I get nervous before most Real Salt Lake matches. Particularly the big ones. I believe RSL can win any match it plays, but when the opposing team is an unknown quantity, I don’t know what to expect. So, naturally, I was apprehensive about Saturday’s matchup with Toronto FC, a team that had already heisted 3 points in Seattle before downing DC United at BMO Field. With so many stars (Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, Julio Cesar), I could see the possibility of TFC sneaking away from Rio Tinto Stadium with points in hand.
I worry too much.
In what was by far the most complete game for the Claret-and-Cobalt of this young season, RSL dominated almost every facet of the match en route to a 3-0 leveling of a previously perfect—and still formidable—Toronto squad. Alvaro Saborio notched a brace off a converted 11th minute penalty kick and 55th minute chip of Julio Cesar, while Luis Gil contributed a 28th minute goal after a fantastic (and for Toronto, head-spinning) buildup. The win places Real Salt Lake (2-0-2, 8 points) in a tie for second in the Western Conference with Vancouver, 2 points back of league-leading FC Dallas (3-0-1, 10 points).
RSL worked its game plan to near perfection. In his post-game press conference, head coach Jeff Cassar stated that getting an early goal was critical. “It was huge. It was something that myself and the other coaches stressed to the guys. Toronto FC had never had to come back—they’d been leading in all their games—and we really wanted to see what they would be like if they were behind, see if they would come out a bit and give us a little more space to play.”
Perhaps most impressive, Real Salt Lake’s midfield seemed to pass and move at will through the Toronto midfield, which was without regular starters Jackson (suspended) and Jonathan Osorio (hamstring). Conversely, Toronto had significant trouble getting things off the ground. Although the Reds did create a few chances (including a couple near-misses and a Bradley shot off the post), the night belonged to RSL, which controlled possession to the tune 60.4% to 39.6%.
While each RSL player made critical contributions to the result, a few deserve special mention:
- Javier Morales had one of his most creative nights in recent memory. He directly assisted Saborio’s second goal, and his ball control and passing truly set up Luis Gil’s unassisted goal.
- Alvaro Saborio, aside from scoring two goals, played one of his best defensive games as well, challenging for 50-50 balls in the midfield and catching Julio Cesar outside of his box with the ball.
- Kyle Beckerman went into the match under a microscope, as the hype in advance of the game focused on RSL’s Nat Borchers’ statement that Beckerman was better than Bradley. Beckerman more than held his own including a number of interceptions in the midfield and a brilliant shouldered pass that earned him a secondary assist on Saborio’s second goal.
- On a night when the RSL back line did well to shut down Jermain Defoe, Chris Schuler was particularly good. Schuler completed 32 of his 36 passes (88.9%) and cleared a number of dangerous crosses. Charles Bernard from the RSL blog “From the Upper Deck” has pointed out a fantastic statistic regarding Schuler’s value to the team: RSL has given up only 7 goals in the last 11 matches in which Schuler played while conceding 24 goals in the last 12 matches that Schuler missed.
So with 3 points in their back pocket, RSL will turn their attention to next week’s 2013 MLS Cup rematch with Sporting KC. Obviously the players have been waiting for this rematch; Nat Borchers was candid about having Sporting KC on his mind all offseason.
Bonus quote: Nat Borchers “explained” why he grew his now-famous beard (which has its own Twitter account). “Hopefully the weather [in Kansas City] is better this time. [MLS Cup 2013] was fun, but getting bashed in the face with a ball when it’s 12 degrees outside isn’t fun. That’s why I grew the beard, to get a little more cushion.”
Predictions Wrap Up
- The Beckerman/Bradley debate will be overblown before the match and will blow over after. It wasn’t too hard to find articles before the match about the Bradley vs. Beckerman debate. Afterward, not so easy. +1
- Sabo will pick up where he left off last week. Notching a brace? You betcha. +1
- Olmes will have a positive impact. Olmes played well enough, but relative to the excellence of some of his teammates on Saturday, his presence was not terribly noticeable. No points
- Luke Mulholland will be first off the bench and struggle to adapt. Wrong. Mulholland came on third, in the 89th minute. The few minutes of playing time he registered are hardly enough to critique his performance, although his cheeky backheel pass to Devon Sandoval suggests he didn’t have any trouble once he got in. No points
- RSL 2 – 1 TFC: I’ll give myself half credit for calling the win. +0.5
This Week: 2.5/5
(image courtesy of Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)