Tag Archive for Nat Borchers

Real Salt Lake returns to MLS action by hosting Portland

A break in the season is always a nice thing for both fans and players, but the schedule Real Salt lake faces in the next 6 weeks is brutal, with 9 MLS matches (6 at home), at least one US Open Cup match (vs Seattle) and a friendly with Inter Milan tossed in, that is 11 matches before the end of July.

With 13 matches played, RSL is sitting in a solid 3 place in the Western Conference with matches in hand against everyone except LA and Seattle. Their 23 points is actually gives them the second best points per match average in the league with 1.77 despite playing 9 of 13 on the road. The Timbers come in after the break needing to improve their form, after 15 matches they are on just 19 points with a 5-6-4 record and without a single win on the road.  The defending MLS champs know it is about how you play at the end of the season, but with a very competitive Western conference you don’t want to dig too deep of a hole to climb out of.

These two teams faced off early in the MLS season at Portland in one of those matches where RSL started great and had a two goal lead but with being a man down after a 31st minute red card to Kyle Beckerman, the Timbers got back a goal in the 79th minute and then RSL went down to 9 men as Jamison Olave picked up a red card in the 83rd minute on a foul that gave Portland a PK as well and lead to them leveling the match.  One could say RSL was lucky to get out of there with a draw but I considered it one of the matches were RSL left points on the pitch after a late meltdown. Now the two familiar foes will face off once again on Saturday night, in what should be an exciting match.

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The MLS expansion draft looms large for Real Salt Lake

So with two team entering MLS in 2015 it is time again for one of the most stressful times for fans, players and staffs of MLS teams, it is no different for Real Salt Lake.  In fact with former coach Jason Kreis in charge of one of the expansion sides NYCFC, maybe it is a bit more stressful, this time around as most of the players on our roster are guys that he knows well and many of them are guys he brought to RSL.  It should come as no surprise that he has already signed former RSL backup keeper Josh Saunders and former RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and I expect he will be looking to add more.

One other major fact in the stress levels heading into this expansion draft are the many unknowns of that the roster rules and salary cap might look like next season, with the CBA between the players and league expiring a couple weeks after the expansion draft. There is one thing that should reduce the stress level of RSL fans, the reality is that we can only lose two players via the expansion draft, I guess that is an upside.

So the current RSL roster has 29 players on it, according to the MLS website, but I believe the reality is that Sebastian Saucedo’s HGP deal doesn’t actually kick in until 2015. So if the rules are same as the last couple of expansion drafts, HGP (Home Grown Players) are exempt, so for RSL that would mean the following players are automatically protected:

  • Jordan Allen
  • Lalo Fernandez
  • Justen Glad
  • Benjamin Lopez
  • Sebastian Saucedo

So either way that leaves 24 players that would be eligible for the expansion draft pool. Current Generation Adidas players are also automatically protected, Luis Gil used to be on the Generation Adidas roster, but I believe he graduated the program a couple years ago.

In the past teams have been allowed to protect 11 players, and when a player is taken a team gets to add another player to their protected list.  If a designated player has a no-trade clause that player has to be protected (at least according to the last rules).  There are some other additional rules, such as players who are out of contract still have to be protected if you want to keep them but just protecting them doesn’t mean you have to re-sign them. At a high level that is what we know about what will likely be the rules for the expansion draft.

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After a stunning defeat, RSL is left with some very tough questions to face.

So I started writing this blog post on Sunday night, but I wasn’t sure why I was writing it, until today. I posted that I was pulling for New England to win MLS Cup, there are several reasons but the top one is I think they have an incredible team and I love the style of soccer they have been playing since Jermaine Jones was signed and how it has in large part freed up Lee Nguyen to become the player he is capable of being.

