Archive | June 2012

What’s going wrong for RSL?

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Photo Credit:  Taylor Fugate (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

It’s time to point fingers.  It’s time to figure out exactly what’s going wrong for our troubled Real Salt Lake. After losing three straight matches at home in all competitions, what can fans expect?  Real seems to have fallen into a very unpredictable funk.  Look at their last four games: 1-3 loss to MN Stars, 3-0 smashing at Chivas, 3-2 giveaway to LA, 1-2 drop to San Jose.  Honestly, I can compare our play to that of an expansion team.  We’re losing frequently, disappointing fans, having random confidence boosts with unpredictable victories.

Fortunately, it hasn’t been this way all season, but signs have been hinting in this direction for quite some time.  Real has a lot more inexperienced players this season and that may have influence over the naivety of the club’s on-field performance.  But that isn’t all.  Here’s my list of what’s going on.

The team is not playing defense as a team.  

One of the biggest parts of the RSL Way is that EVERYONE plays defense.  It starts with the forwards and ends with Nick Rimando between the uprights.  At the beginning of the season, this really wasn’t an issue, but as confidence has grown players don’t feel the urgent need to get back on the defensive side of the ball.  Forwards haven’t been doing awful, in fact, they’ve been pressuring the opponent’s back line quite well as of late.  I believe the issue in defending can be found in our midfield and outside back positions.  The outside backs have been encouraged to attack up the flanks and for a good reason, thanks to them the claret and cobalt have created several goals.  But they need to track back more than any other player on the whole team.  Throughout the last several matches, there have been gaping holes on the wings that the opposition have exploited on the counter-attack.  Look at the last two goals Los Angelas put in on us! It seemed like it was the Galaxy counter against our lonesome centerbacks!  The rest of the members of the RSL squad got caught watching the turn of events from midfield.

Nick Rimando is playing slightly tentative.

Yes, I know.  It’s surprising isn’t it?  I’ve never seen Nick come out so hesitant in a game.  Against San Jose, he and Nat Borchers miscommunicated which caused Rimando to stutter his approach to the ball and consequentially get caught in no-man’s-land between the ball and the open net.  Then you’ve got the goal the Galaxy scored in which Rimando came sprinting off his line way early and was beat quite easily by the LA attacker on the edge of the box.  This is almost definitely just a stutter in his usually good form.  Let’s hope it gets fixed sooner rather than later.

High expectations are overwhelming for RSL.

Real Salt Lake has quite a history of being overwhelmed by high expectations.  It seems that every time the stadium is at capacity, the team falls apart on the pitch.  You’ve got the CCL final last season that RSL dropped at home, then you have the situation in which Real is cruising at the top of the standings, more and more fans are attending matches, and they choke at the RioT, in front of everyone.  It’s a sad statistic for any fan.  The world’s best teams can win games on the big stage with big expectations on the line.

There is no confidence booster.

This is an interesting one.  It really hasn’t been an issue until lately.  A good example of it was the LA game.  Real was up 2-0 and cruising.  I for one expected RSL to hand the Galaxy a beating for the second year in a row at Rio Tinto.  The Tony Beltran made a mistake that handed LA a goal.  No big deal.  It was a fluke and Real still had a goal advantage.  Then LA took advantage of another mistake.  This time, the heads of every RSL player hung in disappointment and shock.  They didn’t pump themselves up and look to go for goal.  The level of their play consequently fell and Los Angelas found the back of the net completing the come-from-behind upset.  Real need to rediscover the fire in their eye that was present in games earlier this season against Portland and Toronto FC where they were able to pull out big time results with the odds stacked against them.

So there you have it.  This has been my bleak analysis on Real Salt Lake’s form.  Up next is how RSL and its fans alike are going to find a way out of the current situation.

WE BELIEVE IN RSL!!!

RSL vs SJ

Real drops another big match at home to the Earthquakes

RSL vs LA 6/21/12

RSL drops a two goal lead in loss to LA

Preview: RSL prepares for major tilt against LA

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Photo Credit:  smackdowntay (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

I’m back again after a week long vacation and I’ve come with a bad case of RSL fever!  Real completed probably its best full performance of the season last week with an incredibly solid 3-0 win against Chivas USA on the road.  Real has had bigger wins in bigger games, but that was the most complete for sure.  Salt Lake dominated possession and scoring opportunities and kept a clean sheet.  Now how does one build on that?

Real Salt Lake have a chance to really dominate tonight with a full-strength squad if they can string together a complete performance with 90 minutes of soccer the RSL Way.  The stars are starting to realign in Real’s favor as big players are making their way back from surgery and other players are really getting their game on.

Will Johnson is an epic example of a player priming at the right time.  His fantastic work rate has really shown throughout all 90 minutes of the last several games and it was really nice to see him cap off his outstanding showing against Chivas with a well deserved first goal of the season.  Will is no doubt one of the scrappiest players in the league if not the scrappiest.  His work rate is outstanding.  He will chase every ball down the field and throw his body in the way of the ball and opponents in order to shut down a cross or impede on an opponent’s progress down the flanks.

