Tag Archive for Ned Grabavoy

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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Real Salt Lake hope to rebound vs a familiar NYCFC side

Six players on the NYCFC roster have worn the Claret and Cobalt of Real Salt Lake in the past, and two of their assistant coaches are former RSL staff members and of course their head coach is Jason Kreis, who’s history with RSL is written on the wall of Rio Tinto Stadium as the only MLS player to have his number retired by a team. NYCFC is an expansion side that Real Salt Lake should beat with ease, but this hasn’t been a normal season for RSL so far, in fact very few things about the team make any sense this year.

A 3-3-5 record would be more than good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but in the West that record isn’t good enough. In fact even if RSL wins on Saturday vs NYCFC it wouldn’t move them into a playoff position unless they can win by at least 3 goals, something that is very unlikely given have only scored 3 goals once (that crazy match against Philly) and each of our 3 wins so far have been by a single goal.  However given our 4-1 loss last weekend at Montreal, the only team in the East below NYCFC in the standings, a win of any sort isn’t a sure thing.

There will likely be a welcome surprise to the RSL 18 man roster for this match, the return of Joao Plata a player who last year was perhaps as much of the heart and soul of this team as anyone else on the roster. However with Javier Morales still likely to be out as he recovers from his concussion and Jordan Allen off with the US U-20 team, our midfield will be a bit light if RSL sticks with their modified 4-1-3-2 formation.  I do think the combo of Sabo and Sandoval up top poses real problems for the NYCFC defense, their size and strength will force Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert to likely have to stay back more on defense and close to keeper Josh Saunders in order to deal with them.  The RSL defense which looked oh so shaky last weekend will have their own hands full as NYCFC try to figure out what their offense is all about, you would think with names like David Villa, Patrick Mullins and Mix Diskerud that they would have things figured out, but when your leading scorer is Mehdi Ballouchy, well things probably aren’t going as planned.

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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 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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RSL vs SKC – 2013 MLS Cup Match Preview part II

So if you missed part one of my MLS Cup Preview you can check it out here.

To continue with my look at he matchups-

  • Midfield – This one is tough as it depends on where Graham Zusi lines up,  if he is in the midfield it is fairly even, but if he is up top as a forward then an edge to RSL.  Another key factor is which Benny shows up, if the Feilhaber of the regular season shows up then RSL is in good shape, if the guy who has stepped up in the playoffs is there, then it becomes a better battle.  Let’s be honest, Kyle Beckerman is better than Oriol Rosell, Ned Grabavoy is better than Benny over the course of the season, Luis Gil is better than Peterson Joseph and Javier Morales and Zusi are a wash.  Yeah I am saying edge to RSL.
  • Forwards – Edge RSL – A healthy Alvaro Saborio is a difference maker unlike anyone that Sporting can offer up, now Claudio Bieler is a damn good forward but his form of recent has been less than ideal. RSL can also offer up a very in form Robbie Findley, who had 6 regular season goals along with subs like Olmes Garcia with 5 goals, 4 assist in less than 1,000 minutes, or Devon Sandoval with 3 goals in under 900 minutes in the regular season, oh and Joao Plata. On the SKC side, I actually like Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong but they seem to be a bit lost without Kei Kamara in the formation. Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer are wildcards but I give the edge here to RSL.
  • Intangibles – Edge SKC – I get the home field advantage but SKC was just 9-5-3 at home, not exactly dominating, but their 29 to 15 edge in goals scored was very impressive.   Sleeping in your own bed vs a hotel can be a big difference maker, but I imagine some of the weather issues may negate a bit of the home field advantage.  Clearly the SKC front office did their part to try and stack the crowd with as many home fans as possible and it is hard to blame them for that. One advantage RSL will have is experience, it is possible that 6 starters from the 2009 MLS Cup could be in the staring XI for RSL on Saturday (Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Robbie Findley), I don’t believe any SKC players have played in a MLS Cup before.
  • Overall – RSL – I know you will say that is a homer pick, but I think Sporting is a damn good team, however they aren’t the same team without Kei Kamara as they are with him.  Without that spark SKC just seems to be lacking that special factor, for RSL when Sabo went out with an injury it took just minutes for Devon Sandoval to step up and deliver big time results in big matches.  Unless someone does that for SKC on Saturday then I expect that RSL will win this match. 2-1

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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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