For Real Salt Lake the bitter taste of going out of the US Open Cup so quickly has be be fading after a very solid 3-0 win on the road against Chivas USA. The match saw the return of several players who had been away with their various national teams, as well as returns of some injured players to action. The end result was one of the most complete matches RSL has put together this year, and while a couple of the numbers like possession and opposition shots don't show it, this was a bit more one sided than a lot of people are talking about.
For Real Salt Lake it came down to a quick start in the match and reacting well to the new formation and brutish play of Chivas USA. It was in the 35th minute when a bad call by the sideline AR pulled a Saborio goal off for a phantom offside call, you don't have to believe me, even the announce team for Chivas USA said it was clearly a goal. Still instead of getting down about it, RSL kept battling and while after that call Chivas actually started playing better but it was just 6 minutes later that Kyle Beckerman played a great ball into the area and Fabian Espindola redirected it with his head and it was a 1-0 RSL lead heading into halftime.
The second half saw both sides play a bit better overall, but it was still RSL that would get the better of the action in the 54th minute it was a great threaded ball from Ned Grabavoy, who was playing the point of the diamond, to Fabi who was left one on one with former RSL'er Rauwshan McKenzie, with a bit of fancy footwork Fabi dealt with him and then five holed an on rushing Danny Califf to again put a ball past Dan Kennedy and give RSL a 2-0 lead. I will say that McKenzie actually had a very solid match with the exception of that play, he has really stepped up big for Chivas making the most of his fresh start with them. Chivas did a nice job of trying to battle back into the match but we unable to do much to test Nick Rimando on the night.
It was great to see Javier Morales come in for the final 30 mintues of the match, a bit different as Jamison Olave was taken out as a preventative measure, that meant some adjustments to the formation but when "Mr. Do Anything for the Team" Will Johnson was able to finish the match off with a 3rd goal despite moving to the back line, well you sure got the feeling that the band is back together and playing well.
A bit more detailed look by position after the jump:
So let's take a look at how the RSL boys did against a Chivas USA team that had only once allowed more than 2 goals to be scored against them. Starting with the work of the forwards, It was Fabian Espindola who twice found the back of the net on very solid goals, he also was able to get a number of other shots off on the night and overall be a pest to the Chivas USA defenders. I think one of the things that goes so under appreciated about Fabi is the pure work rate on both sides of the ball, he made a couple of very good defensive plays. If his performance doesn't earn him a bunch of All Star votes then MLS fans are just not paying attention, love him or hate him, Fabi is one of the funnest players in MLS to watch.
Then there was Alavro Saborio, first the goal should have been a goal, second another impressive outing as far as work rate as Sabo made some great runs, applied high pressure on the Chivas defenders and make himself a target all night long. Late in the match Paulo Jr. came on for some fresh legs to finish out the match, and did exactly what we want from him, stay in the middle of the action and try to create some chances.
In the RSL midfield it was one of the best overall performances of the season in my opinion, and while you can still tell that Jonny Steele is getting used to they rhythm and style of the the veterans, he fought hard and worked both sides of the ball to give his team every advantage he could. Kyle Beckerman returned to action and it was as if he was never gone, he simply didn't miss a beat all night. I am always amazed when he puts up numbers like 60 completed passes and just 8 incomplete passes, with the additional pressure he is always under, it is amazing, then add in a perfect delivery that lead to the first goal, oh and a brilliant pass that helped create the final goal.
Will Johnson, after playing 90 minutes in each of the Canadian National team matches, well he simply was what we always get from him, nothing but 100% effort and energy all night long. Did Will throw a tantrum when he was asked to move to the back line when Olave came out? Nope, he just dropped back and helped the team close out the match as a defender, but like all our defenders, Will was able to make a solid run late in the match and found himself the recipient of a great pass from Javier Morales and with a ton of space he simply delivered a great shot that found the back of the net for RSL's 3rd and final goal of the night.
Perhaps the biggest surprises of the RSL midfield on Saturday were Ned Grabavoy and Javier Morales. Ned was asked to step up to the point of the diamond and lead the RSL attack, and the end result was him showing everyone why so many people have nicknamed him "Nedinho", solid on the ball, creative play, and precise passes, just ask Fabi who found himself a recipient of one that lead to RSL's second goal of the night. It is always funny to hear Brain Dunseth on play by play, his knowledge and insight are great and when he says that US players just have a difficult time getting a chance to play that "#10" role in MLS he is exactly right, well Ned showed us that he can do that, and do it well. For the final 30 minutes Javier Morales returned to the lineup after missing time with another injury, but if you forget what he is capable of, you only need to look at the replay of the final RSL goal, a good run, a brilliant little no look pass to Will Johnson. I do have to classify this as one of the best performances by the RSL midfield this year, and done with some changes in position and players but the groove was back for sure.
What can you say about the RSL defense on Saturday? Another clean sheet, they only allowed 3 shots on goal, and only one was really dangerous enough to force another great save by Nick Rimando. Even with a less than 100% Jamison Olave, the defenders were able to deal with whatever was thrown at them by Chivas USA, long balls, outside runs, all of it was simply handled by the one of (if not the very best) defenses in the league. Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran know how to provide support for the offense while never forgetting their defensive responsibilities as well, solid runs all night on both sides of the ball. Even a 75% Olave is more than enough to deal with most teams, and when he has Nat Borchers beside him and Nick Rimando behind him, well that core is simply still the best in MLS. It was funny that MLS gave them a shout out today for the "unbreakable" record of just 20 goals allowed in the 2010 season, and yes it is all true.
Then there is Nick Rimando, simply at the right place at the right time, every time. Nick's GAA is now down to 0.92 and after a stint with the USMNT, I expect those numbers to keep on dropping. You can see Nick's determination to keep a clean sheet, when even with a lead he throws himself at a dangerous ball knowing he will collide with the goal post, but no risk, no reward. I don't care about the numbers, if I had to pick one MLS keeper to be in goal for my team, it would be Nick Rimando. Who I have no idea how he has dropped to #3 in All Star voting for keepers, that is just sad and wrong.
So there you go, my thoughts of the 3-0 win over Chivas USA. No time to rest as we have LA in town on Wednesday and San Jose on Saturday, two more huge matches but if the boys can put in performances like they did on Saturday, I will rest easy knowing we will have 6 more points added to our total.
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