RSL Resolute in Win Over TimbersSalt Lake capitalizes on Portland's errors
by Wes Brown | Tuesday, September 03, 2013
The confidence of Real Salt Lake is growing stronger.
With a dominant 4-2 win over Western Conference foes Portland Timbers last Friday, RSL solidify their lead for the Supporters’ Shield and continued to fend off the likes of Los Angeles, Montreal and Seattle for the title.
Portland’s tactical nightmare
From the opening whistle, the Timbers were plagued by drama. Timbers manager Caleb Porter trotted out an odd-choice backline. Former RSL-er Raushawn McKenzie filled the role of centerback while Ben Zemanski (normally a holding mid) occupied the rightback spot.
Thirty seconds in, however, Porter realized that RSL’s high pressure was already starting to find the chinks in the armor. Zemanski was moved in front of the defense to form a 3-4-3.
This, too, was met with trouble in the 33rd minute when Diego Valeri was subbed off after injury for defender Alvas Powell. With 4 defenders reinstated, the formation switched again to a 4-2-3-1, making Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, and Kalif Alhassan the attacking corp behind Ryan Johnson. But the biggest nightmare of all occurred during 1st half stoppage.
Zemanski’s blatant studs-up tackle on Ned Grabavoy earned him a straight red card, putting Portland in a precarious position entering halftime. Porter would change formations to start the half (4-2-2-1), and again late in the match chasing a lead (4-1-2-2).
Determined Salt Lake
A nebulous opponent can be difficult to pin down at times. With the number of adjustments the Timbers were making, however, it caused more confusion for Portland than Salt Lake.
RSL’s attack was determined to assert itself. Ball movement was crisp and precise, resulting in very few intercepted passes. Possession as a whole was superb, peaking at 83%, 12% higher than last week versus Columbus.
The man advantage was an obvious contributor to this, but nothing can be taken away from the individual performances of RSL players. Luis Gil’s and Joao Plata’s opening 2 goals were both examples of team efforts and proof that purposeful possession in the attacking third can be a very destructive force. Likewise, Javier Morales’ sublime bicycle kick goal off a Plata corner was the cherry on top (and most likely the goal of the week). And, once again, Alvaro Saborio showed why he’s worth the designated player price tag, occupying Portland’s defense all night before finally netting his 10th goal of the season.
Salt Lake will have a much needed break for 2 weeks, playing its next match on Sept. 13 in Seattle. The club has played 2 additional games than the 2nd place Galaxy, 3 more games than the East-leading Impact and 4 more games than 3rd in the West Sounders. I pick these clubs out by name as I see them as the only real threats to RSL’s Supporters’ Shield claims.
The match against LA on Aug. 17 might’ve served as the same type of spark for RSL that the same matchup did for LA in July of 2012, which kick-started the Galaxy’s 2nd half of the season. If so, this could bode extremely well for RSL as it pertains to winning the regular season. LA’s run from Round 16 in 2012 saw the Galaxy average 1.94 points per game (PPG) over the final 19 games. Since Round 16 this season, RSL has been averaging 2.15 PPG over 13 games; LA is close behind with 2.00 PPG in 11 games. The congestion in the standings this year means every point won is vital. The extra 0.15 PPG will prove decisive.
However, LA’s schedule might be an easier path than Salt Lake’s. Of the remaining 8 games, LA plays 5 of them at home. Additionally, 3 games are against underperforming DC, Chivas, and San Jose, surely all wins. Compare that to 3 of 6 at home for RSL; all 3 road games are against each of the Cascadia clubs.
Two wrinkles exist for LA and Seattle, though. Firstly, LA will have its remaining CONCACAF Champions League group games that will require travel to Central America and additional player fatigue. Secondly, World Cup qualifiers will subtract key players from both teams. LA will be playing a deceptively strong Colorado without the likes of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, Jaime Penedo and Robbie Keane.
Meanwhile, Seattle plays both Chivas and Chicago, both having had good showings of late. The Sounders will be missing Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Brad Evans. Upsets for both teams would not be a far stretch.
RSL, on the other hand, will be without 3 players (Saborio, Kyle Beckerman, and Nick Rimando) during their 2-week break. Fortunately, all will be back in time for the game in Seattle, meaning no games will be lost. How RSL manager Jason Kreis and company manage the rest of the squad during the time off will, in part, dictate how high their confidence remains. Getting players rested will be easy; maintaining their groove after the break will be trickier.
NEXT UP: September 13 – Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington. 10 p.m. EST, NBCSN.