One had to expect Real Salt Lake to come out with a lot of passion and energy on Saturday, the combined effect of a sold out stadium, the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry, but most importantly looking to distance themselves from last weekends 5-0 loss to San Jose. It was a rather interesting match as RSL didn't dominate possession like they usually do, in fact they only had 51% of the possession, it wasn't a match where they out passed the opposition by 100 or more passes, RSL had just 426 to the Colorado Rapids 404, both teams completed 78% of their passes.
The match was won by two factors, pressure by RSL on the Rapids in their own final third and not allow the Rapids any real offensive chances. Both RSL goals came as a result of high pressure on the Rapids in their half of the pitch, and by guys following plays to completion, first it was Sabo's pressure that got a ball to Fabi who made a great run at Matt Pickens who was unable to hold on to the ball which rolled to Alvaro Saborio and he just tapped it into the empty net to give RSL the 1-0 lead. Then it was some more pressure on the Rapids that allowed Saborio to get the ball to Will Johnson who was able to put it past Pickens and into the back of the net in the 90th minute to make it 2-0 and remove all doubt.
On the night RSL took 12 shots, and had 4 of them on goal, the Rapids however were held to 3 shots and none of them were on goal. That was due to both the hard battles being fought in the midfield and good pressure on the ball all over the pitch. It was clear that the Rapids came in with a very defensive mindset towards the match, and RSL had a lot of work that had to be done to break them down, but shutting down most of their offensive chances quickly was a real difference maker in the match.
more thoughts after the jump:
So for me Saturday night was about two things, how would RSL respond to the huge loss to San Jose last weekend and could they show the form needed to be ready for Champions League? Both questions were answered in the positive, as players in critical positions stepped up and delivered quality efforts.
I am going to start with Alvaro Saborio, who played a very good match and while it looked like he got a bit frustrated later in the match when a number of calls didn't go his way. Still he worked hard, he pressured the keeper and defense, he came out to support the midfield on both sides of the ball when needed and he was able to deliver another game winning goal and added a great assist on Will Johnson's goal. I thought Fabi did a good job of trying to create some space for himself and others, a task made harder by the fact that for the majority of the match Marvell Wynne was making him very closely almost all night long. I can understand the frustration level of Fabian Espindola the last couple of matches, but for RSL to be at their best we need him to play in control and remain focused.
In the midfield I was very impressed with the work done by Yordany Alvarez, not only was he very good in trying to fill the large boots of Kyle Beckerman who was suspended for the match, but he was very good on the offensive side as well. He battled hard and looked sharp with his passing, I also think the played in great control and he was able to avoid making any fouls that would get the attention of the officials. I thought Ned Grabavoy was good on the ball, but I really want to see him be more aggressive and show the creative side that we know he has. It seemed that he was a bit hesitant going forward, I know that with Kyle out that he may have been asked to focus a bit more on defense. We once again saw moments of the old Javier Morales, who was able to make some great turns and connect on some great passes, still there were moments that Javi looked out of touch with his teammates, overall I see improvements each week and we will need to see more as we head into Champions League. Jonny Steele came in late and provided some hard work and helped tighten things up in the midfield as the Rapids tried to push forward to get in the match.
So it is funny when you have a conversation about a player with someone before the match, and then that player steps up and has a very solid match, that is exactly what Will Johnson did tonight. He was willing to step up and take some shots, made some good runs, and worked hard on both sides of the ball, it was rewarded with the 90th minute goal that sealed the match.
The defensive work by the back line was simply impressive, both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert did great work on the wings to keep both the Rapids attack in check and to provide some great support to the offensive work of the team, then you add in a returning Nat Borchers who was simply rock solid, and Jamison Olave who used his physical abilities on both sides of the ball to ensure that nobody got anything cheap. When Olave went out and Kwame Watson-Siriboe came in he was able to keep things going in a very positive way for the team.
Then there was Nick Rimando who picked up win number 142, and another clean sheet. Nick wasn't forced into making a lot of plays but everything he needed to do, he did and did it well. I get Dan Kennedy getting an All Star nod, he has kept Chivas alive this year but how Nick was overlooked is simply a bit criminal to me.
Overall it was just what we needed to see, RSL stepped up and took care of the Rapids to secure the Rocky Mountain Cup for another year, but they showed that they were able to recover from the big loss and they showed they were able to work patiently against a team that was playing a very defensive style, something we could see a lot of in CCL.
A great night for a sold out crowd, for me it was a night when Alavro Saborio once again gets my vote for Man of the Match, who gets your vote?
OFF MY SOAPBOX