Of course having an opinion on twitter can be dangerous as people started to criticize me because if New England wins MLS Cup Real Salt Lake won’t end up with a Champions League spot.  They are right, RSL only gets into the tournament if LA or Seattle win, and we will get their 2nd spot by default since both have already qualified.  I went on to say that I didn’t want RSL to be in Champions League next year, because I don’t believe we can win it.  The reality is everything that follows is why I don’t want us in that tournament, and in part why I don’t think we can win it.  Simply we aren’t good enough, and while the 5-0 loss on Sunday was an anomaly where we played perhaps our worst match of the season and LA played one of their best, the reality is that we simply weren’t good enough to beat them and I don’t think continuing to do what we have in large part done for the last 5 years is the way we get good enough to beat them, to beat anyone who gets in our way of the trophies we should all be passionate about getting.

None of this means I don’t love RSL, or our players but sports is not a place where blind devotion should replace logic or common sense, it shouldn’t be a place where passion replaces intelligence.  Being critical actually is a way to show how much you care, because you want, and expect more, you know that better is within reach.  You may not agree with me, hell I don’t blame you if you don’t but my opinion is just as valid as those of fans who have for years hated on Saborio, Findley or any other RSL player who doesn’t live up to their expectations.  I have so much respect for the guys who play for RSL, because they in large part define what RSL is about, they have lived “The Team is the Star” and they have embraced the idea of the RSL Family.  Still we are left with some hard facts and some hard choices, is being consistently good, good enough?

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Real Salt Lake look to end Landon Donovan’s career on Sunday

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)?

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Real Salt Lake will be tired and shorthanded when they face Portland

Last Saturday RSL lost their first match of the season a 4-0 thumping at Seattle, a second straight match where the team looked out of sorts as they tried to adjust to their many missing stars and what would be their first 3 matches in a week stretch of the season.  On Wednesday they held on in Columbus to get a 1-1 draw despite a short bench and a starting XI that included many changes from the previous match.  Now heading into their “World Cup Break” which means no MLS matches for a couple weeks but doesn’t account for what will hopefully be more than 1 US Open Cup match, the team will face a familiar foe as the Portland Timbers come to town Saturday evening.

The team will once again be shorthanded and given the extensive travel and two matches in the last week we will likely see another lineup with several changes and some signs of fatigue as the match wears on.  Both RSL and Portland have 3 wins, 2 draws and a loss in their last 6 matches of the MLS season, so current form is fairly even between the sides. Of course given the way last year went one can expect that the Timbers will be green around the gills as they look for some revenge against RSL who knocked them out of the US Open Cup, the MLS Playoffs and whom the Timbers have only beaten once since joining MLS (RSL holds a 5-1-3 regular season record, a 2-0-0 playoff record, and a 1-0-0 record against Portland in US Open Cup action). Still one has to believe that the Timbers have looked at RSL’s roster (depleted via injuries and World Cup call ups) and busy schedule and think that this might be their best chance to steal a win at Rio Tinto Stadium.

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Real Salt Lake look to make history at Seattle – Match Preview

A couple years ago Real Salt Lake went on an amazing unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, that streak was ended by Seattle, now RSL will be looking to set a new record for most matches without a loss to start a MLS season with a win or a draw at Seattle.  The record would be nice but for me it is about a team that has overcome so much already this season proving that together they are capable of amazing things.

With a completely new coaching staff entering into the 2014 season, including a rookie head coach in Jeff Cassar, expectations were tempered and when you factor in a rather brutal schedule (or what looked like on when it was released) I can assure you that nobody was talking about setting a record for most matches without a loss to start the season.  Then came the actual matches, the injuries, the call ups, more injuries, and some ugly matches, and here we sit heading into the 13th match of the season with a 6-0-6 record.  There are so many places that one has to give credit, the breakout season that Joao Plata is having with 6 goals and 3 assists, the surprise off season signing of Luke Muholland who has added 3 goals and 2 assists while playing in every RSL match so far this season, the dominance of Jeff Attinella when filling in for Nick Rimando with a 0.75 GAA, 2 clean sheets and a MLS save of the week.

