Wednesday evening Real Salt Lake will play host to USL Pro side the Charleston Battery in US Open Cup action, this fourth round match will determine who moves on to host a quarterfinal match up in two weeks. This is one of those matches that the MLS side should win, and with a 10 day break before their next match Real Salt Lake should be able to put our their top notch lineup, now I think a couple of guys like Sebastian Velasquez, Olmes Garcia, and Lovel Palmer might push their way into the starting lineup, as RSL head coach Jason Kreis has a number of great options who have stepped up at every level they have been asked to.
It would be easy for us to think that Charleston doesn’t pose a real threat but you should know that, they have beaten 9 MLS sides in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup; DC United (1999), MetroStars (2001, 2004), Houston Dynamo (2007, 2008), FC Dallas (2008), Chivas USA (2009), Chicago Fire (2010) and San Jose Earthquakes (2013). You can also add in their preseason matches which often feature MLS opponents, this year one of those matches was a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo. A quick look at their roster shows that they have some size that RSL will have to deal with, 8 players 6’0″ or better without counting keepers. They also have some guys with time or trials in MLS:
- Amadou Sanyang – has spent time with Toronto FC and Seattle
- Ben Fisk – time with the Vancouver Whitecaps developmental team
- Jarad van Schaik – who was drafted by RSL but never made the roster
The Battery are currently in 3rd place in USL Pro with a record of 7-3-2 with 22 goals scored and 13 goals allowed.
Well a four match home stand provided RSL with a perfect chance to gain ground on their Western Conference opponents but a late goal given up to the Chicago Fire leaves RSL with just a 1-1 draw to show from what on paper was a dominating performance. I like stats as much as the next person but in soccer I have found that few stats really matter, the couple that really do are scoring first (RSL is 5-1-2 this year when scoring first, 14-1-0 last year) and the home team will most often win in MLS (RSL is 64-28-34 all time at home), beyond those two there is little on the stat sheet that matters. Take Saturday as an example, RSL had a 67.5% to 32.5% edge in possession, RSL had 572 passes, Chicago had 251, RSL completed 87% of their passes, Chicago just 73%, RSL took 20 shots to 12 for the Fire, had 9 of those on goal to just 2 for the Fire, but the final scored didn’t reflect that, instead it showed 1-1. It is what it is, and while it is a bitter pill to swallow for players, staff and fans, it shows that there is no such thing as an easy match, no such thing as a sure thing in soccer. Now it is about moving forward.
On Tuesday night, RSL will again attempt to advance in the US Open Cup, they will face a NASL side in the Atlanta Silverbacks, a team that they should by all accounts defeat with any 11 of their players in the lineup. Of course this is soccer and there are no sure things, last year RSL went out on a limb and bought the hosting rights for their opening US Open Cup match. In return the visiting Minnesota Stars thumped RSL 3-1 in a match that could have been much worse on the scoreline as RSL looked flat and the Stars had nothing to lose in a match where few would have picked them to win. So be it a year later or 3 days later from disappointing results, it is about how you pick yourself up, about how you respond.
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.
Well Saturday night lived up to all the potential that a match between RSL and Seattle has, unlike some of the defensive battles of the past, this one was action packed from start to finish and had more goals scored as all 5 of their 2012 meetings (3 0-0 draws & 2 1-0 results). While RSL was clearly the more offensive minded team on the night, the Sounders weren’t afraid to take their chances whenever they could find them. Still with an overwhelming 25 to 8 edge in shots taken, this match could easily have seen more goals than the final 2-1 score would indicate and the sellout crowd really seemed to appreciate the almost frantic pace of the match. Just a note, this was the 7th straight sellout of a MLS match at Rio Tinto Stadium, so far this season RSL is 5th in home attendance average, not bad for the smallest market in the league.
