Tag Archive for Khari Stephenson

Back to Practice for Real Salt Lake as MLS Cup looms

After a few days off to celebrate the holidays, RSL returned to practice on Sunday with a spirited 90 minute session that featured a variety of drills.  It was good to see Alvaro Saborio back to what appears to be close to full fitness, Chris Wingert was also an active participant but I believe he is still in some pain from the rib injuries suffered in the first leg against Portland. Devon Sandoval missed practice but Jason Kreis was confident (as was RSL PR man Sam Stejskal) that Devon would be ready to go by MLS Cup.

The drills started out small with smaller groups taking on each other in passing and possession drills and the scale kept getting larger and larger as practice went along, towards the end the keepers and groups of players broke off and started working on taking and defending PK’s (a sure sign that we are in full playoff mode).

Listening to a number of players and Jason talk after practice the group is fully aware of the task in front of them, they seem very focused while someone remaining relaxed.  Perhaps that is the veteran influence as RSL has a good number of players from the 2009 MLS Cup win on their roster (Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley) and with 6 straight seasons of playoff runs and this years US Open Cup run, every player on the roster has dealt with high pressure situations. That experience should provide a calming effect next Saturday as the big match hype has to be dealt with.

I was able to catch up with a couple of players after practice, first up is Lovel Palmer:

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Why the US Open Cup matters, and matters so much to Real Salt Lake

Tuesday night Real Salt Lake will play the second most important match they have ever played at Rio Tinto Stadium, the 2011 CCL final was the most important.  This will be the third time RSL will be able to lift a trophy at home, they failed in their two previous attempts (2008 Western Conference Final & 2011 Champions League Final).  Of course it is funny how some people don’t put much weight behind the US Open Cup, saying that MLS teams rarely take it seriously, that US Soccer doesn’t really care about the tournament, but it is kinda strange when you compare the realities to those statements.

5 years ago I would have agreed that most MLS teams dialed it in when it came to the US Open Cup, the format changed often and it was hard to get fans interested in it.  Then came back to back to back titles by the Seattle Sounders, who showed that it was the easiest path to Champions League.  Last year more teams put out top lineups and the final between Sporting KC and Seattle was played before 18,000 plus fans and saw SKC win in a PK shootout.  This year we saw more teams (not all) put serious effort into US Open Cup, it sure was the case for RSL.

In the first Open Cup match for RSL, they put out a mixed lineup (Saunders, Palmer, Watson-Siriboe, Salcedo, Wingert, Morales, Alvarez, Velasquez, Beckerman, Sandoval, and Findley) and used all 3 subs (Plata, Grabavoy, Stephenson).  It took RSL extra time to get their 3-2 win over Atlanta, but clearly showed that the team was going to take the tournament seriously.  The second match for RSL was against Charleston again saw a very experienced lineup used (Saunders, Wingert, Maund, Borchers, Beltran, Velasquez, Beckerman, Morales, Grabavoy, Garcia, Sandoval – subs Stephenson, Plata, and Findley) and again it took 120 minutes for RSL to secure their 5-2 win.

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Real Salt Lakes takes on Houston as brutal August continues

Well we are 10 days into August and RSL is facing their third match of the month today as they will play host to the Houston Dynamo.  The Dynamo are a interesting foe, they are the team that has played in back to back MLS Cups only to come up shy each time.  The Dynamo are a very typical MLS team, they try to keep their core of players together while adding the right pieces to replace those who have left, it is a story common to fans of every MLS team and one way to common for RSL fans.

RSL has never had a lot of success against the Dynamo, just 3-9-5 and even at home RSL is more likely to get a draw with Houston with a 3-1-4 record in Utah.  This hasn’t been a good year for RSL against what is often perceived as the weaker Eastern Conference, with just a 2-4-2 record, so Saturday will provide a chance to secure 3 much needed points at home which would allow them to stay on top of both the MLS table and the Western Conference.

