzer and push Kyle or Sunny forward to be the playmaker?
I wouldn’t want to be Jeff if any of those three are unable to go, but hopefully each will get some fluids and be back in action on Wednesday.
I will post my prematch thoughts tomorrow morning.
That’s How I See It
So this morning in Tucson the first team for RSL, likely starters for next weeks CCL match, played a 45 minute scrimmage vs FC Tucson and while I got there a few minutes late it was clearly the Plata and Burrito show as Joao found the back of the net 3 times and had an assist on Martinez’s goal (Burrito had the assist on Plata’s first goal).
Now one should expect that RSL’s top guys should have been able to handle the amateur side fairly easily, and they did but FC Tucson pressed hard and played well as to give RSL a good workout. RSL focused on their positioning and communication as you could hear Nick Rimando constantly reminding guys to communicate.
A couple things stuck out to me, one was that Demar Phillips looked very involved on both sides of the ball, his positioning seemed very in flow with the match, going forward at the right time and being in position on defense whenn second was that Joao is ready to pick up where he left off in 2014 when he had a breakout year. Joao’s runs were well timed and he was able to find gaps to work in often with some great balls played to him by both Juan Manuel and Javier Morales.
So Let me start this by explaining that while I understand there were huge issues with the online stream of this match, first know that had nothing to do with the RSL front office or media team they were not in charge of any of the technical side of the feed. Second know issues were had on the feed of the Colorado match as well, and there was no feed of the SKC vs Crew match. Finally for all of you who watched the second half via my periscope, thanks that was kinda fun. If you want to check that out, it is here.
I expect the lineup we saw in this match is what the team is expecting to go with in the first leg of the CCL series with Tigres:
Rimando, Beltran, Olave, Maund, Phillips, Beckerman, Sunny, Morales, Plata, Movsisyan, Martinez
That is depending on injuries, based on what I saw last night both Luke Mulholland and Chris Wingert on the bench in non-uniform outfits and neither took part in warmups. I expect we will see a much more second team based lineup on Saturday knowing that the team will then travel to Monterrey in front of their match next Wednesday.
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.