There were a number of things that stuck out to me, first was that despite being a rookie and in his first start Devon Sandoval showed very well for himself, enough so that RSL head coach Jason Kreis was singing his praises in the post-match press conference. We saw a top notch performance from Joao Plata who had to come on much earlier than in past matches as Robbie Findley picked up an injury early in the match, but not before scoring his first goal of the 2013 season. I also thought our back line played very well, the Seattle goal came off a ball that bounced around in the area and was poked past Nick Rimando, but most other opportunities were quickly shut down by the RSL defense. It was clear that RSL kicked it up a gear for that match, and it would appear that the Sounders perhaps were a bit conflicted as they prepared for their CCL match with Santos (a match in which they would look better but still lose).
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.
Well that holidays are upon us and as a Real Salt Lake fan I thought it might be fun to put together a list of my RSL wishes in form of a list based on the 12 days of Christmas.
12 – 12 Home Wins, for all the success RSL has had at Rio Tinto Stadium since moving there in late 2008, including the undefeated home season in 2010, the team has never managed to win 12 home matches in a single season. We know that RSL is a tough team to beat at home and with the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and San Jose Earthquakes all coming to Rio Tinto twice in 2013, winning 12 matches at home would be a huge challenge, but this is a wish list.
11 – 11 Healthy Starters, no year in RSL history has seen the team unable to field their first choice starting XI less than 2012, when they only played in 4 matches and just over 100 minutes across all competitions. In fact our top choice starting XI played less than one hour of MLS action in 2012. RSL has made some moves to get younger in the off season and hopefully that will allow us to get more minutes from our top guys as we move forward.
10 – A real #10, several guys have worn the number with RSL, Robbie Findley, Medhi Ballouchy, and Clint Mathis. Howerver, I am talking about more than a jersey number I am talking about a traditional number 10 player, the guy who creates the chances for others as well as for himself. Javier Morales is as close to a true #10 as RSL has had, but with his status for 2013 still up in the air could a change be in the makings for next season?
So last Monday was perhaps the most active day for Real Salt Lake in roster moves since the team took part in the 2004 expansion draft with trades, releases, and signings all taking place on the first day of MLS rosters being un-frozen, but perhaps the most impactful change is still on the clock. Javier Morales is out of contract and Real Salt Lake has made him an offer to remain with the team, but teams in Mexico have also expressed interest in him as well. RSL has said that they expect an answer from Javi this week, and that answer will have a huge impact no matter what the choice is. So let’s take a look at three things, first what Javi’s history with RSL is, what a future with Javi could look like for RSL, and then what a future without Javi might look like.
So Javier Morales was signed by RSL in late 2007 and began making an impact, almost from day one, now at the end of 2012 he sits as a player who in MLS action has over 10,000 minutes for the Claret and Cobalt, 115 starts, 20 goals and 43 assists. His 2010 numbers had him in the mix for league MVP as RSL was the 2nd best team in MLS and he had 7 goals and 9 assists, and he was one of the best creative players in MLS. There aren’t many who would question what a Javier Morales at his best can do on the pitch, he simply makes those around him better both on and off the ball. How good is he, well every year you will find him on the list of the 10 most fouled players in the league. The “Hack-a-Javi” strategy is one that most teams now employ to try to deal with him.
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.
OK time for some of the official stuff, first off let’s go with the highlight video of the match, which you can check out on the RSL website.
Here are some pictures from the match:
So I have to be honest I am very bummed that I had to leave after the first half of the reserve match between RSL and Houston this afternoon, but the day job had to be dealt with. Still there were some very interesting things from the first half worth taking notice of, first up is that it was the official debut of David Viana who signed with the team last month on the last day of MLS roster moves. He started out playing on the left side of the midfield and I thought his partnership with both Justin Braun and Kenny Mansally who were also focused on the left side of the pitch was very good. He showed some good quality on the ball and was able to make some very nice passes, he seems have a great vision for the game and a very accurate shot. He scored RSL’s second goal of the match, and a great shot from just outside the top of the area.
In his first official match with Real Salt Lake David Viana takes a shot from distance and scores his first goal for RSL.