I really haven’t considered the Colorado Rapids much of a rival over the last few years as they have struggled to be competitive in both the league and Rocky Mountain Cup. Last year the Rapids won the RMC for the first time in 6 years, but still finished as the bottom team in the Western Conference. So on Saturday, RSL will start their first of 5 straight on the road at Colorado, where a win would move them to the top of MLS as well securing the 2016 version of the RMC.
If you had picked RSL and Colorado to be at the top of the Western Conference after 8 matches, well you probably also had Leicester City picked to win the EPL back in August of last year. OK maybe it isn’t that big of a longshot, but clearly both sides have found their form quickly in 2016, so this match should be an exciting one. The RSL offense is one of the top in MLS with 14 goals scored, while the Rapids have one of the best defenses with just 8 goals allowed in their first 9 matches. RSL holds the all time lead between the two sides with a 14-11-10 record, and RSL has 4 wins and 5 draws vs the Rapids on the road including a 1-0 win in 2014.
Early on in the season it was Marco Pappa pulling the strings for the Rapids but he has been out a couple weeks with an injury, but several others have stepped up. First of them is Jermaine Jones who has served his suspension and in his 3 matches back he has 2 goals and 2 assists. There is also their new DP Shkelzen Gashi, who also has 2 goals and 2 assists this season. It is started to become clear last year with the signing of Kevin Doyle, that the Rapids were starting to take things a bit more seriously. The question is will their fans notice or care? Attendance is still barely averaging 14,000 and if you have seen there games you know that is being very generous.
So what will RSL need to do in order to get a result in Colorado?
Did we all think after coming in mid year that this year we would see more from Juan Manual “Burrito” Martinez, sure. Did we all hope that Joao Plata would return to his 2013 form after injuries last year, sure. Did we all think bringing back Yura Movsisyan would help the RSL offense, sure. Did we all think that younger guys like Jordan Allen and Justen Glad had a ton of potential to make RSL better, sure. Did any of us think Sunny would step in and make this much of a difference right away, nope. Did all of us think we had serious issues at CB heading into this season, yup. Do most of us still think we have those issues at CB, probably
The first 8 matches of RSL season have come as a surprise to just about everyone, but I doubt many people are disappointed given the team has the best PPM 2.13 in the league and our 5-1-2 record is mighty good given some of the early season injuries, suspensions and mistakes. I think a lot of us noticed something different about the team early on, the amount of fight when faced with things going wrong seemed much better than last year.
While all of us are impressed with where RSL is after the first 8 matches, things could have been better a couple of bad red cards in two of the first 3 matches, along with a couple of mental and physical breakdowns late in matches left RSL exposed late and the team ended up with a couple of draws in matches that could have and probably should have been wins. Imagine what people would be saying about a 7-1-0 start by RSL. Still you have to deal with the hands you are given sometimes and I believe the team learned a lot about itself in those tough situations, something that will pay off over the long MLS season.
On Saturday night in their 2-1 win over Houston we saw RSL do something rare in MLS, get a win after giving up the first goal. For RSL it is actually the second time this season they have done it, they also did it again Seattle in our 2-1 win over them. The only team that has shown the ability to come from behind better than RSL has been the LA Galaxy who have won 3 and gotten 2 draws after giving up the first goal.
With the turf coming up at Rio Tinto after Saturday’s match RSL will look to rebound from their loss at LA with a win over Houston. The biggest question is what Houston team will they face, the team that scored 11 goals in their first 3 matches, or the one who has scored just 2 in their last 4? The one thing in common that both RSL and Houston have is that they both were recently spanked by the Galaxy (the best team in MLS the last few weeks).
