Tag Archive for Robbie Findley

Real Salt Lake vs Toronto FC – Despite missing stars a critical match for both teams

Perhaps no two established teams in MLS have more questions being asked of them this season than RSL and TFC, can RSL in the 2nd year of Jeff Cassars leadership continue to be a dominant force in the West?  Can RSL make the transition to the 4-3-3 work?  For TFC can they make the playoffs?  Will another year with huge signings and what is likely to be the highest payroll in MLS result in success or will the oft chaos in the organizations leadership lead them to the rocky shore yet again?

It is hard to believe that both of these teams are heading into just their 3rd match of the season but have so very much at stake, it is ridiculous that this match is being played this weekend at all.  See both teams had a bye week last week when both teams had full rosters, but no we get a match missing several key players on both side.  For RSL there will be no Nick Rimando, no Alvaro Saborio, no Luis Gil, and no Elias Vasquez, and for TFC there will be no Jozy Altidore, no Michael Bradley, no Marky Delgado, no Quillan Roberts, and no Chris Mannella, all on national team call ups.  Then add in the injuries to Joao Plata, and Pecka on the RSL side, and Steven Caldwell, Mark Bloom, Eriq Zavaleta, on the TFC side which will also deal with the suspension of Justin Morrow.  The reality is this match will be played with 11 combined likely starters missing between the two squads, and that is never a good thing and probably has the folks at Fox scratching their heads as this is their prestige national TV match for the weekend.

Still the match is going to be played, and the match is a hugely important one for both sides, as RSL are looking for their first win of the season after a pair of draws in their first two matches of the season.  Toronto will be looking to figure out which team they really are, the one that dominated in their opening match a 3-1 win over a improved Vancouver side or the one that got handled 2-0 at Columbus?

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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 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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The top Real Salt Lake moments of 2013, the year of “almost”

So it is the time of year when most blogger/pundits/reporters put together their light of the highlights and lowlights of the past year, so it seemed only fitting that I take a look back at what was a very interesting year for Real Salt Lake.  I started out wanting to look at the 5 best things and the 5 worse things of the year and found that the two lists were very similar and often the events were very intertwined with each other.  For how long the MLS season is, just under 11 months, it was couple weeks that provided a lot of the material for my lists.  Anyhow, here we go:

The Top 5 highlights of the 2013 RSL season

5. US Open Cup run – it seemed as if RSL had destiny on their side as each and every coin flip by US Soccer gave home field advantage to RSL and despite questionable starts in several of the matches RSL was able to advance to the Open Cup final, a level they had never reached before in the tournament. It was in the Open Cup run that we got to see Devon Sandoval really step out of the shadows of being a rookie and show his potential, something that would benefit RSL for the rest of the season.   It was also great to see RSL pull in over 10,000 fans to each of their US Open Cup matches, in fact over the 5 matches RSL averaged over 14,000 fans, showing that a serious run at the USOC actually was important to both the club and the fans.  In almost every match played RSL put out a lineup that featured most of their top players another indication of how the club viewed the importance of the tournament, I hope that we see this same level of commitment in years to come.

4. Extra time win over the LA Galaxy in playoffs – Over the years I think this has become one of the best “non-rivalries” in MLS, from the style of play on the pitch to the way the clubs are run there really aren’t two clubs as polar opposites in the league.  So a highlight of the year has to be eliminating the Galaxy from the playoffs, and to do so in a match where some questionable calls again seemed to be strongly against RSL (hint this match should have ended in regulation time) just put a smile on the faces of all the RSL fans in the stands for that match.  I thought it was interesting how much attention had been given to the combo of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane leading up to the series and how after it the talk was all about the duo of RSL centerbacks Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler.

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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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Real Salt Lake find victory over the LA Galaxy and something more

Rio Tinto Stadium has always provided a good home for RSL, while not every match sells out the team draws a good crowd no matter the conditions or opponent being played.  Since the team moved to their home stadium, the club has never really suffered from a bad season, they have made the playoffs every year since the move.  That is 6 straight seasons for those of you counting, the longest streak in Major League Soccer, and getting close to the league record.  Four times in those 6 seasons RSL has made it to a conference final and on Sunday they will start their bid to play in and win their second MLS Cup title, which is a very good record for a team not even 10 years old yet.  On Thursday night, something interesting happened at Rio Tinto, something that has happened a couple times before but not nearly as often as some of us would like.  The crowd and team both seemed in sync with an energy level and passion that is rare in sports, that combined desire to help the other in whatever way possible.  You could see it in the eyes of the players on the first couple attempts on goal that went unsuccessful, you could hear from the fans in the stands who were perhaps as loud as I have ever heard them (despite it not being a sellout crowd), it kept building all night.  Sometimes it was positive and passionate, like the Seba goal and a few times not so positive, like the wrongly called off goal (even if you want to call Borchers offside, it was passive at best), but it was loud for the vast majority of the match and at points louder than I ever remember it being in the past.

