Well instead of doing a detailed match review I wanted to try something a bit new this time and that involves offering up grades for the Real Salt Lake players who participate in the match. I will be using the same grading curve that I use in my team report cards:
F=Failure to meet Minimum Requirements
Players not in the 18 or who don't get into the match would get an automatic "I".
I am going to start at the back of the lineup and work my way forward:
Nick Rimando - A-
It was standard fare for the best keeper in MLS, face 8 shots but only 2 are on goal and the one that got in was an impressive shot from a defensive lapse that gave a quality striker a chance to score, and he did. Nick made some huge saves on the night, and some that got the crowd fired up as usual, just as we have come to expect from him. So far through two Champions League matches in 2011 his GAA is 0.50 and that helps to earn him a solid A-.
more after the jump:Robbie Russell - A-
The new leaner, and meaner (OK meaner looking) Robbie was impressive against the Crew. He has always been fast but it is clear that he was playing faster last night than I remember from last year, and he also looked much stronger as he muscled a number of Crew players off the ball last night. I was also very happy to see him playing a huge role in the creation of offensive efforts, I think he showed up in more pictures from the match than ever before, which is a sign of how often he was getting forward.
Jamison Olave - B
Not that he did a thing wrong, but it was kinda a quiet night for Mr. Olave, but I think part of that was due to the great efforts of the outside backs and the midfield. He was marked very closely on RSL set pieces, which doesn't surprise me considering how dangerous he was last year. He played very in control and was only called for one foul and was fouled only once. I was impressed with how well he worked with Chris, it looked very smooth for most of the match.
Chris Schuler - A-
So when Jason says that Chris practiced his way into the lineup over the weekend, it is clear that RSL can breathe a bit easier going forward knowing that even the backups to our world class centerbacks are improving and proving they are worthy of first team minutes. I was a bit surprised how dangerous he looked on set pieces both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. For a guy with very limited minutes with the first team, he did very well and thankfully he didn't step on Nick when they both went for the same ball.
Chris Wingert - B+
I have to admit that Chris was as solid as can be on Tuesday night, he got forward in support of the offense and was quick to get back on defense. My only criticism would have to be a comment I overheard someone else make "Chris' haircut makes him look like a 12 yr. old". That being said considering the work rate that RSL put it is great to know that we have our rotation looking great for the MLS season.
Kyle Beckerman - A-
There are matches where Kyle just kinda disappears from view and is still very dangerous and effective, this wasn't one of those nights, he was everywhere, breaking up plays, making passes, and doing what he does better than most in the league. This is why some people think he would be a perfect fit for some EPL clubs (let's hope the extra attention of the Champions League doesn't get teams interesting in our boys). He was exactly what I expect from the team Captain, he was a vocal leader and lead by example. When Kyle does his thing it frees up others to do their things, and that is what happened on Tuesday night.
Will Johnson - B
Will was doing what he does, creating chances (did you see the shot from distance that hit the post?) and slowing down the opposition attacks. While in leg one the entire RSL midfield looked out of sorts, there was no such issue on Tuesday night, as everyone looked much more like what we have grown used to seeing from RSL. I am constantly impressed with how Will can go from the first whistle to the last whistle, without slowing down, when you combine that energy and engine with the talent to attack and defend like he can you end up with one of the best young players in the league today.
Andy Williams - A
I go back to the question in the post match press conference where Jason was asked about the 25 year old wearing number 77, and he replied "you mean the 18 yr. old". Yes it has appeared that Andy has found the fountain of youth, I have watched Andy play live since 2005 and for years before that and when I told a fellow photographer that I have never seen Andy more in shape or motivated, I meant it. He was playing his usual style of creative attacking soccer, with great shots and incredible passes, but that isn't what impresses me since Andy has always had an energy and flair on the ball. No it is the incredible fitness and his defensive work that exceeds my expectations for him, when Andy is on, he makes everyone better, and man was he on Tuesday night, as his goal and 2 assists attest to.
