Well with just 4 matches to go it is likely RSL will make the playoffs, but over the last 5 matches there have been a lot more questions than answers. 2-1-2 in those last 5 matches with a home loss to Houston last weekend and RSL has simply looked anemic on offense and that leaves any simple mistake on defense as a point costing one. The injury report for RSL has both Yura and Joao listed as questionable, but we may see the return of Javier Morales, so the task of beating league leaders FC Dallas gets even more difficult.
While the loss to Houston was the first home loss of the season, RSL’s 8 home wins is tied for the lowest number of home wins of any Western Conference team that is above the red line at this point of the season, tied with LA. FC Dallas has a conference leading 5 road wins to go with their 10-1-4 home record and are the only team heading into Saturday to have secured a playoff spot already. So can RSL derail their goal to win the supporters’ shield?
To win this one, RSL will need to score first, FCD is 12-0-2 when they score first and just 3-8-4 when they allow the first goal. The FCD defense isn’t much better than RSL’s, they have 39 goals allowed vs RSL’s 42, and even their offense isn’t a lot better with 47 goals scored to RSL’s 42. When Dallas is good, they are really good, in 17 of their matches they have scored 2 or more goals, which when combined with 9 clean sheets explains why their record is so good. RSL has scored 2 or more goals 15 times, but with just 4 clean sheet it has been hard to get wins instead of draws. That goes a long way to explain why FCD has 3 more wins and 2 fewer loses than RSL. What will the keys be on Saturday? Read more
It is often repeated but nothing can be more straight forward for RSL, the easiest and most direct path to CONCACAF is to win the US Open Cup. RSL will again start a bid to win the USOC on Tuesday night as they host the USL side Wilmington Hammerheads.
No matter what lineup RSL puts out for the match people will ask questions, should we rest starters with a big match with Portland on Saturday, or with 12 days off should all players be ready to go? I would like to see RSL go with as many starters as possible, with almost two weeks off making sure players are sharp and ready for a very busy couple months with 11 matches before the end of July. That busy schedule could be why Jeff Cassar goes with a mixed lineup to get some of the bench guys minutes as it is likely they will be needed to fill in during the busy schedule.
Wilmington brings in a team that has struggled in USL action with just 16 points in 12 matches, their top scorer is Bruno Peone, which is a bit odd given he is listed as a defender. They are a balanced team with 15 goals scored and 13 goals allowed for a plus 2 goal differential. RSL is sitting with a similar +2 goal differential with 23 goals scored and 21 allowed in their 13 MLS matches.
With the turf coming up at Rio Tinto after Saturday’s match RSL will look to rebound from their loss at LA with a win over Houston. The biggest question is what Houston team will they face, the team that scored 11 goals in their first 3 matches, or the one who has scored just 2 in their last 4? The one thing in common that both RSL and Houston have is that they both were recently spanked by the Galaxy (the best team in MLS the last few weeks).
So RSL will need to find a way to quickly put last weekend out of their minds and focus on getting the full 3 points against Houston before they head out on the road. They will do so without Plata, could be without Burrito, and have a Javi and Sunny that are still working their way back to full fitness, and facing a team that has looked to play more conservatively than they did at the start of the season. After being thrashed at home by the Galaxy, they went on the road at Columbus and played a much more defensive style and while they still ended up on the losing end of the match, they did play much better. I expect against a RSL team that has scored goals in every match, that once again on the road Houston will be looking to play defensively and hope to counter or take advantage of any RSL mistakes. While they picked up a red card early in the match against Columbus, it was back up keeper Tyler Deric who saw red and was replaced by their regular starter (so far this season) Joe Willis.
So one area of focus all year in MLS matches has been the officials, and it has been for good reason as many strange calls have been made or not made so far this year. Nima Saghafi will be the ref in charge of the match, it will be just his MLS match as the main official. In his previous match there was a red card and two PK’s given, the red card looked very legit but the PK’s had a bit more question about them. We will see how this new official handles the match on Saturday.
I am going to start with a personal rant, if you saw my tweets during the Capital One Cup final you know I am not a fan of cutesy PK attempts, that includes exaggerated stutter steps. Javi has made it work for him more often than not but I have never been a fan of it and tonight it bite RSL in the ass in a moment when a goal was needed most.
OK, with that out of the way. Wow, that was a hell of a match for RSL, a bit of a slow start but soon RSL put their foot on the gas and applied great high pressure causing all kinds of confusion for Tigres and especially for their keeper who seemed on the edge of a nervous breakdown until stoppage time. It was clear that RSL frustrated Tigres in the first half of the match, the insanely high line at times, great pressure on the ball, and players showing no fear of the Liga MX side. While there were mistakes made, none were costly until there was nothing left on the clock and desperation forced RSL to play to either score a goal or give one up, and unfortunately they gave one up.
I am going to start at the back and work my way forward with my thoughts on the individual performances tonight.
