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Was Paulo’s short-term loan just what the doctor ordered?

Photo Credit: smackdowntay (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

When Paulo Araujo Jr. was first signed by Real Salt Lake over a year ago, he made an immediate impact for the club.  His first appearance was made at Rio Tinto Stadium during a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match against fellow MLS team Toronto FC.  He was subbed in late in the match with everything to prove.  He scored a goal minutes after coming on to complete a 4-1 thumping of Toronto.

The blooming forward was pretty unknown to RSL fans upon being brought in on loan by the Salt Lake side from the second tier of North American soccer.  He was supposedly a good forward capable of scoring in the second division.  Would that all-star success translate to his MLS play?  The answer: Yes!

His fantastic form continued into the next season, 2011.  During Real’s home opener against budding rivals LA Galaxy, Paulo was able to draw and PK that was scored by Javier Morales and score a goal in another 4-1 scoreline.  At this point the forward’s last name had unofficially been changed from Araujo to Junior by endearing fans.  The speedy youngster was everything a fan could ask for.  He was a lightning quick forward with a keen talent of making back-post runs and finishing.  The young forward had everything going for him.  He was always the obvious choice as the third-string forward behind Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola.

Everything changed for Paulo after being injured for a big part of the 2011 season and never truly coming back to full form.  His speed had been lost and he didn’t play as quickly or with enough urgency to really shine in the RSL XI.

Throughout the beginning of this season, the Brazilian native continued to struggle as he had during most of the 2011 season.  He scored one goal on penalty kick against brand new expansion side Montreal.  After several more months that must have been quite frustrating for Paulo Junior he was given news that he was to be loaned back out to the second division.  This was an alert of sorts for Paulo.  Almost a threat.  This was his last chance.  If he did well on the short-term loan, learned his lesson, and made an impact on Real Salt Lake similar to the one he made upon his first arrival, he would stay and earn some minutes.  If he didn’t, we wouldn’t be seeing him in claret and cobalt much longer.

Paulo’s first match back from the loan spell was just yesterday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Leading up to the game head coach Jason Kreis said that he’d been very impressed with Junior’s performance since returning to Salt Lake City.  I am almost positive that nearly every Real fan let out an enormous sigh of relief at the moment that Paulo Jr. pulled a crafty move to round a Whitecaps defender and then sent in a lethal cross that landed right on the head of Nat Borchers, who directed the ball down into the back corner of the netting.  It was Paulo Junior’s first assist of the season.  Hopefully his short and promising performance shows that Paulo is really back for good.  I can only feverishly hope that this assist of his ramps up to his production of more goals and assists later this season!  If Paulo Jr. continues to perform and improve he could regain his title as one of the most exciting forwards to watch in MLS!

Good luck Paulo!!!

FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD

-Ben Anderson

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Kwame Watson-Siriboe shines in RSL defense

Photo Credit: smackdowntay (smackdowntay.blogspot.com)

Kwame Watson-Siriboe.  I doubt any Real Salt Lake fan had even heard the unusual name before the Salt Lake club signed him thanks to assistant coach C.J. Brown’s special relationship with the young player.  He was drafted by the Chicago Fire several years ago.  Kwame hardly got any minutes of playing time in his first three seasons in MLS.  It was a rough start in professional soccer for Watson-Siriboe.  Luckily for RSL, C.J. Brown, a former Chicago man himself, took particular interest in the new player from the University of Connecticut.

The young defender grew up in Chino Hills, California.  While playing college soccer for UConn his senior year Kwame earned First Team All-Big East honors.  What went on at Chicago is somewhat of a mystery.  In the Fire’s coaching staff’s eyes, he must have been a player just waiting to make a breakthrough.  He was always good enough to stay on the roster, but never quite ready to really make the jump to the first team.  Either Chicago’s coaching staff was flat-out wrong, or being brought to Real Salt Lake was what it took for Kwame Watson-Siriboe to make the breakthrough that he’s waited for his whole career.

The ex-Chicago player chose to take on the number three on the back of his claret and cobalt jersey.  Whether he knew it or not, that number formerly belonged to Real defender Robbie Russel, who played a major part in the club’s history.  His conversion of his penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup gave Real Salt Lake the star above their crest.  The legacy could continue as Kwame finds his way deeper into the roots of the club’s system.  It’s really quite amazing the way he has been able to meld with the squad so quickly.  The RSL Way seems almost second nature to Watson-Siriboe.  He understands the role of a centerback clad in the Claret and Cobalt of Real Salt Lake.  He has a strong presence.  He’s solid, doesn’t let anything slip.  If the ball gets past him, the player doesn’t.  If the player gets past him, the ball doesn’t.

This role is especially crucial to fill for the club when looking into the future.  Our two regular centerbacks, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (dubbed “Borlave” by Matthew Montgomery) are aging.  As they age they grow more injury-prone and cost more to keep at the club.  In other words, it is very improbable for both to stay at the club for many more seasons.  Kwame Watson-Siriboe playing in his current form is exactly what RSL is in need of.  A very athletic and capable central defender that understands his role and is able to play it extremely well.

Kwame really showed better than anyone else on the pitch, from both sides, today as Real Salt Lake took on the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Despite how agitated I was as a supporter seeing my team unable to create goals and play beautiful soccer, I couldn’t help but smile upon the spectacular composure and dedication of the new defender.

