So the RSL season is about to begin so let’s take a quick look at what has transpired between the end of the 2016 season and now, and how much hype those things bring to the 2017 season.
I am going to use a scale of -10 to +10 to rate the major events of the off season and what I believe their impact will be on the 2017 season
- Javier Morales leaves – I doubt we will ever know what really happened at the end of the 2016 season, but clearly the departure of Javier Morales will impact RSL going forward both on and off the field. I took about a week after the 3-1 playoff loss at LA for this one to hit and its about as negative as hype can get, gotta go with a -10 on this one.
- Jeff Cassar staying – RSL fans were up in arms over Javi’s departure and a end of the 2016 season that saw RSL win just 4 of their final 19 matches and no wins in Sept or Oct. So the news in early Nov of Jeff’s contract being extended for 2017 wasn’t exactly received with positive hype, this one gets a -5
- Burrito is gone – Another case that we may never really know what happened but between a nagging injury, issues at home, and who knows what else Juan Manuel Martinez was dealing with but clearly he had checked out by mid season and by the end of the season it was clear things had gone very wrong. His release was a not a surprise but it sure wasn’t what any of us wanted, but clearly what he wanted. His creative abilities on the field will be missed, I give this one a -7 on the Hype Meter. Read more
So when Craig Waibel said there were a few players RSL was looking at this winter transfer window, you knew there would be some speculation, how could their not be? But in the last 24 hours things have been kinda funny, kinda exciting, but not very rewarding as everything seems to still be in that rumor stage. Given the drama of several handshake deals falling thru last year, I will get excited when paperwork is signed and official announcements made.
Still, let’s talk about things a little bit. First up, Landon oh Landon, how would the RSL family react if the rumor of Landon to RSL were more than just a rumor (I really, really doubt it even should qualify as a rumor). So it all started with a report that Landon was in Salt Lake City, so that must mean he is signing with RSL right? Oh could he be one of thousands who come here each winter week to get some time on the slopes? Could he just be visiting friends? Could he be here for some completely unrelated reason? Yup and to be honest as much as I respect Landon, this isn’t a player that builds RSL for the future. I said it on Twitter, if this were a move for a team that just needed one piece to go from close to Champions, then great and wonderful he is a guy who can make a difference for any team.
That isn’t the case in my book, I was reminded that most of our starters and roster are coming back from the 2016 season and I remain unconvinced is some cases if that is a good thing or not. I believe it is time for RSL to start rebuilding, not a complete but clearly we need a faster, more dynamic team on both sides of the ball. The heart and passion showed early in the season was replaced by a team that looked confused and disinterested at the end of the season. The stat that still haunts me is how often we failed to win when we scored first, and countered by how often we were able early in the year to fight back after giving up the first goal and get a result. So I would say thanks but no thanks to a Landon to RSL deal at this point, because I want us to start building for the next 3-4 years and beyond, not just do enough to make the playoffs and get a few contracts extended another year.
Now the very exciting rumor that may hold some actual weight is Albert Rusnak, a 22 yr old attacking midfielder from Slovakia, who currently plays in the Netherlands for FC Groningen. You can check out one of the many highlight clips here. Craig dropped hints at the town hall a couple weeks ago about a young attacking mid playing in the Netherlands and today rumors started flying around about Albert. You can check out his current player profile page here
I have heard from several sources that the players are as upset and in many case more upset than the fans at the way the season has started for Real Salt Lake, and who can blame them it hasn’t been pretty.
9 points from 8 matches isn’t how RSL usually starts a season, but for me the points are less important than the eyeball test, in which RSL simply hasn’t looked very good for a full match, heck for a half, or if we are being brutally honest for a 15 minute stretch. Yes there have been passing combos that have inspired, saves that have made the highlight reel, but overall this has been simply ugly. It has been a very, very long time since I remember seeing RSL rated just #15 in the USA Today Sagarin ratings.