The Dynamo are an interesting team, since moving to Houston the Dynamo have seemed to know just when to peak in the MLS season, mid summer to late fall and it has paid off with them winning MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007 their first two teams in their new home town, playing in two more MLS Cups (2011 & 2012) and have missed the playoffs just once (2010) since moving from San Jose.  That is consistency at a very high level, given the fact that they moved cities, have moved conferences and dealt with a revolving door of players but at the helm has been Dominic Kinnear.   The changes have been huge over the last couple of years, Stuart Holden left, Ricardo Clark left (and is now back), Geoff Cameron has left, and while Brain Ching is still with the team he now plays a very limited role (0 starts, 13 appearances, 0 goals, 1 assist).

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Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – Match Preview

Well I still haven’t re-watched the complete match from last weekend, because it will only upset me and make me mad at MLS and PRO, so like the players I have moved on to this next match, and again another huge match against a top Eastern Conference opponent and again thanks to this unbalanced schedule crap a team we only get to see live every two seasons. The Red Bulls are currently tied for second in the East, with 32 points from 21 matches, from a 9-7-5 record with 29 goals scored and 24 goals allowed, at home they are a more impressive side with a 6-2-2 record with 18 goals scored and just 8 allowed.  For RSL the home loss last weekend has to sting a bit, but RSL are a very good road team this season with a 5-4-1 record with 15 goals scored and just 10 goals allowed away from Rio Tinto Stadium.

These teams have faced off 15 times in MLS regular season action where RSL holds a 5-3-7 advantage with 21 goals scored and 20 goals allowed.  While most folks don’t see this as a rivalry match, think about a couple facts; the first match RSL ever played was a 0-0 draw at the then New York Metrostars (a match played in tropical storm conditions), the first ever MLS match at Rio Tinto Stadium was the 10-9-08 match against the Red Bulls (a 1-1 draw), and RSL’s first ever conference final match was against the Red Bulls back in 2008 (a 1-0 heartbreaking loss for RSL).  In more recent history RSL haven’t lost to the Red Bulls since April of 2009, and hold a 5-0-1 record against them since that loss, including a win and draw in our only two matches at Red Bull Arena.

The challenge for RSL will be huge this weekend, as we are still missing a huge number of players (3 – Beckerman, Rimando, and Beltran on National team duty, 1- Chris Wingert is suspended, 6 – Balchan, Salcedo, Saunders, Schuler, Stertzer, and Watson-Siriboe are out or questionable with injuries).  New York are missing Connor Lade and Heath Pearce with injuries but beyond that may be one of the most available rosters in MLS right now.  Should be interesting to see what lineups both sides put out for this one.

The Good:

Robbie Findley – After a good match against Sporting KC last weekend, and looking like one of the sharpest players on the practice pitch (from my observations on Wednesday), I think this is the type of match that could see Robbie get some quality chances to use his speed and recent form to punish a backline that despite the presence of Jamison Olave has a lot of question this season.  Robbie has never scored against the Red Bulls, but in his previous 7 matches against them he does have 3 assists, the most among RSL players who will be in action today.

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Real Salt Lake continues their hot streak

When RSL was 2 matches into the MLS season, I doubt most people thought that when the team had 20 matches under their belt that they would be at the top of MLS.  If you look at the stats, RSL has the most points 37 in MLS, their 1.85 points per match average is also tops in MLS, as is the +14 goal differential, their 11 wins, their 5 road wins.  With 32 goals scored they are tied for the top total in MLS with the Philadelphia Union, RSL’s 18 goals allowed is tied for second fewest in MLS with Portland, while New England have given up just 16 goals so far this season.

All of this came to a bit of a head on Saturday as RSL headed into Texas, missing 4 normal starters on national team duty, missing a couple other players with injuries or suspension, so was it a bit surprising when the team picked up their first every win in Texas with their 3-0 defeat of FC Dallas?  Not really, RSL has had to play with their lineup and even their formation often since the start of the season for various reasons, it is why 20 players have over 500 minutes of MLS action already this year, and 6 others have also gotten time in MLS matches. Both of those are more than the entire season for RSL last year, a rather amazing stat if you ask me.

On Saturday it was the same thing as we again saw different players step up, as Abdoulie Mansally stepped into the starting lineup, another match with Nat Borchers and Carlos Salcedo as our centerbacks, alongside Chris Wingert.  In goal we saw Josh Saunders get the start and play really well, only to pick up an injury late in the first half that eventually would take him out of the match early in the second half, we should know more early this week about the extent of his injury, but I sure hope it isn’t a serious one that will keep him out of action long.  That allowed for Jeff Attinella to get his first MLS minutes, and he looked like it was just another day, making some great saves and helping RSL keep the clean sheet.

