Once again Real Salt Lake found a way to win in Tucson. The high pressure play of Sporting Kansas City at times threatened RSL, but the Claret-and-Cobalt was able to get a 2-1 result.
This match was also the most chippy of the preseason so far with several scrums breaking out on the field, although that was expected. Throughout the match we saw RSL execute a game plan which played into the strengths of the team as three things stuck out during the run of play.
Closing out matches
In the recent past, RSL has struggled to finish out matches, none more evident than the 2013 MLS Cup final against Sporting Kansas City. Despite taking the lead, RSL conceded a goal which led to their loss in a penalty shootout.
Wednesday's match against SKC was very much a rematch of the 2013 MLS Cup. Still looking for a victory after a 0-0 draw in 2014, Real Salt Lake came out swinging. A goal from Emery Welshman took RSL into the half with a 1-0 lead. RSL added to their lead in the 47th minute with Devon Sandoval making it 2-0. Then, in the 66th minute, Dom Dwyer cut the Claret-and-Cobalt's lead in half.
Before we get any further, let's be clear that all professional soccer teams struggle with closing out matches at some point in their season. To every club, however, it is more often than they would like. Being able to close out matches can be the difference between the Supporters' Shield winners and barely squeaking into the playoffs.
That being said, this preseason RSL has managed to close out matches time and time again. The constant story of RSL reads similar to: the Claret-and-Cobalt go up early but concede later. This year, however, there have been no head-shaking late goal concessions on the Claret-and-Cobalt's behalf.
If RSL has learned to close out matches at both the senior and reserve sides of things, this year could be the year that the club adds some more silverware to its collection.
The birth of royalty
Wednesday's match saw many youngsters get a chance to get some match minutes. With all but three or four reserve team members getting the start, many fans got a chance to see a preseason Real Monarchs side. The young players did well simulating a regular season match - most going the entire 90 minutes.
Not only did these reserve players preform admirably against their fellow compatriots in Kansas City with Sporting fielding mostly reserve players in the first half, but the younger members of the Claret-and-Cobalt got a result against a full-strength Kansas City for most of the second half.
Barrage after barrage in the second half saw the second-choice lineup struggle towards the last 15 minutes of the match. For what must have seemed like eternity for the young players, RSL struggled to get the ball out of their defensive half. Still, the team looked determined and defended well. Remaining in formation and battling it out against the veterans of Kansas City, many of what can be assumed to be members of the Real Monarchs triumphed over their high-pressure opponent. The young players lived up to their side's mantra - "Rise to Royalty."
With everything we saw against SKC, we should expect great things from the Real Monarchs this year.
RSL players haven't lost a step
The Claret-and-Cobalt has come into this preseason fit and ready to go. Unlike the comments coming out of the U.S. Men's National Team's January Camp, fitness has not been an issue in the RSL preseason with players firing on all cylinders.
After an impressive season with RSL last year, Jeff Attinella has made people stop and take notice once again. No match has been more impressive for the backup net minder than the match against Kansas City. Attinella was forced into several acrobatic saves during the match, the best with his left foot in the dying minutes of the match. Again, Attinella stood on his head to give RSL the result they craved.
On the other side of things, Devon Sandoval has more than impressed pundits this preseason. After a rough sophomore season with the Claret-and-Cobalt, Sandoval has scored in every preseason match. After a stint with the Carolina Railhawks at the end of last season, Sandoval has returned to RSL in form. If the preseason is any indication for this young striker, we should all expect big things.
From the back line to the center forwards, Real Salt Lake has looked dominate in the preseason. RSL have won all three of their Desert Diamond Cup matches and will look to claim the trophy in Saturday's title game against Rocky Mountain rival the Colorado Rapids.
Bonus: Preseason fitness
About a month ago, U.S. National Team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann commented on the preseason fitness of MLS players: "They don't have that 'oh, OK, at the beginning of December, go to Athletes' Performance in Phoenix and get myself fit.' That culture we don't have yet. What the other sports are doing really well, they use their preparation for preseason, four to six weeks prior to going into preseason with their NBA team, NFL team of whatever, they go to these fitness institutes and they get themselves fit."
This begs the question - how should professional athletes be? Getting about two months off a year, should MLS players constantly work on fitness or should they get to have a vacation from the rigmarole of the regular season? Was Klinsmann's evaluation fair? Have we seen a drop-off of performance this preseason for the Claret-and-Cobalt?
At RSL Soapbox we care about our fans and would like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there other take aways from this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match foretells about the future of Real Salt Lake? Are preseason matches a good evaluation point for the MLS regular season? Share your opinions in the comments section below.