Real Salt Lake has a promising future under Jeff Cassar.
While a win at home is nothing new for the Claret-and-Cobalt, this win is something to first-year head coach Jeff Cassar as he is the first to claim a playoff spot amongst his peers. RSL has always been a pioneer, pushing the limits of this league, and this time under new management, RSL has done it again!
With a half-dozen teams contending for what amounted to two available playoff spots above the red line, the end of the season was supposed to be a wild race to the playoffs. This weekend, however, a series of results have decided nine of the leagues ten playoff spots with Vancouver and Portland in contention to lock down the final spot.
With half of the league's teams with new men at the helm, this season shown as a bright light for many of them as it appeared that if they only were able to reach out and grab it, it would be theirs. Now, two true first year coaches — not including Oscar Pareja who coached the Colorado Rapids last year — are heading into the playoffs.
First, at the helm of the Columbus Crew (now Columbus Crew SC), Gregg Berhalter looked to be a potential revelation. A promising 3-0-0 start quickly turned into a midseason roller-coaster dealing with injuries and the lucrative sale of the World Cup standout Giancarlo Gonzalez leaving holes on and off the pitch. Eventually though, the Crew organization and team bought into Berhalter's system putting together a 6-3-1 run in their last ten matches to secure the club's first playoff berth since 2011.
Even more impressive is the numbers behind Berhalter's system. The Crew has spent less money than several other teams, including Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, but has still managed to pass them to reach the playoffs - for all intents and purposes, as Toronto is the only team that could possibly knock out the Crew but I don't see that happening being six points behind with two games remaining for both teams.
Like his peer in Columbus, Jeff Cassar has managed to field a strong team on the pitch throughout this season. Cassar almost made history when his team was able to tie the record of 13 games unbeaten to start a season - tallied by the 1998 LA Galaxy team.
Furthermore, just like Berhalter, Cassar had to deal with injuries and World Cup call-ups during the midseason. With leading striker Alvaro Saborio breaking his foot in Costa Rica's World Cup camp and Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando both with the US National Team, most of RSL's spine was unavailable - even more evident when you look at the 1-3-1 record during this time. Still, RSL's youngsters stepped up big time and made the difference between a midseason roller-coaster and a midseason slide.
Maintaining the same identity and motto has been essential to Real Salt Lake's and Jeff Cassar's success alike.
That being said, Jeff Cassar's technical ability to read the game has translated well from being a goalkeeper to a head coach. With young talent entering the RSL system and veteran talent making it their home, the sky is the limit for Real Salt Lake. With the implementation of the USL Pro team, Real Monarchs, which will give the young team members much needed playing time, the depth of RSL will only continue to grow.
The star on top of the RSL crest seems only the first for this MLS dynasty.
Real Salt Lake's midfield depth
Going into last Saturday's match, many asked, "From where, oh where, will RSL's goals come?" With top scorers and assist leaders Joao Plata, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio all unavailable due to card accumulation or international duty, the Claret-and-Cobalt fielded a roster that accounted for only 30% of the scoring so far this season. While RSL looked to be relying on a depleted roster, the depth of the team shown through again - this time in the midfield.
Within five minutes RSL took a 2-0 lead over the Earthquakes thanks to the skill of the midfield. In the 24th minute, Nedinho let rip from outside the box and scored off a Kyle Beckerman screen. This is Ned Grabavoy's second of the season and it opened up the gates after scoring just three goals the past seven games dating back to Aug. 2.
Sebastian Velasquez, who was already filling the gigantic shoes of Javier Morales on top of that diamond formation, shined in the Number 10 role. Less than a minute before Grabavoy's goal, Sebastian let lose a screecher from 20 yards that led to the set play in which RSL's first goal was scored. Then, off a beautiful Luke Mulholland corner kick in the 29th minute, Velasquez slipped one past San Jose keeper Jon Busch. This was just the cherry on the top for the young midfielder as he registered two of his three shots on goal and dictated the flow of the match.
Mulholland also played a role in the 2-0 victory providing a dominate presence in the midfield and an assist, as previously mentioned. Luis Gil and Cole Grossman also played a role in locking down the midfield to assure a shutout win for Real Salt Lake.
With Real Salt Lake's attacking corps depleted, it is easy to forget that the midfield can be the linchpin for any match but match after match they show up and they make their mark on the game.
Flashes of brilliance from Sebastian Jaime
It seemed to be a night to remember for anyone named Sebastian at the RioT. While Sebastian Velasquez made his mark on the match by tallying a goal, Sebastian Jaime made his mark by showcasing his world-class talent.
Jaime showed flashes of brilliance picking apart San Jose's backline and forcing their midfield to drop further back to cover the gaps. He played games with the San Jose's player with cheeky step-overs and nifty passes that made them keep guessing. While he was not able to get on the board his one shot was on target and forced Busch to make a save.
The Argentine striker played his best game yet for the Claret-and-Cobalt and it is only a matter of time before he gets the tally that breaks the seal on the goal - and when he does, I expect a waterfall.
Discussion Topic: The passing of the torch
With Landon Donovan announcing his retirement earlier this season and playing his farewell match for the USMNT last Friday, a lot of people in the league have been talking about the passing of the torch - signifying a new generation under a new face. There has been much speculation of who this new face will be for the USMNT, be it Mix Diskerud or Julian Green.
For RSL, the young man that many people put their faith in is Luis Gil. That being said he is only one person and it takes many to make up a team. Therefore, for the future of Real Salt Lake, do you see the passing of the torch happening internally (i.e., the academy system) or externally (i.e., high profile trades and signings)? Is RSL currently fielding the future faces of the franchise or have we yet to see them in the claret and cobalt kits?