The end result was a very entertaining 2-0 RSL win, or pair of wins.  It is hard enough to beat the Galaxy in an elimination match but last night RSL had to do it twice as Toledo made a mystery call on what should have been a Javier Morales goal that would have ended the match in regulation.  Instead RSL was forced to play 30 additional minutes and get another goal to end up with the deserved result, and while some may say it all comes out in the end, we saw Alvaro Saborio pick up an injury in that extra time, and had a majority of our players forced to play 30 minutes more with their next match just 3 days away.  We may never know what really happened on that call, or what impact the extra 30 minutes will have on RSL as they host the Timbers on Saturday, I do know my heartbeat was faster in those extra 30 minutes than it probably should have been.

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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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Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly III

If there has been a bigger MLS regular season match this season than the Friday night showdown between RSL and Seattle, please tell me what it is.  Real Salt Lake has been holding on to first place in both the Western Conference and overall MLS table for a couple months, the Sounders are the hottest team in MLS, so when they meet for the final time of the regular season with a possible swing of 6 points on the line, well expect a very intense match.

Of course every time these two teams meet it tends to be intense, only 2 of the 11 regular season matches have been decided by more than a single goal (a 2-0 Seattle win in March 2009, and RSL’s 2-0 win in June of this year), there have been 3 0-0 draws in the regular season series that sees RSL hold a 5-2-4 advantage and even a 2-1-2 edge in Seattle. The Sounders have 7 wins in their last 10 matches and 4 straight wins and have clawed their way into second place in the West, RSL had a rough July but went 3-1-2 in August to and have scored multiple goals in their last 4 matches.

The Good:

Kyle Beckerman – I always get a good laugh out of MLS fans who seem to have a strict love/hate relationship with Kyle, it is the same at the USMNT level. I get it, he plays hard, he is always in the middle of the action, and if your team is playing against him you will likely resort to making fun of his hair.  Why, because you can find so few flaws in his game, if he is called on to be the guy who breaks up plays in the midfield before they can develop, he does it, if he is called on to be more offensive minded, he can do that too.  No matter what the coach asks of him, he can do it.  Yes he does have a +10 when it comes to fouls committed vs fouls suffered, but surprisingly he has only been whistled for 24 fouls all season.  Off the pitch he is a laid back, mellow guy, soft spoken and great with fans, but when he steps on the pitch he is a warrior pure and simple.  I remember hating him when he was with the Rapids, that is the kind of player he is, you hate him when he is playing against your team, but when he is on your side, you can’t help but love him.

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Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly III – Match Preview

How the West will be won, step one beat the Timbers, for Real Salt Lake it is simple, win and then win some more.  The Western Conference is tight and with all of our remaining MLS matches against teams in the Western Conference, well the easiest way to stay ahead of everyone is to “just win baby”.   As I looked at records (home and away) of the top teams in MLS it looks as if everyone finishes off the season the same way they have played to this point, well RSL should be sitting pretty at the end of it all, but things rarely go the way you would expect.  So if RSL can pick up all 12 points at home, it would go a long way towards securing that top spot.

First up is a foe that now is very familiar to RSL, the Portland Timbers, who like RSL haven’t exactly been cruising to victories the last month or so.  Portland has just two victories in their 8 matches since July 7th, while RSL has 3 wins in their 9 matches since July 3rd, RSL however is building off a comeback 3-3 draw at Portland just 9 days ago and a huge 4-0 win at home over the Crew last weekend.  The Timbers blew a late lead against RSL and then fought bravely but lost 1-0 at Seattle last weekend.

For RSL this year it has been the late goal that has been one of the keys, with 12 goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half of matches, and 19 in the final 15 minutes of the second half, 31 of our 48 goals scored come near the whistle.  Against the Timbers we saw a late RSL goal earn the draw in Portland but the Timbers have only given up 6 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches all season (RSL has given up 14), their most vulnerable time is the start of the second half, where they have given up 11 goals in minutes 46-60.  One thing is for sure I don’t think this one will end without at least a couple of goals being scored, as both sides a hungry for points.

The Good:

Nick Rimando – I think at this point of the season we can all be fairly honest with each other, without Nick both in goal and as a team leader, we probably would be one of those teams fighting to get into a playoff position rather than leading the conference.   It was great for everyone to get to see Nick with the USMNT as it allowed him to showcase what us RSL fans have known for years, he simply is the best keeper week in and week out in MLS.   He is putting up another career year in MLS with a 0.95 GAA, 8 shutouts and 12 wins.  When Nick finally decides to hang up his boots and gloves I believe that he will hold so many goal keeping records in MLS that maybe then people will appreciate him for the qualities he brings to the pitch, I know that fans in Salt Lake and DC already know that Nick is simply clutch.

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