Of course we also have the things that don’t surprise us, Kyle Beckerman’s commanding presence at the back of the diamond, which over the last two years have seen him claw his way back into the USMNT and onto the World Cup roster.  I am so very proud of the heart and passion that Kyle has brought to RSL over the years, nobody deserves a trip to the World Cup more than the most consistent player in MLS.  We have another MVP type season coming from Javier Morales, with 4 goals and 5 assists he continues to put his stamp on RSL and MLS as one of the best creative players the league has had.  The consistency of the RSL defenders, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, along with some great work from Aaron Maund as well.

That just scratches the surface of things that have lead RSL to where they are, when you think about Seattle, you have to think Clint Dempsey (8 goals, 3 assists) and Obafemi Martins (5 goals, 6 assists) two guys who struggled to make an impact at the end of the 2013 season but who have lifted the Sounders to the top of the MLS table early in 2014.  The Sounders have also gotten a real boost from some new players this season as Chad Marshall came over from the Crew and has looked like a younger and better version of himself in Rave Green while leading the Seattle backline, in the midfield Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa have fit in nicely working with Osvaldo Alonso, and a mix of Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans and others.  At 8-3-2 the Sounders have done something that most MLS teams can rarely pull off, they have given up the first goal in 6 of their matches and found a way to come back and claim wins in 4 of them, that is impressive.

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Real Salt Lake look to remain undefeated against Philadelphia Union – match preview

So there are two meanings to that title, first is that RSL in 6 meetings has never lost to the Union, and of course RSL will look to remain undefeated in week 6 of the 2014 MLS regular season.  Since joining MLS, the Union are 0-2-4 with 5 goals scored and 9 goals allowed against RSL.  Of course they have never lost to RSL at PPL Park, a pair of 1-1 draws and a 0-0 draw in the most current match in Chester.  Last year the Union came close to beating RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium but a short handed stoppage time goal equaled the score at 2-2 and crushed the hopes of the Union fans for that first victory over RSL.

This year the Union have made some improvements to their roster, they picked up Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, Fred, Austin Berry and most recently Andrew Wenger and with the first 2 have started all five of the Union’s matches and has helped their midifield lift it’s level of play. The Union will likely be without Danny Cruz and Sheanon Williams both of who are recovering from injuries, of course that is a mighty short list compared to the 11 players on the RSL list (some of who are possible or probable).  RSL will be without Joao Plata, Nick Rimando, Luis Gil and most likely both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, but as has been the case since the start of the season there are guys who are stepping up to fill those spots, we saw both Rich Balchan, Abdoulie Mansally and Jeff Attinella all get their first starts of the season last week in a match where they played major roles in helping RSL keep a clean sheet in their 0-0 draw with Sporting KC.

So can RSL find a way to keep their streaks alive?

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Real Salt Lake dismantle Toronto FC 3-0

So in my match preview post, I pointed out how the passing and possession style of RSL would cause issues for TFC who often look to force a mistake or counter and attack, on Saturday night RSL had 434 passes completed at a 80% rate, while TFC had just 265 and a completion rate of 73%.  That resulted in RSL dominating the possession by a 60.5% to 39.5%, and RSL was much more effective with their possession.

I thought the absence of Jonathan Osorio would be huge as he was the main link for TFC between their defense and Michael Bradley, the result was the Bradley often found himself having to come further back to get the ball and that limited his effectiveness as a playmaker and provider.  The TFC midfield simply couldn’t match up with RSL’s on Saturday, despite the play of Bradley, only 7 passes found their way to Jermain Defoe who only got 2 shots off and neither was on target.  Gilberto took 5 shots with a couple forcing saves by Nick Rimando but on the night the RSL defense was very solid and despite some good attempts by TFC, they simply never were able to find the back of the net.

