In an continuing effort to help you know more about how the two teams that will face each other in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, here is the second part of our look at the teams. Part one looked at the keepers and in part two we will take a look at the defense. First up is again the contribution of FMF State of Mind editor Kevin McCauley who talks about the Monterrey defense:
As talented as Jamison Olave and the rest of the Real Salt Lake defense is, I felt that there was one clear standout player for them last season, and that was Nat Borchers. Though RSL are deep across the board, there's no question who the best player in their defense is at the moment. Monterrey are a different story, as they are lacking a true standout across the back line. They have a true star or two in every other area of the pitch, but their defense is about depth and a group effort.
Of the four areas of the team, goalkeepers, defense, midfield, and forwards, defense is probably the weakest for Monterrey. However, this does not mean their defense is weak. This is a complete team, and they match up evenly (at worst) with Salt Lake in all areas of the pitch. Vice captain Jose Basanta, a central defender, is probably the most consistent player at the back. Long time Mexican international Ricardo Osorio is also first choice, and Sergio Perez has claimed a regular starting spot recently.
more from Kevin as well as my look at the RSL defenders after the jump:
The last spot in defense is a bit of a carousel. Despite the presence of more veteran players, fullback Hiram Mier has stepped up and claimed a regular place over the last couple of tournaments. Severo Meza, partially because of fitness issues, has not been the automatic selection in this tournament that he has been in the past. Dulio Davino is still a useful player, but at 35 years old, he is not a regular in the first XI. Hector Morales and William Paredes also get into the team occasionally.
While Monterrey have shown a willingness to mix it up from time to time, they should use a flat back four against RSL in the home leg, and they'll probably use a back four in both legs. Walter Ayovi could make a surprise start as a fullback if Monterrey wants to play an extremely attacking game, but he'll probably appear in the midfield. I expect Basanta, Osorio, Meza, and Perez to be the starting back four.
Though, with Monterrey's depth and willingness to shuffle their starting defense, don't take my word for it on that last part.
So that brings us to one of the strengths of the RSL roster, the defense:
There simply isn't a better group of defenders in Major League Soccer, and as opponents in both MLS and CONCACAF are finding out there is incredible depth as well.
Jamison Olave (675 minutes 2 goals):
The 2010 MLS defender of the year isn't just a monster on the backline, he is more than capable of moving forward with the ball and is an great target on set pieces. At 6'2" and over 210 pounds he is also one of the quickest centerbacks in all of MLS. That incredible speed allows him to make plays that most other defenders wouldn't even try to make. Jamison will be turning 30 the day after the first leg of the Champions League Final and you have to believe he would like nothing more than to help his team become the first US team to get a win in Mexico.
Nat Borchers (702 minutes 0 goals):
You know when you lose the league's defender of the year award to your teammate and fellow centerback that you have nothing to be upset about. Nat is an ironman for RSL and didn't miss a single match in 2009 or 2010 for the team, you have to think that winning the rights to Nat in a 2008 allocation lottery was one of the luckiest days for RSL. He simply is one of the most consistent defenders in the league, he has even gotten himself back on the radar of the USMNT in recent months. His calm demeanor on the pitch is deceiving as there are few competitors more fierce than Nat, and with two goals being pulled off the scoreboard this year due to poor officiating you have to know that he would love nothing more than to get a big Champions League goal.
Chris Wingert (630 minutes 0 goals 1 assist):
Chris is a part of the RSL rotation at outside back that includes Robbie Russell and Tony Beltran, and what a valuable part he is. Chris has become a class defender who is also able to move forward and support the offensive efforts of RSL. Perhaps no player better personifies the "team is the star" mentality than does Chris, he looks as if one of his major goals in every match is to help his teammates and to make the team look better. He doesn't bring blistering speed to the pitch but he brings great positioning and vision that allows him to be an important factor in both the offense and defensive efforts of the team.
Robbie Russell (583 minutes 0 goals):
Robbie is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet off the pitch, but on the pitch he has adopted a much more aggressive persona this year, complete with his "Kimbo Slice" beard. Robbie is a great combination of size, skill and speed which allows his to get forward often to help the offense maintain possession and create offensive chances, while always being able to get back into position to break up counter attacks or offensive threats from opponents. There are few things more rewarding than watching him come from behind to steal the ball from the opposition, leaving them with a look of confusion and despair on their face. His size and agility also allow him to be a target player on set pieces, and his speed allows him to often be one of the first guys back on defense.
Tony Beltran (385 minutes 0 goals, 1 assist):
As the third member of the rotation at outside back Tony is often the one who is pushing forward to support the team in the midfield or helping to break up plays in the opponents half of the pitch. He may lack the size of some other defenders but he is quicker than most expect and one of the few defenders I have ever seen start 10 yards behind an attacking Landon Donovan and still end up not only catching him but being able to get in front of him and steal the ball away. It is that never say die attitude that makes Tony a fan favorite and a player whom there is "more than meets the eye".
Chris Schuler (225 minutes 0 goals):
Chris is one of the new guys on the RSL roster, he was drafted in 2010 but ended the season out with an injury but he has proven this year that he is a defender to be reckoned with. The soft spoken 6'3" defender is going to be one of the best in MLS before his career is over. He has proven to be a skilled player that is more than capable of stepping in for our normal core of central defenders both in shutting down opponents, but also in being a target player. He got his first MLS goal a couple weeks ago on the road against the New England Revolution.
Rauwshan McKenzie (180 minutes 0 goals):
What is better than having one great young backup at centerback, how about having two of them? RSL claimed Rauwshan off waivers last year and he was able to see action in 8 matches across all competitions in 2010 and has already found himself getting minutes in 2011. Like Chris he has provided RSL with something they had been lacking in previous years, some quality depth at the centerback position. I expect more good things from McKenzie in 2011.
I think RSL has the strongest defense in MLS, last year they gave up just 20 goals in MLS play (a new MLS record) and this year through 4 matches they have allowed just a single goal. It has to be said that the RSL defense is much more than the names listed here, every player has defensive responsibilities and some of the best defensive plays each match are made by midfielders and forwards. I think this collective mindset has served RSL well for mot of the Champions League, with really only one exception. The away leg at Cruz Azul, which was played in conditions that no player at any level should be asked to play in, the entire team dropped the defensive ball the last 20 minutes of that match costing the team an early lead. I don't expect we will see that type of collapse in the finals.
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