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.
Well Real Salt Lake heads to Canada, where they have never won a match, where they will take on the Impact who started the season as one of the surprises, but have cooled off a bit lately. Both sides played a match on Wednesday, for RSL it was a come from behind 2-1 win over New England, and for the Impact it was too little too late as a stoppage time goal wasn’t enough to get a win and they lost 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls.
Both sides have 5 wins on the season and two draws, RSL however had 4 losses, while the Impact have lost only twice so far this season. These two sides have only faced each other once, a 1-0 RSL win at Rio Tinto Stadium last year, but both sides are very different teams now. RSL no longer has Paulo Jr. on the roster, he is the one who scored the goal last year, also missing for RSL will be Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Jonny Steele, and Terakazu Tanaka, all of whom played against Montreal last season. The Impact also have had a lot of roster changes since these sides last saw each other, names like Alessandro Nesta, Romero, Pisanu, Tissot and others, One thing is clear this early afternoon match will feature some players that should provide plenty of action.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe – After missing a little time with the team for personal reason, Kwame headed to Montreal to meet the team as Nat Borcher’s illness forced him to return to Salt Lake to get further treatment. It was unknown until mid-day yesterday if the second yellow card that was shown to Carlos Salcedo would be overturned (it was), but having Kwame available provides more options along the backline for Real Salt Lake, and having options is something that is always a good thing for RSL.
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.
So perhaps no loss hits RSL fans harder than a loss to the Rapids, and when it is on a sloppy goal by a former RSL player it gets even worse. I am not sure where the team that came out with tons of energy and aggressive play against Seattle went, but I sure did miss them last Saturday. I get that playing on the road is tough, and while they might say 15K fans were there, if you saw the match you know that number was closer to 11-12 at best. It wasn’t as if RSL didn’t have their chances, they controlled most of the possession, 59.6% actually, they had their shots 10, heck we even had a PK attempt, but on the night nothing went RSL’s way and the result was a 1-0 loss.
Sure it let the Rapids get their first win of the season, it gives the Rapids an edge in the Rocky Mountain Cup, but we all know that in the end that cup will be ours. Still the loss was a rough one that was compounded by RSL’s injury issues as clearly neither Alvaro Saborio or Javier Morales are fully fit to the level of RSL fan expectations, combined with Robbie Findley and Joao Plata being unavailable for that match, RSL’s offensive options were limited and while it was good see Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia in first team action, it simply wasn’t enough. I know it is easy to be critical of the efforts all around after such a great match against Seattle, but remember that it was rather clear by some of the calls in the first 15-20 minutes of the match that the Rapids were playing a very physical, brutish style. It is a bit of a shame that the officials stopped calling the match tightly, as I thought it broke things down to rather ugly soccer for both sides as it became a foul fest, and while Atiba Harris can celebrate his goal, I am left amazed that he didn’t get a yellow card for any of the 4 fouls called against him, or the half dozen others that weren’t called at all.
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.
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.
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.
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?
For the 3rd straight match (2 MLS & 1 CCL) Real Salt Lake have had to settle for a 0-0 draw, and while head coach Jason Kreis addressed the fans after the match to say the team has been saving up goals for the playoffs, I am not sure everyone is buying it.
Like the last two matches RSL has played the team dominated every aspect of the match, except for the scoreboard. Saturday night it was 62.7% possession to 37.3%, it was 514 passes to 291, it was a 85% passing accuracy to 74%, it was 17 shots to 5, but only 3 shots on goal and none of them found the back of the net.
Heading into the playoffs there is no doubt that the RSL defense is up to the task, with just one goal allowed in the last 5 matches, and just 3 allowed in their last 10 matches. A stretch where RSL is 5-1-4, but if you take out the 4 goal performance against Chivas USA a month ago, RSL has scored just 6 goals in those last 10 matches. One of those is a good thing heading into the playoffs but the other not so much.
It is kinda fitting that the last match of the regular season will be against the same team that the preseason began against back on February 10th, now just days away from November RSL will wrap up their regular season by once again taking on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night.
Both sides would like to have some positives from the match heading into the MLS playoffs that start next week, for RSL it is about trying to get some folks healthy as 4 defenders are listed on the injury report (Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Jamison Olave and Tony Beltran), for the Whitecaps it is about getting a positive result, they have struggled the last couple months and with their “wildcard” match against the Galaxy next week they need to get things going in a positive direction.
The Whitecaps have struggled on the road with a 3-10-3 record and just 10 goals scored and 24 allowed, while RSL has been solid at home with an 11-4-1 record and 27 goals scored and 15 allowed. Neither side has come back from behind to get a win if they are trailing at halftime, RSL has come back after giving up the first goal to get 3 wins and a draw, while the Whitecaps have just a single victory and two draws after giving up the first goal.