In recent RSL history, this is our worst start at 2-2-4, last season we were 3-0-3 after 8, 3-3-2 in 2013 and 5-3-0 in 2012. For me the question on my mind is what happens in the next 2 matches? I believed and still do that the key to making the playoffs and hitting that gold standard of 15 wins/50 points is to win you home matches and to get results against teams from the East. 4 points from these next two matches would put us at 14 points the same as 2013, but lagging behind our 20 points of last season or 19 points after 10 matches in 2012. A pair of wins would put us at 16 points from 10 matches and that wouldn’t be a bad place to be.
There is little doubt that Landon Donovan is the best player in MLS history, he probably is the best American soccer player to date, and while many fans are torn about him, cheering him in the red, white and blue of the USMNT, while booing him when he is in the various colors of the LA Galaxy, the reality is that love or hate him, everyone respects him. On Sunday Real Salt Lake will look to end his MLS career, and given the history between these two teams over the years both in the regular season and post season it could go either way. In regular season action RSL is 6-8-1 in matches played in LA, a 0-1 loss at StubHub Center in July was the balance for a 1-0 win by RSL there on opening weekend of the 2014 season.
All time these two teams are tied at 11-11-7, after the 0-0 draw last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium. These two are frequent opponents in the post season, in 2009 it was a PK shootout win for RSL at MLS Cup, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference Finals on their way to a MLS Cup win, and last year it was RSL with 2-1 aggregate win in the Conference semifinals on their way to another MLS Cup appearance. So Sunday will be two teams so very familiar with each other than winning or losing is often a matter of inches, shots off the framework or of the fingers of diving keepers are the norm, and it could likely come down to who can punish the other team’s mistakes. RSL have a bit of momentum despite the draw at home, they finished the regular season with two wins and a draw, while the Galaxy finished it with a draw and two losses. RSL gave up just a single goal in their 4 matches in October, while the Galaxy gave up 6, which was very unusual for the Galaxy who ended the regular season with an insane +32 goal differential as the league’s top scoring team with 69 goals scored, and tied for the league’s best defense with just 37 goals allowed. The Galaxy were mighty good at home with a 12-1-4 record, their only loss was opening day to RSL, the amassed 44 goals at home while only giving up 14 goals for a +30 home goal differential.
So what will Real Salt Lake need to do in order to get past the Galaxy and on to the Western Conference Finals for the 5th time in the last seven years (08 ,09, 11, 13)?
It seems almost amazing that Real Salt Lake already has two matches under their belts and now as spring has sprung they will start the home portion of their season by taking on the LA Galaxy again. The first time around it was the Galaxy home opener and RSL was able to rain on their parade thanks to a Joao Plata goal and some amazing stops by Nick Rimando. It was an exciting match as both side showed a little bit of rust but both showed that they can be very dangerous, it was lucky that Robbie Keane didn’t get a goal and unlucky that the officials got the call wrong on Luke Mulholland’s goal. In the end it was a 1-0 win for RSL who notched their 5th straight opening day win, and now RSL will look to extend their undefeated home opening streak. Oh I know that someone will think I am going to jinx them, but RSL has never lost a home opener, they may not have won all of them but never a loss.
For RSL it will be a real test as the injuries are piling up early on in the season, Findley, Sandoval, Velasquez, Morales, Allen, Maund, Schuler and Watson-Siriboe all have some type of injury issues they are dealing with. The upside is that newcomer Luke Mulholland has been a great surprise and Plata has started off the season as well as anyone in MLS. So with the home crowd behind them on a rare afternoon start, it should be a perfect chance to catch the two best teams in MLS over the last 5 seasons.
If you watched the RSL victory over the LA Galaxy last fall in the 2nd leg of their playoff series, then little during Saturdays 1-0 win in LA was probably surprising to you. Just like the fall match, RSL was victimized by some strange calls including a clear goal being called back on a mystery call but instead of letting it get them down, they powered on and managed to still pick up the victory.