I will say that I got mighty lucky with my preview picks on the scoring Saturday night, I predicted a 3-1 RSL win with Sabo getting the brace (check), and Luis Gil getting one (check), I did pick Bradley to get a goal for TFC and he came within a couple of inches with a shot from distance that froze Rimando but bounced off the frame.  Not a bad round of predictions.

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Real Salt Lake vs Toronto FC – Match Preview

So within a couple weeks of RSL coming up short in MLS Cup, all the attention around MLS shifted north of the border as Toronto FC started spending money like a rapper in a strip club, the MLS version of making it rain.  Gilberto was signed as a DP, but he was the appetizer for their fans, as the team would announce both Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe would be joining them heading into the 2014 MLS season.  Now Toronto wasn’t the first team to spend big buck on Mega DP’s, but they were the first to do so on this scale of both transfer fees and salaries.

As a RSL fan, I have seen a club built a very different way, a way that has seen a consistency over the last 5 plus seasons that have kept them at the top levels of MLS. During that time we saw LA push and lead the league in creating the DP rule, then the two DP rule and eventually the league settled on 3 DP’s per team.  We have seen big names come before Toronto made their moves, we had Beckham, Henry, Marquez, Blanco, Keane, and others come and go with varying levels of success.  Clubs have most often found themselves in one of two quickly diverging paths, spending huge amounts of money on a select few and hoping to fill in pieces around them (LA, NY, SEA), or spreading their money around more players building deep rosters and selectively using the DP rule when needed (RSL, SKC, HOU, POR).  Both types of teams have found success in both the regular and post seasons of MLS over the last few years.

Now Toronto wants to join in on the fun, the second method didn’t work for them so they are trying to spend their way to success, and while it may not be the way I think teams should be built, I don’t blame them.  Since joining the league in 2007, they have yet to make it to the post season, in fact if their had been relegation in place TFC wouldn’t be in MLS.  Making that worse is the fact that TFC has had amazing fan support from day one, so do I blame their ownership for making a huge shift in spending?  Nope not at all.

On Saturday night TFC will play their 3rd match of this new era for their club, and let’t be honest none of us know what to expect.  Do we see the team that quickly put up two on Seattle and then held on for a 2-1 win, or the club that struggled to a 1-0 win at home against DC United?  Of course there are also some questions about RSL, after a 1-0 opening day win over the LA Galaxy, RSL lost a 3-1 lead at San Jose and settled for a 3-3 draw, and then last weekend after getting a 1-0 lead over LA in RSL’s home opener the team again had to settle for a draw, this time 1-1.  So what will we see on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium?

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RSL recovers from LA match and prepares for Toronto FC

It is kinda funny that in 3 of the first 4 weeks of the MLS season RSL is facing a team built by Tim Leiweke, if you don’t know who Tim is well then you haven’t paid very close attention to MLS for the last 10 years or so.  We will talk about Tim in a bit.  So last Saturday RSL kicked off the home portion of their 2014 season, and while it didn’t go the way RSL players or fans wanted, the 1-1 draw was probably a fair result on a night that saw both sides suffer some big losses due to injuries.  We can relive the many bad calls that were made or not made but in the end there isn’t anything that can be done about that.

The loss of Joao Plata to a hamstring injury clearly impacted the rhythm and style that RSL wanted to play in the match, but in the end it may have been the elevation that drained both teams and turned the match into something resembling the Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug.  You know spots of excitement, but lots of “meh” to get to those spots. I will say this, Sabo’s goal was a great one but the highlight of the night had to be the capacity crowd that was loud, dedicated and rocking the entire match.  TIFOs, banners, signs, and flags were all around the stadium, enough so that Brian Dunseth reports several national soccer folks reached out to him to compliment the RSL faithful for their outpouring of team pride.

So with the Galaxy in the rear view mirror, sights are now set on Toronto FC that are coming to town, but this isn’t the same TFC as in years past, as I said RSL will be facing a Tim team for the 3rd time in their first 4 weeks of the season.  So I guess I should explain who this Tim guy is to those of you who may not know about him.

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