Well I thought RSL was good enough to win the match but I thought they would need to do a few things really well in order to get the win. I thought they would need to possess the ball at least 55%, they barely got 50% and I think the stats person is being nice. I thought they needed to limit SKC to fewer than 10 shots, and I think the 11 official shots that Sporting got credited with may be short a couple. I thought RSL would need to complete 78% of their passes or better, but they barely completed 70%, my final thought was that they needed to get at least a dozen shots to get the win, but they only took 5 on the night.
Now I am going to give full credit to Sporting KC and their players who simply played as hard and as well as anyone has at Rio Tinto Stadium has in a long time. Had it not been for some monster saves by Nick Rimando, I honestly believe that RSL would not have gotten the win. It also needs to be said that both teams were robbed of a great match by Ricardo Salazar, the man who refuses to not make himself the focal point of every match he officiates. This was going to be a physical match, these are two big and strong teams, but Salazar called things that weren't and didn't call things that were, his 34 called fouls ensured that neither team was able to build any real rhythm during the match and it caused it to be less of a match than it should have been.
after the jump my thoughts on individual players:
Starting in goal, my man of the match Nick Rimando, it goes beyond the 4 recorded saves, it goes beyond his 12th shutout of the season. He simply made everyone on the team better by making the remarkable plays look average and the average plays look simple. I know it is uncommon for a keeper to be in the race for league MVP but I would have to say with a 0.85 GAA and 12 shutouts in 26 matches that Nick should be in consideration for the honor.
When your back line is beaten up, battered and comes out to face one of the top offenses in the league and can shut them out, well you count it as a very good night. When your defense is good enough on an offensive set piece to get the game winning goal, well then you are the RSL back line. Chris Schuler looked a bit out of place, of course the center back was out of place filling in on the outside, and while he didn't have a perfect night, he did keep Kei Kamara in check most of the night. He did exactly what was needed on the night and proved to everyone that he is learning and on his way to being a very good defender in MLS (Jurgen you might want to pay attention to this young man). Robbie Russell was simply solid all night long and he made some nice runs and crosses to support the offensive efforts as well. What makes the effort all the more impressive is that Robbie isn't 100% and still he was up to the task tonight.
Jamison Olave didn't have to be spectacular tonight, he simply was as good as the situation called for. The collective effort really allowed him to have a great night without having to make those typical show stealing plays, oh he worked hard for sure but it just looked easy for him tonight. Then there is the other half of Borlave, Nat Borchers, who did make a couple of special plays tonight and did it on both sides of the ball. A couple of huge plays to break up the Sporting attack and of course his picture perfect header to get the game winning goal for RSL. Yup, just the type of night that makes Nat a player who demands that you pay attention to him.
The midfield was a battle of ugly, nasty, physical, play from both sides. It was a tough night Will Johnson and Andy Williams had their hands full all night long with the SKC midfielders, a lot of pushing and shoving but both Will and Andy were up to the task and gave as good as they got all night long. It was funny to hear RSL head coach Jason Kreis say that "this is the time of year we see the best of Andy Williams" and I think he is spot on. Luis Gil had a tough task as the guys from Sporting were very physical but he was able to make a couple of decent runs.
Then there is Kyle Beckerman, who again proves that he is as tough as nails and he picked up another assist off a great set piece ball. The downside of the night for Kyle was the yellow card that will keep him from being able to play on Wednesday when the team will be taking on the New York Red Bulls. Just before the 60th minute Ned Grabavoy came on for Luis Gil as RSL looked to get more possession and defensive bite in the midfield, and that is exactly what Ned was able to provide.
Up top both Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio gave the Sporting defenders more than enough work to make them know they were in a battle, both had a couple of great looks but between the horrible offsides calls all night and the work of the SKC defenders neither were able to get a goal but both provided quality outlets so RSL could get the ball out of their own end and force Sporting to do some defending.
It is when you don't play your best soccer and still are able to battle for a win that you can put yourself in a good position in the league. Tonight's win put RSL in 3rd place in the Western Conference, and if they can finish in the top 3 they avoid the "Wildcard" play in match.
OFF MY SOAPBOX