Another player priming right now is forward Alvaro Saborio.  The guys been scoring a lot lately and it was disappointing to see his ONSIDES goal called off during Real’s last game.  The guy just scored a hat-trick for Costa Rica against Guyana a few weeks ago.  His ability to make perfect runs through the center of the box has been on show lately and hopefully will continue tonight against the Galaxy.

Returning we have Javi Morales.  Javier’s been an interesting player this season.  I believe he’s yet to last an entire match.  However, his presence if nothing else is a big confidence booster.  He made an immediate impact earlier this season in Los Angelas when he came into the game and scored a goal with one of his first touches.  Since then though it seems as if he’s been holding back.  Tonight’s as good a night as any to have a standout performance.  The RioT’s already been sold out for about a week.  Hopefully Javi can have the kind of game he had against LA last year at home.  He created the first three goals en route to a convincing 4-1 smashing.  He’s set to start tonight!  May the force be with him.

Now you’ve got our much hated opponent, the LA Galaxy.  Their season has been terrible so far.  They struggle defensively.  Our fans hate them.  Our players seem to play very well against them.  So what’s to fear?  First off, the Galaxy just got their first win in a LONG time against the Portland Timbers.  They’re feeling pretty good about themselves at the moment.  Also, LA doesn’t like Real Salt Lake at all.  The two have become bitter rivals since the 2009 MLS Cup final that Real eventually won in a penalty shoot-out.

That’s all for the preview folks!  Enjoy the game!

LET’S GO RSL!!!

RSL vs CHV

Real rolls out a dominating 3-0 road victory thanks to a Fabian Espindola brace.

The CONCACAF Champions League draw

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Photo Credit:  smackdowntay (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

So CONCACAF just released the changes in the tournament format.  The changes all have to do with the anticipated draw and the group stage.

The biggest change is this:  Groups consist of only three teams instead of 4 and only the top team advances.  Also, CONCACAF went through a whole lot to ensure there will be no group of death and that all the best teams will advance to the knockout stages.  They do this by right off the bat not allowing US and Mexican teams to be in the same group.  Also, two other teams from the same country cannot be in the same group with the exception of the small club, CD FAS, who qualified on a wild card.

To even up the power between the groups, CONCACAF have divided all the qualifying teams into three tiers called pots.  Pot 1 consists of the highest ranked teams coming into the competition.  Pot 2 of the second best teams and Pot 3 includes the teams that, frankly, no one really expects to advance.  Real Salt Lake is included in Pot 2.  There will be one team drawn from each pot to form a group.  It’s pretty simple.  Here’s the pots:

POT1

Tigres (Mexico)

Santos (Mexico)

LA Galaxy (USA)

Seattle Sounders FC (USA)

Olimpia (Honduras)

Herediano (Costa Rica)

Xelaju (Guatemala)

Chorillo (Panama)

POT 2

Toronto FC (Canada)

Isidro Metapan (El Salvador)

Marathon (Honduras)

Alajeslense (Costa Rica)

Chivas de Guadalajara (Mexico)

Monterrey (Mexico)

Houston Dynamo (USA)

Real Salt Lake (USA)

POT 3

TBD (Caribbean Qualifier)

TBD (Caribbean Qualifier)

TBD (Caribbean Qualifier)

CD FAS (El Salvador)

Aguila (El Salvador)

Municipal (Guatemala)

Tauro FC (Panama)

Real Esteli (Nicaragua)

So when it comes down to the draw, due to the rule against US and Mexican teams being in the same group, Real can only draw one of four Pot 1 teams:  Olimpia, Herediano, Xelaju, and Chorillo.  Xelaju and Chorillo haven’t been in the CCL for the past several years and I regret to say I don’t know much about them aside from the fact that they must be pretty stellar teams to win a respective spot in Pot 1 of the Champions League draw.  However, Olimpia and Herediano have been the the tournament during the last several years.  Both are pretty strong teams.  I remember Olimpia having more success and making a run into the knockout stages.

That leaves Pot 3.  Real can draw any team from that pot because none of them are Mexican or American clubs.  I was surprised to see CCL mainstays Municipal and Tauro FC in Pot 3.  Those teams have been pretty strong over the last few seasons.  They could be on the downfall, but the’re both very strong teams.  Aside from those two, Real just faces the chance of a trap game against smaller opponents they should be able to handily defeat.

Whoever RSL is drawn with for the CONCACAF Champions League may very well set the tone for the tournament.  I can only hope for good luck and more importantly good play in the Champions League.

GO REAL!!!

Back to basics for the claret and cobalt

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Photo Credit: smackdowntay (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

“For us, coming off a performance that we had in our last match, it is important for us to remind the group, ourselves included, of what we are about and how we have success.  For me, that starts with long, hard practices.”

Above is a recent quote from RSL head coach Jason Kries.  It reminds players, staff, and fans alike, that hard work is the trademark of Real Salt Lake soccer.

Real hasn’t truly played its natural free-flowing style with quick interchanges with the ball between several players in tight spaces, attack from the wings, or all of its high ambitions this year.  But regardless, they’ve been winning games.  Lots of them haven’t been pretty.  In fact, many of them were pretty ugly.  That’s why getting down to the fundamentals in this two week break is exactly what the doctor ordered.