Javier Morales - A
Just like with Andy, when Javi is on it is almost impossible to beat Real Salt Lake and despite some stray passes it was impossible to miss the vision and skill that Javi brought to the pitch on Tuesday night. His two goals and assist were simply the difference between being out of the tournament and making history. I get a bit scared when Javi plays this well in front of an international audience, you have to believe if he is this hot the rest of the tournament that RSL will probably get some phone calls about him (Just Say NO!!). He like Andy makes everyone better when he sees the pitch like he did in this match, and more often than not he was connecting on huge passes and creating space all night long.
Fabian Espindola - B+
Listen I explained in my match preview how I often find myself frustrated with Fabi, but I will give credit where it is due, he worked his butt off on both sides of the ball on Tuesday night and was impressive on both ends. He created some great chances and was working both sides of the pitch, crossing some quality balls into the area, and being dangerous (4 shots and 2 of them on goal). I thought his passing was much better than in a lot of matches and way more timely than normal, he was able to bring defenders to them and then pass or cross the ball giving the Crew fits. My only complaint is that he was too often looking to get a call, and he doesn't need to he is a better player than that, and I hope he stops looking for calls and cards and just plays. He did a much better job in this match of timing his runs and staying onside, which he had issues with in the first leg.
Alvaro Saborio - B
I know that grade is down a bit, but that is how high my expectations are for Sabo, I expect him to step up and score goals, and he did get the first goal on the night and it was a great one. He was also inches away on several other attempts, including some of the best headers I have seen from him in a long time. I thought in the first match that the weather got to him, and caused him to not move as much as normal and that threw everything out of whack a bit. Tuesday, he was back to normal and working hard to be disruptive on the Crew side of the pitch, and it was fun to watch him play. Next up will be his former club and I have to believe it he will have some extra motivation to prove himself against Saprissa.
Paulo Jr. - A-
Every time he gets on the pitch, he is pure electricity. RSL was protecting a 2-1 lead when he came on and in 6 minutes he was making a great pass to Javi to help the team secure the 3-1 lead. What continues to impress me is the energy level, he goes after every ball and looks to create, it was fun to watch him take on multiple Crew defenders and dance with the ball and get away from them. It is hard to make a big impression in limited minutes but Paulo Jr. continues to do that on a regular basis.
Jean Alexandre - B
It is great having Jean being able to come in and add a bit more bite to the midfield, his size and strength are hard to match for anyone and he has continued to develop and I believe he is capable of being a force in the midfield. He is learning the bulldog defensive mentality of Kyle Beckerman, and has a cannon of a foot that is dangerous from anywhere like Andy Williams. I am very glad that the staff at RSL have kept him around.
Ned Grabavoy - B
Again it is hard to make an impression in just a couple minutes, but Ned did exactly what you expect him to do, get the ball and keep the ball. He came in to replace Javi and to be honest it was a great move by Jason to allow Javi to get a round of applause from the crowd, but I like the fact that Ned is always capable of being creative on the ball and he is always willing to fight for the ball.
Jason Kreis - A
You know when you lose two starters to red cards it would normally cramp a coaches style, but not Jason, he knows his team and what everyone is capable of, and his fight for time mentality was shown after everyone including him expected McKenzie to replace Borchers but when Schuler was sharper in weekend practices, he went with the hot hand. Then the move to bring on Andy to provide some more possession and offensive flair at home was perfect as Andy had one of the best matches in recent years. I know how much Jason and the entire staff and team want to prove themselves in this tournament and the decisions made on Tuesday worked out to allow RSL to move on to the Semi-Finals.
Overall Grade - A-
There are only two things that went wrong for RSL, they came out flat in the second half and then a defensive lapse allowed the Crew to get a goal. Other than that it was some very positive play up and down the pitch as RSL showed why so many favored them to win this series, now they will move on and have a chance to prove themselves again as the face Saprissa.
OFF MY SOAPBOX