The highlight of the match, or highlights had to be the extraordinary effort in goal of Nick Rimando who made several key stops but none more important than the stoppage time PK stop of Robbie Keane to keep both the clean sheet but also to ensure the RSL victory. Several times mistakes forced Nick to clean up opportunities that the Galaxy had, some required his normal saves and others will likely get him nominated for save of the week. Nick in true RSL fashion was quick to point out that it was a collective team effort that secured the victory:
It’s tough to get a result, let alone a shutout here, and they came at us like we knew they would and I thought the defense played great, and by defense I mean the whole team.
Nick is right, work by everyone on both sides of ball is always a key to how RSL plays and we saw a lot of that, and while not every thing was perfect the mistakes were either quickly covered by a teammate or the Galaxy failed to capitalize. It was good to hear that Nat Borchers mentioned that the team pushed for Aaron Maund to get the start and that confidence in him was rewarded by a solid effort against some of the most dangerous offensive players in MLS.
Real Salt Lake will kick off their 2014 season like almost every other season, with a match away from home, but that hasn’t proven to be a task they aren’t able to handle. Can RSL pick up their 5th straight opening day road win? To do so they will need to beat rival side LA.
A lot of people think that sports rivalries, especially those in MLS are all about geography but if you don’t think that RSL vs LA is a rivalry, despite what some of the Galaxy players might tell you, or how MLS might promote the match, well then you clearly haven’t looked at the definition of the word lately, let me help you out:
For the last 4 seasons both the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake have won at least 15 matches and scored at least 50 points, a feat that no other MLS team has ever done before (post shoot out era), two of those years the Galaxy finished higher in the table than RSL and twice it was RSL who finished with a better position. Since 2009 the teams have played for 5 MLS Cups combined, and won it 3 times.
Heck since RSL joined MLS 10 years ago the teams have fought 25 times in the regular season and the competition couldn’t be more equal with each side winning 10 matches and 5 draws. The competition actually goes beyond the normal win at home type of MLS results, RSL has actually won 5 times in LA out of their 13 regular season matches, with 1 draw. It goes beyond the regular season, the teams have faced each other 3 times in the playoffs since 2009. RSL won the MLS Cup over LA in 2009, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference final, and last year RSL was able to get the win over the Galaxy in the semifinals.
So how will the teams match up on the opening weekend of the 2014 MLS season?
It was just over a month ago that RSL hosted the LA Galaxy and while the roster for LA featured some names you wouldn’t have expected, the most surprising fact of the night was that LA was able to get two goals in the first 15 minutes and then hold on to keep the 2-0 win. It wasn’t surprising that LA would get a win in Salt Lake, they have done so before, including last years 3-2 come from behind win, it was however that RSL gave up early goals. So far this season RSL has allowed 15 goals, just 5 in the first half of matches and only one other team has scored in the first 30 minutes against RSL. I count that match fluke, if you look at the numbers it is late goals for and against is what you should expect from these two sides, RSL has scored 11 of their 21 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches, LA has 10 of their 21 in the same time frame. It is also when both sides have shown some weakness on defense, RSL has allowed 5 of their 15 goal allowed in the final 15 minutes of matches, but LA has allowed 9 of their 15 allowed in the final 15 minutes. Yes, both sides have scored 21 and allowed 15 goals so far this season.
If it is consistency that RSL has found of late, 4-1-1 in their last 6 matches with multiple goals scored in 5 of them, then LA’s recent performances have to be described as erratic, 2-4-0 in their last 6 with some of the most puzzling scorelines of the season. After a 3-1 loss at Vancouver, they rebound with a 4-1 win at Philly, then after thumping Seattle 4-0 at Home they get beat last weekend 5-0 by the New England Revolution. Historically there are few head to head matchups that are a close as RSL vs LA, each side has 9 wins against the other with 5 draws and RSL holds a slight 38 to 35 edge in goals scored. In Utah RSL has a 4-3-4 record against LA with just a 19 to 17 goals scored advantage.