A lot of things quite possibly could have attributed to Real not playing their beautiful soccer that they’ve been so well known for over the last couple of MLS seasons.  First off is the retirement of Andy Williams (Who I think deserves to have his number 77 retired).  He was spectacular for Salt Lake when it came down to working through small spaces packed with opposing players.  His crafty footwork enabled him to weave in and out and pass through defender’s legs.  Javi Morales has been missed quite a bit this season too.  Yes, he’s played, but not to his full potential.  He’s done well, and it’s great to see him coming back to full form.  I still believe he can become one of MLS’ greats one day.  He should be coming off his injury soon.  It’ll be great to have him back.

Aside from missing some key players, the only thing that’s changed to not allow the complete RSL Way to come into the effect is the integration of so many new players.  There hasn’t been this much of an overhaul for Real since 2008 or 2009, so one should expect things to take some time to settle down.

That’s what this window of training is for.  All of the players expected to make an impact this season have tasted the RSL flavor of soccer and will be wanting more.  Now is when the fundamentals that put the emphasis on team mottoes like “The Team is the Star” and “Fortune Favors the Bold” are pounded into the claret and cobalt clad athletes.

I for one expect Real to come out of this two week break brimming with confidence and booming with excitement to play their way.  I can only feverishly wait for our away fixture at Chivas USA.

(Oh yes, and don’t forget to give the Claretpapers a follow on Twitter and a like on Facebook!)

RSL 4 LIFE!!!

Real Salt Lake’s internationals

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Photo Credit: smackdowntay (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

Several years ago, this article could never exist.  Real didn’t have players of the caliber of today’s squad.  We had some of the same players, but they hadn’t reached the national team level that they’re at today.

Over the past two years or so, many Real players have stepped into the international spotlight.  Some were brief stints, other players have had their stays extended.

Real Salt Lake is represented well on the US Men’s National team, especially compared to other MLS teams.  Youngster Luis Gil has become one of the shoe-in starters for the younger teams and is expected to blossom into a star for the United States.

On the senior team, Real’s got Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando that are called up for international duty for most fixtures featuring USA.  Since being brought back into the mix of players for the USMNT about two years ago, Kyle Beckerman has moved up the ranks and made his mark.  US Coach Jurgen Klinnsman is quite the fan of Kyle.  Since taking over as coach, our captain has enjoyed a lot more time commanding the US ranks from the central midfield position.  Kyle hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite on the national team.  Not all fans think he’s good enough to be playing at that level.  But Klinnsman obviously thinks Beckerman’s the right man for the job.  He said that Kyle is able to fill in the “number 6” position very effectively.  In other words, he’s able to shut down the opponents attack and distribute the ball out to the wings.  Kyle hasn’t gotten as much time lately as other players have stepped their game up.  But Kyle Beckerman also has his RSL business to deal with while the Americans abroad can put all their focus on their national team.

RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando has done well for the US national team.  He came into the player pool not long after Beckerman started representing the United States.  Rimando started in several friendlies and did quite well in net.  His time as a starter was rather temporary as Tim Howard, the regular starter, slipped right back into his place between the posts.  Since then, Nick has served as a strong back-up for the United States.

Unknown to many fans was the fact that Nat Borchers (Yes, our White Rhino) had some minutes for the US national team.  He played in the same games that Nick Rimando was starting in.  He didn’t make any earth-shattering mistakes or anything like that.  On the contrary, he played quite well if I remember correctly.  However, Nat hasn’t been called up to national duty since.

Real Salt Lake also features the likes of other players that represent their various nations at the international level.  You’ve got Will Johnson for Canada and Alvaro Saborio suiting up for Costa Rica.  Yordany Alvarez played for Cuba before he defected to the United States.  (See more on that story on the Player Profile I did on Alvarez!)  I seriously doubt he’ll ever play for them again.

Will Johnson has been a regular for the Canadian national team for quite a while now.  But he hasn’t played the roles that we RSL supporters are accustomed to.  He actually played up top as a forward for them around the time he came to Real Salt Lake.  I believe he’s shifted back into the midfield, but don’t hold me to that one.  He’ll be playing against the US national team and fellow RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman tomorrow when the two nations square off for a World Cup Qualifier match.

Alvaro Saborio is a regular for the Costa Rican national team.  He’s represented his nation plenty of times and sent plenty of goals into the back of the net.  He used to be a fan favorite.  That all changed after the poor guy went through some seriously tough times.  He was with one of his friends and Costa Rica teammates when his friend died.  On that same outing with his national team he missed several clear-cut chances including a PK.  He wasn’t called up for the next string of international friendlies.  However, since then he has come back to his old form and the fans of Costa Rica are warming back up to him.

Don’t by any means expect this to be the end.  I can promise you that more and more RSL players will be moving into their respective national player pools in the coming years.  As Salt Lake gets better and better, its players will get noticed.

If you’ve got the time, check out the USA vs Canada match tomorrow!  It should be a cracker!  (And Canada will be debuting some really fresh-looking new uniforms!)

GO REAL SALT LAKE!!!