1. Designated Players can be difference makers
So much emphasis is placed on Designated Players (DPs) in this league. These are players are ones that are supposed to be difference makers. At pivotal times in the season, DPs are expected to come up with the big plays - something that has not always happened in this league. But last Saturday's match stands as an example to how much DPs can influence the game.
First, let's start with Real Salt Lake's Designated Players. Alvaro Saborio started the match and went 69 minutes. In that time he had one shot and three offsides. He distributed the ball well and played well for a player making his first start after injury. While he did not have the same deadly instincts he usually does, he did make good runs.
Javier Morales, on the other hand, had a superb 90 minute match. He registered three shots, two of which were on-goal. He also stepped to the flag and took six corners, one of which was an assist to Nat Borchers' goal. As the linchpin to the RSL attack, he too distributed the ball well leading to seven key passes that cut Vancouver's defense apart.
As for Vancouver, all three of their DPs played a part in this match - Mauro Rosales, Matias Laba, and Pedro Morales. Like Saborio for RSL, Rosales played a smaller role in Vancouver's victory. Rosales only had one shot and took one corner but was at the receiving end of some fouls - some that led to free-kicks in dangerous positions.
The defensive monster who is Matias Laba played a huge role for Vancouver. Cutting apart the RSL attack and creating two key passes, Laba was the Governor General for the Whitecaps. Laba played 90 minutes making his presence known though both offensive and defensive plays that dictated the flow of the match.
Last but not certainly not least there is Pedro Morales - no relation to Javier Morales of RSL. The Chilean number 10 ran Vancouver's attack like a well-oiled machine. While player like Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh were on the field they were rarely mentioned or noticed for that matter. It was Pedro that was the downfall of RSL.
Playing at the top of the diamond formation, much like his RSL counterpart, Pedro Morales was the offensive fulcrum for the Whitecaps. Registering both goals and two key passes, Pedro stood as an example to how big money players can make a difference when it counts.
Vancouver currently sits fifth in the West after the win over RSL. Competing for a playoff position with fellow Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers, Vancouver's DPs have been the difference so far. While Portland DPs Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Liam Ridgewell have been key in turning Portland around since the start of the season, they failed in their last match against Toronto losing 3-2. Vancouver's DPs, on the other hand, led the Whitecaps past the Western Powerhouse that is Real Salt Lake.
Since the inception of the DP rule in MLS, DPs have had mixed results when it comes to the key moments. When they have been called on they have either choked or shined with no middle ground to be seen when chasing the playoffs.
So when we look back on this match, it is one that demonstrates how DPs can make the key plays in pivotal moments. RSL should take heart in this knowing that it has strong dependable DPs in Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio, and Sebastian Jamie. Two of these three players are seasoned MLS veterans that have proven they can step up in the vital minutes of a match with the other one showing great potential. When the time calls, Real Salt Lake should take heart knowing that are DPs can make the difference.
2. Real Salt Lake found a diamond in Jeff Attinella
While Real Salt Lake is known for its diamond formation, it is less known for its other diamonds. Real Salt Lake has been producing diamonds in the form of players.
With players like Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola getting their MLS starts at RSL and players like Will Johnson and Luis Gil gaining notoriety through the RSL ranks, Real Salt Lake has produced some star talent in the league. Lesser-known stars are emerging too, with names such as Carlos Salcedo and Sebastian Saucedo thanks to a great academy system, but others are making their names through plays on the pitch.
Think back to the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft, if you can. Can you remember anything? Sadly for most of us, we cannot even recall this secondary draft but I bet Jeff Attinella does. On Jan. 18, 2011, Attinella was selected 14th overall by Real Salt Lake but was released from the club without being signed.
Attinella worked his way up through the lower divisions until he had a breakthrough year in 2012, playing nearly every minute of every match for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Attinella saved three penalties in the NASL championship that year and has now brought this skill to Real Salt Lake.
Sitting behind the Wall of the Wasatch can be imposing on any young player. The world class skills of Nick Rimando are undeniable and can be both a gift and a curse for the second choice keeper on the bench. While having a great teacher during practice, not starting many matches can be frustrating, but Jeff Attinella has stepped up big-time when his name is called.
Just before the halftime whistle of the match with Vancouver, Jeff came up with a huge penalty save after a controversial soft foul. Referee Allen Chapman judged Alvaro a tug at Vancouver's Kendall Waston by Alvaro Saborio as a penalty. Vancouver's Morales - Pedro - stepped up and drilled a shot into the lower left corner but was stonewalled by Attinella - something we should have been accustomed to by now with Jeff coming up with PK saves earlier this year, but it was surprising nonetheless.
While Attinella was unable to keep a clean sheet after another penalty and goal from open play by Pedro Morales, Attinella was without doubt the best player on the pitch. Attinella ended the match with seven magnificent saves and three caught crosses in addition to spreading the ball well.
While Jeff was initially passed over by Real Salt Lake, it is good to see the club give such a quality young player some valuable playing time. Attinella is a diamond that sits perfect behind RSL's diamond formation. While not given the title yet, I could definitely see Jeff Attinella as the next Wall of the Wasatch.
3. Discussion Topic: Goalkeepers
Talking with my girlfriend who is not the most soccer-savvy person in the world, she posed the question, "Why are there not more goals?" Thinking back to the trouncing the RSL put on Colorado, she wondered why more soccer matches are like the excitement of that six-goal match.
Trying to explain the beautiful game, and being a defender myself, I described the importance that defense plays in soccer. Summarizing the goalkeeper's job, I explained how this high-stress position is not for everyone but how one person in this position can make the most difference in the match - often noting Attinella's play throughout the match.
So how important would you rate the goalkeeper position in RSL's search for a top three position in the Western Conference and its importance through this season?