Real Salt Lake should be proud of their acquisition of the former Chicago defender.  He has the potential to be one of the RSL greats.  I have faith in him and can only hope for the best and wait.

UPWARD AND ONWARD

-Ben Anderson

Real’s new guys stepping in as team carries on

So what are we to expect from a Real Salt Lake side that has fared very well in their last several MLS matches and dropped an important CCL match 1-0 on the road in a game against their rivals that means nothing when it comes to the Rocky Mountain Cup?

Yes, that was a long, complicated question.  Regardless of what people predict, it will be answered tonight.  It’s still up in the air exactly when and for which games Real will be resting starters for, but the organization went out of their way to make several signings to prepare themselves for the upcoming stretch.  Some of those signings need to start stepping up now.

We’ve already seen some of the guys further down the depth chart get their chance at first team action and several have excelled.  Earlier in the season Emi Bonfigli was given an opportunity to show what he could do during the final minutes of a road game in Dallas, where RSL has historically struggled, he was able to step up and slot a shot into the back of the Dallas net to snatch back a point for Real.  Despite his goal, his playing time really didn’t increase for the Claret and Cobalt, he still steps in when he needs to, but that’s usually only for the last several minutes of matches in which the outcome isn’t in any real doubt.  I really believe Emi has real potential and will be a great asset for Real Salt Lake down the stretch, but the coaching staff hasn’t given him much time this season and I wouldn’t expect to see much of him tonight.

Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Kenny Mansally, our newcomers in the defense, have really stepped in well with Real, they were called upon from the moment they signed with Salt Lake.  I’m really not sure how long these two will last at the club.  They could end up becoming mainstays, or they could end up like most RSL mid-season additions and step in to fill injured players’ spots and then be subsequently waived when their spot is reclaimed.  I really hope it’s not the latter.  I’d expect Watson-Siriboe to step into the starting lineup in place of Jamison Olave who picked up an injury in our latest CONCACAF journey to Herediano of Costa Rica.

I do think there will be a change up top tonight given the bad form of Fabian Espindola in the clubs most recent fixture against their CCL foes.  It’s happened before.  Fabi loses his head and needs a little while to cool down, to come back and really be ready to contribute to the team.  I don’t think he’ll feature much tonight, but he might get some minutes.  In his place I think hometown boy Justin Braun will get the starting nod.  He hasn’t had his chance yet with the first team and I’m sure the front office wants to see what he’ll do in a Real Salt Lake jersey.  If he performs well tonight I’d expect him to slip right into the third-choice forward slot.  The slot’s been up for grabs for a while since Paulo Jr. started to lose his form.

Here’s my starting XI:

Rimando

Beltran : Borchers : Watson-Siriboe : Wingert

Johnson : Beckerman : Morales : Grabavoy

Braun : Saborio

GOOOOOOOOOO REAL SALT LAKE!!!

Expectations bringing RSL down?

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

Jason Kreis said it himself, when the stakes are high and everyone’s watching Real Salt Lake seems to fumble and fall.

Humor me as I check out some of the statistics.  Real Salt Lake is dominant at Rio Tinto.  They always have been until lately.  But look at the games in front of record crowds:  Attendance of 20,382 two weeks ago against LA, 3-2 loss;  Attendance of 20,415 against Chivas USA earlier this season, 1-0 loss;  Attendance of 20,463 against Cruz Azul in a very neutral atmosphere with plenty of fans for the Mexican side, 3-1 win;  Attendance of 20,507 in the 2011 season opening victory against the Galaxy, 4-1 win;  Attendance of 20,738 for the CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey, 1-0 loss;  Attendance of 20,762 at the game in which Javi made his return at the end of the 2011 season, 3-0 loss.  What can be said of that?  Four losses out of the six most popular games?  From the team’s view it’s pretty bad.  From the club’s standpoint, it’s awful.  Winning in front of big crowds is what gets you a lot more fans a lot faster.

So why does this happen?

It’s hard to point a finger at one thing in particular.  But if you were to choose the biggest reasons behind Real’s stage fright, you’d have to look at overconfidence and frustration.

Real aren’t a cocky team.  They don’t go around getting themselves in the press for saying things they shouldn’t or talking bad on others or blaming poor games on anything but themselves.  But when Real is playing well and forget to check themselves, they sometimes drop a few bad ones.  Look at the Chivas USA game played at the RioT earlier this season.  Real was coming off of an unseen spectacular start to their season and were coming home heroes.  I don’t think their minds were too worried about a measly Chivas side that had struggled to start off the season.  They played a strange game.  Real Salt Lake was going through the motions, made a mistake, went down a goal and never recovered.

Frustration has been a killer against Real Salt Lake similar to the way it plays against the Men’s US National Team.  They’re cruising along and come to a game in which the world seems to combine against them.  They let in silly goals, and they cannot score for the life of them.  While RSL’s frustration hasn’t reached to the level of the USMNT before the Jurgen Klinsmann era it’s still a major factor.  Take a look at the CCL finale against Monterrey in which Fabian Espindola rushed himself a bit as he squandered an early chance and wasn’t able to play to his full potential for the rest of the game.

So what can you expect from a Real Salt Lake squad on a three game losing skid?  A rebound.

There won’t be as many fans packed into Rio Tinto Stadium, the expectations will be lowered.  Real will be taking on a Seattle squad that has been struggling tremendously as of late.  It puts RSL in a prime position to overcome their opposition and really throw things back together!

GO REAL SALT LAKE!!!

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!!!

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!!!