Robbie Findley – It has been interesting listening to some RSL fans moan and complain about Robbie, not unexpected, but interesting as few of them knew the behind the scenes injury issues he has been dealing with. Of course most of those folks have been quiet the last couple of matches with two goals and one assist in RSL’s last 3 matches. As RSL head coach Jason Kreis said last week, it looks like Robbie is finally healthy and finding his form, and if that is the case and he can stay in form and healthy it is a very good thing for RSL. His ability to partner with Sabo, Plata or whoever else RSL puts up top with him is outstanding as Robbie now is a player who understands how to create chances for himself as well as his teammates. I really believe the best is yet to come from Robbie Findley.
Since joining the league in 2005, there is no team that I think has provided more exciting moments for RSL fans than the LA Galaxy. First came the addition of David Beckham, then the drama of the MLS Cup in Seattle, the 2011 Western Conference finals, and every match in between. For 8 years it has been how do you top the last thing, last year RSL had taken it to the Galaxy in the first match of the season by beating them 3-1 at the Home Depot Center. The second match saw RSL take off to an early 2-0 lead at Rio Tinto Stadium, but then mistakes allowed a hungry Landon Donovan and Mike Magee to get 3 unanswered goals to pull off the 3-2 upset. RSL would get a bit of revenge late in the season as they came back from an early LA goal to get two Fabian Espindola goals and a sweep of the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. 22 regular season meetings, 9 RSL wins, 8 LA Galaxy wins, and 5 draws, 38 goals for RSL and 33 for the Galaxy. Two meetings in the playoffs, 2009 when RSL beat them on PK’s to lift the MLS Cup, and 2011 when LA came from behind to win the Western Conference final on their way to winning the MLS Cup.
Oh Bruce Arena may not want to call RSL a rival, why would he, why would anyone from LA want to add fuel to the fire? Yes LA is the premier team in MLS, yes they have the top payroll in MLS (or will have when they add their 3rd DP to replace Beckham), yes they are featured almost weekly on national TV, beyond that they are just a great team. While RSL feels slighted on about every front as the small market team running on a tight budget, fighting for everything they can get. I just know that when the players from each side take the pitch, they know they are in for a battle, and they know that every play is a statement that will last all season. Only 3 teams in the post shoot-out era of MLS have ever had 3 straight seasons where they earned 50 points or more, and on Saturday the two teams that have done that the last 3 seasons will face off for the first time this season. I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like a rivalry to me.
Robbie Findley – Back to full fitness after the injury suffered on scoring his first goal of the season, could Robbie get revenge on his former team? His unique combination of speed and skill has resulted in 2 goals in his previous matches against the Galaxy. While Olmes Garcia has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks, I thought in his action late in the Chivas match that Robbie changed the match and allowed RSL to be much more dominating late in the match. So either as a starter or off the bench, I think Robbie Findley could be one of the keys to a RSL victory on Saturday.
For the second weekend in a row Real Salt Lake heads into the Home Depot Center and leave with a huge win. Last weekend it was a 4-0 win over Chivas USA, and on Saturday it was a hard fought 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy. Huge as RSL win the season series with the Galaxy and gain valuable points that will play a huge role in the playoffs.
RSL is officially out of the hunt for the Supporters’ Shield as San Jose picked up their 19th win of the season and lead RSL by 9 points with two matches left. Still every point matters as both playoff positioning as well as potential hosting rights for MLS Cup will likely be decided by points won in the last weeks of the season.
For RSL the man of the match was clearly Fabian Espindola who last weekend provided 3 assists and this weekend scored both of RSL’s goals, his 8th and 9th of the season. Of course there was also some huge saves from Nick Rimando and incredible defensive work from all the guys which kept the 20 shots from LA out of the net 19 times. RSL showed that while they may like to play a style where they dominate possession, they don’t need to do that in order to win. It was quality of shots that mattered for RSL who took just 12 but had the same number (6) that ended up on goal and one more than they did that found the back of the net.