Starting every season on the road is a tough task, but I understand why RSL does it so often, as weather conditions can be tricky in Salt Lake City. Yet for each of the last 3 years now, RSL has gone to California, and each year they have started with a win. Saturday night's 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy had to feel a bit sweet for RSL, they faced a full squad for LA and despite having a number of their own players missing, the team proved to be the star.
Be it Sebastian Velasquez, the first rookie to start for RSL in 5 years who's shot on goal tied the score at 1-1 as it went of Sean Franklin and past Josh Saunders. Be it the incredible saves by Nick Rimando, who again reminds me why he is the best keeper in MLS. Be it Paulo Jr. who caused havoc on the Galaxy defense all night, or Kyle Beckerman with the grit and determination that makes him a favorite of Jurgen Klinsmann. Tony Beltran who chased down Robbie Keane from behind to break up a one on one between Keane and Rimando, or Chris Wingert who despite having his eye nearly shut from last weeks injury showed the heart that drives all the RSL players. Be it Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler who weathered the storm with Nick Rimando all night long, or Luis Gil who might only be 18 years old but showed that he will be a force to reckon with this year in MLS. The list goes on and on as Fabian Espindola's hard work on both sides of the ball end up with him being rewarded with a goal tonight, the season debut of Javier Morales who got the go ahead goal for RSL.
As always it is the team who shines brightest for Real Salt Lake, and while the match was closer than the score in my opinion it showed the heart of a RSL team that didn't come from behind once last year to secure a win, and this year they do it on opening day against the team that all the pundits proclaim the best in MLS.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
So in my match preview I thought this would end up a draw but I listed a few keys to RSL's success, more than 12 shots and they ended the match with 13, control possession and while 51.3% is a small edge on the road against a very good LA team it was a good thing, and completing their passes, well an 82% completion rate of 453 passes is what I come to expect from RSL.
Now while Bruce Arena will take the blame for his team's loss tonight, I consider that just an excuse after getting beat. He knew his players had a match on Wednesday, then a long flight back from Toronto, he knew these things and yet he chose to play almost all of his starters from that match. Why? Because he knew how important the match was, he knows that his team now has to play catch up. He knows that when these teams meet next that RSL won't have any doubts left from last years Western Conference Final, he knows that at least twice more this season his team will have to do battle with a team that matches up very well against them.
By no means does this mean more than what the reality of an opening day win means, it is one of 34 matches, it is just 3% of the regular season. It does mean a couple of things, it means that while RSL had some trouble scoring goals in the preseason, when the chips are on the line they can still find a way to put the ball in the back of the net when it counts.
It means that despite not being able to win a single match in 2011 after giving up the first goal, that this year is different, this year RSL is back to those principles that made them one of the best teams over the last few years. It means from whistle to whistle that the 11 guys on the pitch are going to do battle and fight for each other, it is the fire we saw late in 2009.
Now all of that is fine, but again it is just one match and next Saturday they will put their kits on again and this time the test is the New York Red Bulls, with Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, and the rest of a Red Bulls team that will be out for revenge.
Well Done, Boys enjoy the victory tonight, then back to work, we want silver this year. Oh, folks at NBC Sports and ESPN, you might want to think about asking RSL nicely to be on your networks more than you currently have them scheduled.
OFF MY SOAPBOX