Real Salt Lake is desperate to remove the stigma of 2015 that crept into their season opener on Sunday, with a red card and then late goals given up to turn a win into a draw. Meanwhile the Sounders are simply looking to take “the step” to MLS Cup, in their 7th season in the league you have to believe that few teams are under more pressure to not only make the playoffs but hoist MLS Cup as the Sounders are. So while it is just week two in a very long season, both sides will be looking to get a win on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
One huge story for Saturday could be who doesn’t play, for RSL a rib injury to Javier Morales kept him out of training on Thursday and he is unlikely for Saturday, and RSL will be without Demar Phillips who will be serving his red card suspension. Seattle comes in without Brad Evans who picked up an injury on Sunday, but both Erik Friberg and Tyronne Mears returned to practice for the Sounders and will likely play a role on Saturday. The Sounders will be without Oniel Fisher who will be serving his red card suspension. The loss of two starting defenders could be a huge factor in the match on Saturday if RSL can find a way to take advantage of it.
RSL holds a slight lead in the head to head matches with 7 wins to Seattle’s 6 and 4 draws when the two sides meet. Last year RSL won 2-0 at home and lost 1-3 in Seattle.
OK, I am going to make this a quick one. RSL is coming off a tough match at home in CCL action, but if they can replicate that performance it will be another season opener in which they can get a result. RSL hasn’t lost an opening day match since 2009 and have only lost twice on the opening weekend of action. The biggest question on Sunday will be does RSL build off that match and stick with a similar lineup or do they make some changes to get guys who battled hard and many of whom have been sick in the last week some rest? Listen the start of the season is going to be huge for RSL so I expect that if healthy we see a very similar lineup as we did on Wednesday night as the extra day off probably was very helpful.
It is hard for me to comment too much on Orlando as I only saw a few minutes of their preseason matches, but we can talk about what we know when it comes to them. Kaka is the motor that makes them tick, Cyle Larin proved a serious threat last year in his Rookie of the Year campaign with 17 goals, but beyond those two Orlando City fell off in a hurry. Kaka had 9 goals and 7 assists, so over half of their offense (26 of 46 goals) came from those two players, only Bryan Rochez, who had 3 goals, was able to score more than 2 goals last year.
When the two sides faced off last season it ended in a 1-1 draw in a match that saw Kaka get a red card in the 45th minute. It was a night that saw RSL take 23 shots, and despite the man advantage for the entire second half they were unable to get a second goal to secure the win.
I am going to start with a personal rant, if you saw my tweets during the Capital One Cup final you know I am not a fan of cutesy PK attempts, that includes exaggerated stutter steps. Javi has made it work for him more often than not but I have never been a fan of it and tonight it bite RSL in the ass in a moment when a goal was needed most.
OK, with that out of the way. Wow, that was a hell of a match for RSL, a bit of a slow start but soon RSL put their foot on the gas and applied great high pressure causing all kinds of confusion for Tigres and especially for their keeper who seemed on the edge of a nervous breakdown until stoppage time. It was clear that RSL frustrated Tigres in the first half of the match, the insanely high line at times, great pressure on the ball, and players showing no fear of the Liga MX side. While there were mistakes made, none were costly until there was nothing left on the clock and desperation forced RSL to play to either score a goal or give one up, and unfortunately they gave one up.
I am going to start at the back and work my way forward with my thoughts on the individual performances tonight.
You probably saw the first leg of the series last week and know that RSL has a hole to climb out of after losing 2-0 in Monterrey, you have probably heard others say that despite the loss, RSL played fairly well. I guess you could say that but for me, I honestly believe we ended up lucky not to have given up more goals, Tigres could have scored a couple more off the mistakes RSL made. Those mistakes came on defense, poor marking, bad passes, failed clearances, it simply wasn’t good enough.
On the other side of the ball RSL could have and probably should have had a couple goals themselves, so some bad luck kept the team from getting a critical road goal. Again it simply wasn’t good enough.
So a week has passed and it is kinda hard to believe that a whole lot will have changed on the RSL side, a couple days of practice (interrupted by several players getting sick). Now players will have had more minutes with the ball, so passes should be a bit crisper, shots should be of a better quality, and overall fitness should be better. Now the bigger difference from last week could be on the Tigres side, a comfortable win in the first leg, a dramatic late finish over Club America last weekend and a huge derby match against Monterrey on Saturday, so what players will they put out in the second leg against RSL?
Here are some comments Head Coach Jeff Cassar made to the media on Tuesday about the match:
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.
When you think about the reality that Real Salt Lake is still about 2 weeks from the start of their MLS season, and facing a team that many expect to win the CONCACAF Champions League, the hill is steep. It doesn’t mean you don’t try, it means you have to be very smart in how you approach things, but I don’t thing RSL needs to be afraid of Tigres. The reality is that in soccer the better team doesn’t always win, we have been on the losing side of matches in the past where we simply were the better team. So for me it is all about playing within yourself, knowing that you are facing a quality opponent that is in form as they are 7 matches into their season already (3-2-2 with 13 GF and 9 GA).
I fully expect the RSL lineup to be the same as the lineup they went with in their Saturday morning scrimmage with FC Tucson:
Beltran – Olave – Maund – Phillips
Sunny – Beckerman – Morales
Burrito – Yura – Plata
To get a result in Monterrey will require playing simple, not making mistakes and taking advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves.
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:
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 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 in my RSL roster review part 1 we focused on forwards and keepers, which happen to be where the team has some great depth. Now we will take a look at the midfield where there are a lot more questions but also a lot of talent.
Midfield – with two of the games top players in their positions (Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales) you would think there would be no questions about the RSL midfield, but I have questions, lots of them.
Javier Morales – There are few in MLS that are as good with the ball at their feet as Javi, his vision and passing are sublime as all RSL opponents know only too well. This however has lead to him being one of the most fouled players in MLS over the last several years and at age 36 it has taken it’s toll. In 2015 he played in just 24 matches, the lowest full season total in him MLS career (minus the injury year of 2011), and while he maintains a great level of fitness the league is a physical one. If we can keep Javi healthy for the 2016 campaign I think every RSL fan would rejoice, but we will for sure take what we can get because RSL is simply a much better team with him than without him.
Kyle Beckerman – The face of the franchise, and there simply is no other player in MLS, I would rather have in the d-mid position than Kyle. His leadership, energy, skill, and passion simply make him one of a kind and we can never thank the Colorado Rapids enough for gifting him to us. His offensive production was off in 2015, 1 goal & 2 assists, down from 3 & 3 in 2014 and 4 & 6 in 2013. I expect a big portion of this was the new formation which left him often spending more time on the defensive side of things. Kyle is a leader on and off the field, he sets the tone and his leadership with a lot of roster changes will be needed in the long season ahead.