So RSL will need to find a way to quickly put last weekend out of their minds and focus on getting the full 3 points against Houston before they head out on the road. They will do so without Plata, could be without Burrito, and have a Javi and Sunny that are still working their way back to full fitness, and facing a team that has looked to play more conservatively than they did at the start of the season. After being thrashed at home by the Galaxy, they went on the road at Columbus and played a much more defensive style and while they still ended up on the losing end of the match, they did play much better. I expect against a RSL team that has scored goals in every match, that once again on the road Houston will be looking to play defensively and hope to counter or take advantage of any RSL mistakes. While they picked up a red card early in the match against Columbus, it was back up keeper Tyler Deric who saw red and was replaced by their regular starter (so far this season) Joe Willis.
So one area of focus all year in MLS matches has been the officials, and it has been for good reason as many strange calls have been made or not made so far this year. Nima Saghafi will be the ref in charge of the match, it will be just his MLS match as the main official. In his previous match there was a red card and two PK’s given, the red card looked very legit but the PK’s had a bit more question about them. We will see how this new official handles the match on Saturday.
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 let me be clear, there were some very pretty moments in the match for RSL and one only has to listen to Brian Dunseth remind us that Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez is “Killing careers one vine at a time” or read what RSL head coach Jeff Cassar had to say after the match
“I wish I knew what he was going to do every time because he does some really special things. He (Martinez) got out of some really tricky situations. All of our attacking players are extremely talented and when they’re playing with each other you can do special things you can do some things that you don’t necessarily think are going to happen because you trust the player that is giving the ball to you. I think that we can still get even better. That is what is exciting.”
to understand there were some simply amazing moments on Saturday night. Still if you watched the match you know how bad the first 20 minutes or so looked as Vancouver came out like it was a playoff match and were pressing high and causing chaos for the RSL defense. Still despite the early mistakes and pressure, RSL didn’t give up a goal in fact RSL created a few good chances on counters early on but were unable to get the early goal. I think the biggest difference between last year and this year (so far) is that in ugly close matches last year we lost leads and often lost matches. So far this year even when we have lost leads, we have managed not to lose those matches, we have recovered or withstood adversity early on this season and as things get better (play, form, fitness, injuries) results should stay very good.
It is now beyond RSL’s depth as suspension and injuries force the team to bring up a couple of Monarch’s players just to fill out their roster when they take on Sporting KC on Saturday night. Let’s start with the things that were avoidable, the red cards and suspensions:
- Kyle Beckerman – Red Card vs Portland
- Jamison Olave – Red Card vs Portland
- Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez – MLS disciplinary action vs Portland
It is hard enough to beat a rival, even harder when it is a pretty good SKC team, but to do so without 3 starters all suspended for what one has to consider silly and pointless fouls it doesn’t do the club any favors. Now for RSL when you add in what all of a sudden is a rash of injuries:
- Javier Morales (broken ribs)
- Emery Welshman (hip flexor)
- Olmes Garcia (ankle)
- Omar Holness (shoulder)
- Boyd Okwuonu (concussion)
- Phanuel Kavita (knee)
The issues were so bad and deep that RSL used a hardship clause to bring up both Emilio Orozco and Andrew Brody for the match. I don’t expect either to see action but one never knows.
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.
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.
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 I have to start this by saying I had a great time in Tucson, the weather and people were awesome there. It provided me a good chance to see RSL in action a couple times, Wednesday 3-3 draw with New England, Friday practice session, Saturday AM 4-0 in a 45 minute scrimmage vs FC Tucson, and the 1-1 draw against Columbus Saturday night. It also allowed me to get my new camera set up correctly and ready for the season, which is a very good thing.
Saturday evening was an interesting match as RSL went with almost a complete lineup of “2nd string” guys, and while that might sound like an insult, it sure isn’t meant that way. With the CCL match at Tigres coming up the choice to rest the likely starters on Saturday night seems like a natural move and it was the right thing to do. So instead we got to see some of the future guys for RSL go head to head for 60 minutes with the likely starting roster for the Columbus Crew who were the team who represented the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup in December.
So here is what your starting lineup looked like:
Boyd Okuwonu – Phanuel Kavita – Justen Glad- Chris Wingert
John Stertzer – Danilo Acosta – Jordan Allen
Emery Welshman – Olmes Garcia – Devon Sandoval