RSL Brotherhood Shows Tight BondA look at why manager Jason Kreis said his team is the tightest group of which he's been apart
by Whitney OBannon | Friday, September 06, 2013
Those are the words Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis used to describe his team and the last words he left a room full of people to ponder on following RSL's 4-2 victory over Portland Saturday. Kreis said the 2013 edition of Real Salt Lake was “tighter than any team I've ever been a part of.”
This is something that has been forming all season – the power of a deep team that connects on and off the field. And Saturday evening Kreis calmly found the words to describe the power of this bond.
From the beginning of the season until now, with just 6 regular season games remaining, Real Salt Lake formed a close-knit brotherhood with each game, each week and each time one player had to rely on his brother. This season RSL went through all the typical excuses to have a sub-par season – injuries, up to 5 players away on international duty, offseason player upheaval, 2 occurrences of 3 games in 1 week – but all any of this did was create a deeper bond between teammates.
The stronger the bond grows, the task of defeating RSL gets increasingly more difficult. Looking back on moments in the season, certain instances prove Kreis' statement true.
Losing several faces of a team
Although it was the upper management's choice to trade away players that were part of the face of Real Salt Lake in previous seasons, Kreis and the players remaining on the roster didn't have a say in it.
With so many new faces in the locker room, there is always a chance of destroying team chemistry – the new guys verses the old guys. However, this barely happened with Real Salt Lake, if at all. In early July, Kreis acknowledged that his current squad was connecting better than any team he'd coached in his 7 years with RSL.
“The locker room is terrific,” Kreis told ABC 4. “The young players are extremely supportive and working extremely hard to push the level in every training session. The older players are very accepting of the younger players.”
This relationship between players became vital in several situations over the course of the season and continues to win games for RSL.
More than an everyday trust exercise
As part of the bond RSL shares, trust has been the key to success.
When Real Salt Lake traveled to Texas in mid-June looking for its 1st-ever victory in Dallas, the unexpected happened. Backup goalkeeper Josh Saunders went down with an ACL injury in the 51st minute and into the game came Jeff Attinella. With RSL's mere 1-goal lead on Dallas in jeopardy, Attinella entered his 1st MLS game looking a little nervous. That was to be expected, however less expected was the lack of anxiety shown in the rest of the team.
RSL's starting goalkeeper Nick Rimando even tweeted, since he was away on international duty:
— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) July 14, 2013
Turns out they were in good hands, as the third-string keeper carried the claret and cobalt to a 3-0 shutout victory.
This was an extreme case of trust between teammates, but it happens every time RSL takes to the pitch.
Another bout of trust was tested when defender Chris Schuler injured his foot. In pursuit of a guy that could fill Schuler's shoes, RSL tried out many different options finally settling on Carlos Salcedo. The 19-year-old looked a little too anxious in his first couple games, but eventually solidified his importance to the team. It turned out RSL had mostly favorable results with Salcedo starting and unfavorable with another defender replacing him.
Salcedo's improvement and success stemmed directly from the relationship he formed with veteran defender Nat Borchers. When the 2 centerbacks finally trusted each other the visible difference in RSL's defending was remarkable.
Real Salt Lake recently went through a mid-season slump, but it lasted only a couple of games. The trust between teammates and the chemistry in the locker room easily could have been the factor that pulled RSL back into form. Midfielder Ned Grabavoy hit right on the head when he commented on the team's bond earlier this season.
“When we go through a tough stretch, and there will be one this season," Grabavoy told ABC4. "It's going to be that togetherness that keeps us going to finish off the year strong."
Forwards development and trust
As part of the off-season changes, RSL wanted to create depth at the forward position. Fast forward 9 months and now Real Salt Lake has arguably the deepest bench in Major League Soccer and a lethal firing squad of forwards.
“With the forward situation, it's unbelievable. Unfortunately we have one injured now so we're down to four that I really like. Shouldn't we feel sorry for ourselves?” Kreis joked during Saturday's press conference.
All 5 forwards have seen starts and also scored key goals. Although Alvaro Saborio is the veteran starting forward, due to his success with the Costa Rican Men’s Nationa Team RSL has had to play plenty of games without him. Speedy, raw forward Olmes Garcia, assist-man Joao Plata, rookie Devon Sandoval and prodigal son Robbie Findley all combined on several instances to create the high octane offense. The forwards had to learn to play with each other as a position group and trusting one another became vital with each different combination utilized.
Although midfielders Javier Morales and Grabavoy have scored plenty of goals themselves, the combination of these forwards makes the defense sit farther back and creates opportunities on the offensive end.
With the ever changing starting lineup – 28 different lineups this season alone – due to fielding such a deep squad, RSL's success has and will depend on the bond between every player in the locker room.
NEXT UP: September 13 – Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash. 10 p.m. EST, NBC Sports.