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Real Salt Lake and New York Red Bulls battled to a 2-2 draw last night as both sides kicked off their brief Desert Diamond Cup campaigns. As always, there's plenty to take away from it.
Preseason matches aren't always perfect learning opportunities, but this one certainly gave us some things to ponder. Let's talk about those. Last night's 2-2 draw against New York provided plenty to learn.
First, we saw fantastic stuff from one Joao Plata, and while it was obviously not in a competitive setting, there's a lot to be encouraged about. His ability to pull away from defenders through top acceleration over short distances was vital in the creation of those two goals we scored.
We saw a midfield and defense in the first half that was, at best, timid with the ball in the defensive half. We saw buckets of backpasses, none of which were particularly dangerous to us. Still, it hindered our ability to move forward with the ball, leaving the creative crux David Viana a bit dry.
Speaking of David Viana, his magnificence on the ball was on full display at the top of the diamond — when he was given the opportunity. Given the apparent lack of confidence the defense displayed, he didn't have great opportunities. We did, however, see a much more complete player than the one who had a few cameos last year, and he seemed much more suited to the system. Is this the logical position for him? That's a tale for another day, but he showed well.
John Stertzer and Cole Grossman both seemed tidy on the ball, with the former active throughout, and the latter scoring the second. Yordany Alvarez behind those two put in some good work and never looked like getting a yellow card — a certain step up from his Cuban counterpart, Osvaldo Alonso, for Seattle yesterday in the other Desert Diamond Cup match.
Stertzer looked particularly unphased for a rookie, which speaks volumes about our drafting method. Of course, it speaks volumes that could be shouted over during the season, but that's what you get, isn't it?
Devon Sandoval didn't have much opportunity to contribute, with the ball being flung from the defense toward his head on many occasions. Could he have fared better in knockdowns and hold-up play? Certainly, but he wasn't given the best chances to do so.
In the second half, things were a bit more boring, but Robbie Findley stood out for his first touch — much-improved from the player much-aligned for it in the past — and his ability to create opportunities from seemingly nothing.
Interestingly, the second half also saw Ned Grabavoy as the go-to at the top of the diamond, where he showed good link-up and possession play as ever, in addition to a few crafted-out chances. His ability to retain possession in important areas is vital to the side. This left Sebastian Velasquez and Khari Stephenson on the right and left flanks, respectively, with the two switching sides at times.
Velasquez showed some good moments but didn't have the best time of it out there against a more defensive New York side than in the first half, while Stephenson looked at times a bit lost. Play almost exclusively flowed through the left side — Kenny Mansally at left back was particularly impactful here, and Stephenson saw much time on the ball. It was a bit strange that we were again so left-leaning — especially with Fabian Espindola on the other side.
Finally, we saw two things we really could have used in 2012 in New York's side: Jamison Olave scoring from a corner, and Fabian Espindola going close from a shot from distance.