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Real Salt Lake faces the Charleston Battery in the 4th round of the US Open Cup

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.

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Real Salt Lake’s best half of the season in 3-0 win over San Jose

For the first time at home this season, RSL scored 3 goals in a match, heck what makes it even more impressive is they did it all in the first half and against San Jose.  Perhaps a bit of revenge for the sweep we suffered last year, or maybe it is all just starting to come together, much like RSL GM Garth Lagerwey has been saying all year?  One this is for sure, as a fan it sure was a lot of fun to watch.  As it seemed like Javier Morales, Joao Plata, Ned Grabavoy and Robbie Findley were sharing one mind, each played a role in at least one if not all of the RSL goals, including the Goal of the Week nominee by Robbie Findley.  How bad was it, well Frank Yallop made two tactical subs in the first half bringing in Rafael Baca for Sam Cronin and Steven Lenhart for Adam Jahn.

With those changes San Jose seemingly woke up and started to play better, where the highlight of half may have been seeing a bleeding Steven Lenhart, after a collision with Kwame Watson-Siribore on a corner kick mixer in the area, I do hope he isn’t hurt badly.  There were also some save of the week caliber saves by Nick Rimando, who picked up his 107th MLS clean sheet. RSL kept pushing for more goals but Jon Busch was able to prevent any more goals from being scored on a night when RSL clearly new the recipe for his beans (that one came from the stands and was too good not to include).

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Real Salt Lake 1st quarter report card

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.

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Four down and Thirty to go for Real Salt Lake

Sorry for bailing on all of you last week, it was a crazy work week combined with a bought of the stomach flu, which resulted in very little other than those two things getting dealt with.  So a catch up post is in order, and lets get started with the RSL home opener on the 16th.

The afternoon the sun was shining, the pitch was green, the stands were full of fans, it was a perfect day for the 2013 Home Opener for Real Salt Lake.  The match was a physical one, which saw Matt Pickens break his arm within the first 10 minutes of the match, and while there weren’t a lot of fouls (19) or cards (3, all yellows) it was one of the more physical matches I can remember seeing in some time.   With just a few minutes left in the first half, a bad play by Chris Schuler was taken advantage of my Colorado’s Deshorn Brown to give the Rapids a 1-0 lead heading into half time.

If you looked at the stats of the match, you would see that things looked rather typical for a RSL home match, things like 69.2% of the possession, a 603 to 262 edge in passes, a passing accuracy edge of 88% to 68%, but in few areas RSL’s numbers were a bit puzzling, like the 40% of duals won, or the fact of just 4 of 19 shots being on goal.

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Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly match preview

Well it is the busiest time of year at work for me, and for the second straight year it matches up with the RSL home opener. Still how can you not be excited for the first home match of the season?  Then add in it is a Rocky Mountain Cup match, and the only one that will be at Rio Tinto this year, so the stakes for the team and fans are huge.   It is nice to see that RSL was smart enough to schedule an early start time to take advantage of the daylight hours early when the weather conditions can still be a big issue. I expect it will probably be a sell out or close to it, which should make for a great way to kick of what I think will be a huge home season for RSL this year.  So all that being said, let’t talk about the match.

The Good:

Lovel Palmer – One of the real high spots for me in the DC United match last weekend was the energy and effectiveness that Lovel had on both sides of the ball when he came on.  With Abdoulie Mansally suspended for the match, we could see Palmer put into the starting lineup and even if not, I expect that with how he showed last weekend that we will see him at some point during the match.  The RMC matches are a tough one to make your starting debut for RSL, but maybe it could be the start of something great for RSL & Lovel Palmer.

Kyle Beckerman – The only player who has never lost the Rocky Mountain Cup will be in his normal place at the back of the diamond for RSL on Saturday, Kyle won two RMC’s with the Rapids, and now six with RSL.  It is a testament to Kyle’s physical and mental toughness, as well as his never say die attitude on the pitch that had him go from hated rival to one of the most beloved players in RSL history.  It is only fitting that Kyle is the player featured on the home opener ticket.  I expect another classic performance from Kyle.

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