So I have to start this by saying I had a great time in Tucson, the weather and people were awesome there. It provided me a good chance to see RSL in action a couple times, Wednesday 3-3 draw with New England, Friday practice session, Saturday AM 4-0 in a 45 minute scrimmage vs FC Tucson, and the 1-1 draw against Columbus Saturday night. It also allowed me to get my new camera set up correctly and ready for the season, which is a very good thing.
Saturday evening was an interesting match as RSL went with almost a complete lineup of “2nd string” guys, and while that might sound like an insult, it sure isn’t meant that way. With the CCL match at Tigres coming up the choice to rest the likely starters on Saturday night seems like a natural move and it was the right thing to do. So instead we got to see some of the future guys for RSL go head to head for 60 minutes with the likely starting roster for the Columbus Crew who were the team who represented the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup in December.
So here is what your starting lineup looked like:
Boyd Okuwonu – Phanuel Kavita – Justen Glad- Chris Wingert
John Stertzer – Danilo Acosta – Jordan Allen
Emery Welshman – Olmes Garcia – Devon Sandoval
So Let me start this by explaining that while I understand there were huge issues with the online stream of this match, first know that had nothing to do with the RSL front office or media team they were not in charge of any of the technical side of the feed. Second know issues were had on the feed of the Colorado match as well, and there was no feed of the SKC vs Crew match. Finally for all of you who watched the second half via my periscope, thanks that was kinda fun. If you want to check that out, it is here.
I expect the lineup we saw in this match is what the team is expecting to go with in the first leg of the CCL series with Tigres:
Rimando, Beltran, Olave, Maund, Phillips, Beckerman, Sunny, Morales, Plata, Movsisyan, Martinez
That is depending on injuries, based on what I saw last night both Luke Mulholland and Chris Wingert on the bench in non-uniform outfits and neither took part in warmups. I expect we will see a much more second team based lineup on Saturday knowing that the team will then travel to Monterrey in front of their match next Wednesday.
So we are 40 days from RSL’s first action of the year, their Feb 24th Champions League match at Tigres. So with the first 2 rounds of the MLS draft done, lets take an updated look at the RSL roster as it sits:
Goalkeeper – The position RSL has the best depth has to be keeper
- Nick Rimando – RSL keeps one of the best keepers in MLS history in goal and should the defense in front of him improve from last year we should see another great year from Nick.
- Jeff Attinella – I expect there are probably a few teams who would be happy to have Jeff as their number one keeper, so RSL is lucky to have him as our number two. When called on, Jeff has provided a very solid replacement for Nick and with the season starting so soon, I expect Jeff will see plenty of action in 2016.
- Lalo Fernandez – The academy project spent most of 2015 with the Monarchs with 18 appearances, I expect those minutes will probably be similar in 2016 as he continues to progress as a keeper. Holding onto him as his development continues will be a challenge for RSL.
I think RSL probably has the best or one of the top 2 or 3 keeper combos in all of MLS, this is an area of real strength heading into 2016.
Forwards – To say that the pressure is on RSL to get more productivity out of their forwards has to be the biggest understatement of the 2016 preseason.
- Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez – While he was only with the club for a few months in 2015, I think all fans are excited by what we believe he will be able to provide. Clearly a player to watch in 2016 in MLS not just RSL.
- Joao Plata – Injuries ruined what should have been a huge year for Joao, who exploded to new levels in 2014 with 13 goals. He had just 4 goals in 19 appearances, now with more time to gain fitness and sharpness we should expect a return to his 2014 style and productivity.
While the Rocky Mountain Cup was once the trophy for what was at one time one of the top rivalries in the league, years of dominance by Real Salt Lake, 7 of the last 8 years won by RSL, have made it less important to some fans (me included). This year the 3 matches with the Rapids will be huge, not because of the RMC, but rather for the 9 points that could make the difference of making the playoffs or not. If you look at the Western Conference standings today, you will see that the Rapids are at the very bottom with just 13 points from 13 matches and just above them are RSL with 17 points from 14 matches. Neither side can be happy with these results, neither second year coach looks very comfortable with how the season is going.
A single win won’t put either side back into the playoff picture, but 3 points would at least get things moving in the right direction. With just 4 losses on the season the Rapids have fewer losses than RSL, but their two wins are also fewer than RSL. Both sides are coming off back to back losses and it isn’t the first time this season for both sides to have to deal with that.
Traditionally RSL has been one of the most solid defensive squads in MLS, but this year mistakes have cost matches, and 18 goals allowed the 1.29 GAA is one of the worst in team history (2008 we gave up 1.3 GAA) compared to 2010 season when we gave up just 20 goals all season. Life on the other side of the ball is just as troubling with just 13 goals scored in 14 matches and 6 times RSL being held without a goal. Our 0.93 goals scored per match is lower than any season average, even our 2005 season ended with a 0.94 average. So it is little wonder that many RSL fans are scratching their heads, we were told about this new more dynamic formation that would solve the woes of last years playoff performance against the Galaxy but as we near the halfway point of the MLS season, there is very little proof in the pudding.
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.
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.