Skip to content

MLS playoff focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Thursday’s second leg against the LA Galaxy

Nov 7, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals Getty Images

Ahead of Thursday’s second-leg of this Western Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Jason Kreis’ Real Salt Lake (Thursday’s match kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2):

  • Ned Grabavoy out; a big blow for RSL

A hamstring strain will keep veteran midfielder Ned Grabavoy out Thursday; RSL manager Jason Kreis confirmed so to media on Wednesday.

He collected the injury during the second half of Sunday’s 1-0 first-leg loss at the StubHub Center outside Los Angeles.

It’s a big loss in that Grabavoy was reborn in 2013. After a few years of “just OK” around Rio Tinto Stadium, Grabavoy was a central element thanks to sharp form from the first 2013 kick. He eventually posted career highs in starts (29), goals (5) and assists (5).

Second-year man Sebastian Velasquez seems the most likely candidate to replace Grabavoy. He is probably more mobile and energetic than Grabavoy (not to mention 8 years younger). But if you don’t think MLS playoff know-how is important, see “Houston Dynamo upset New York.”

Then again, RSL is likely to return to its 4-4-2, which could mean re-introducing Robbie Findley into the starting 11 alongside striker Alvaro Saborio. (Or even Joao Plata if he is healthy enough following a recent injury.)

  • Formation shift for RSL

Remember when Jason Kreis was a 4-4-2 guy through-and-through? That diamond midfield was RSL’s signature.

Kreis, still young at age 40 but with quite a few years at this managerial thing now, having assumed his current post at age 34, has matured. He now has the confidence to put something different on the field tactically.

And he has the confidence the say hold up his hand and say “My bad … that didn’t work.”

The set-up against Los Angeles for last weekend’s first leg was a 4-2-3-1, with   Yordany Alvarez sitting alongside longtime Rio Tinto holding midfield fixture Kyle Beckerman. Alvaro Saborio was the lone striker, supported by Javier Morales centrally, Grabavoy on the right and Luis Gil on the left.

Safe to say, we won’t see that again. Not tonight at least.

It was mostly a way to deal with the Galaxy’s dangerous counter-attack. Only, it didn’t work out at all, confusing Beckerman when in possession and certainly in the defensive assignments, too.

The result was more or less to RSL’s liking. A draw would have been better (or a win, of course). But going back home trailing by one goal isn’t the worst thing ever. Still, the Galaxy created plenty of chances, often moving through RSL’s defensive shape with too much ease.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy second leg preview)

  • RSL center backs had better be on it

One of the lesser told narratives this year around MLS has been the rise lately of Chris Schuler as Nat Borchers’ partner in the middle of the defense. He’s certainly big enough (6-4) – they sure needed those long, stretchy legs of his a couple of times on Sunday – and physical enough, but also technical enough.

And he had better be good enough tonight.

The movement of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane troubled RSL’s entire back line Sunday, but the central areas (along with Real Salt Lake’s two holding midfielders) will be particularly vulnerable to their pair’s movement, which is so quick and instinctive at the instant the Galaxy win the ball.

If Schuler and Borchers cannot communicate with each other with midfielders in tracking those feints, curling runs and big sprints from the Galaxy’s pair of star attackers, the one-goal deficit could expand in a hurry.

(MORE: What we learned from LA Galaxy-RSL first leg)

  • In praise of the old faithfuls … like Nick Rimando

We all like to look for the next new thing … the new restaurant or the new show on TV or whatever. But it’s always important to take a step back and appreciate the old stand-byes, too, right?

That’s Nick Rimando. His numbers remain strong, he’s a strong and commanding leader in the back and the 34-year-old can still deliver the big, game-changing save.

Rimando been so good for so long that we probably take the man for granted. Don’t forget, Rimando’s first starting assignment in MLS was 14 years ago with some good Miami Fusion teams. A lot of RSL holdovers have an MLS Cup medal from that 2009 title claimed over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Rimando also has one from 2004, when he started for DC United.

(FYI, three current MLS managers started on that 2004 D.C. United side: Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen.)

  • Yellow card warning

Kyle Beckerman is the only RSL man on yellow card warning. “Only” man is a bit mis-leading. Beyond Rimando and Borchers, Beckerman is probably the most important RSL figure, not just for all the midfield tackling and calm possession, but for the leadership and composure.

The U.S. international will miss the next playoff match if he receives another booking.

(MORE: MLS playoff scheduling, timing and pace make no sense)

Latest Posts
  1. Freddy Adu has joined a new club, this one in Finland

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT

    CBMeXdCVIAAteBM-300x225

    The Canaries finished in 7th place last season in the Veikkausliiga, Finland’s top-flight.

  2. Klinsmann’s USMNT struggles, experimentation in friendlies: Does it really matter?

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT

    Denmark Soccer Usa AP

    Should the States’ losses in friendlies represent anything other than a concern at the lack of US youth readiness for the big stage?

  3. Liverpool’s Glen Johnson linked with summer move to, January start date with Barcelona

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:08 PM EDT

    Liverpool Training Session Getty Images

    This likely comes as a surprise to Liverpool fans, as Johnson is widely treated rightly or wrongly as a scapegoat by Reds supporters.

  4. Klinsmann explains philosophy behind mad scientist lineups, formations for USMNT

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT

    Denmark US Soccer AP

    Does the embattled USMNT coach have a point? I’m again bracing for the comment section when I say… I think so.

  5. Russia wants full points from match abandoned after Akinfeev struck in head by flare (video)

    Mar 28, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT

    Russia's Igor Akinfeev hit by flare at Montenegro, match later abandoned Getty Images

    Given UEFA president Michel Platini’s concerned words and warning about fan violence just this week, could he do something even more harsh?

  6. Marsch critical of Klinsmann’s experimentation, lack of USMNT “identity”

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT

    Jesse Marsch AP

    The States are 1-4 in their last five matches, all four coming on the road (Colombia, Ireland, Chile and Denmark).

  7. Injury update: England likely facing Italy without Welbeck, Sterling

    Mar 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    England v Slovenia - EURO 2016 Qualifier Getty Images

    Both Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling will most likely be out of England’s friendly vs. Italy on Tuesday.

  8. Wayne Rooney after Euro qualifying win over Lithuania: Other nations ‘frightened’ of England

    Mar 27, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT

    Scotland v England - International Friendly Getty Images

    England trounced Lithuania 4-0 in a Euro qualifier for their seventh-straight win since the World Cup, and captain Wayne Rooney likes what future lies ahead for his country.

  9. Young Mexican-American Ventura Alvarado picks USMNT over El Tri

    Mar 27, 2015, 6:42 PM EDT

    Pumas UNAM v America - Clausura 2015 Liga MX Getty Images

    22-year-old Ventura Alvarado asserts that he would like to play for USMNT in the long term.

  10. Wales manager Chris Coleman defends Gareth Bale after criticism from Real fans

    Mar 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    Wales v Cyprus - EURO 2016 Qualifier Getty Images

    Manager Chris Coleman say Gareth Bale is only focused on the Wales’ “job in hand.”

  11. Luis Suarez believes FIFA treated him like a ‘hooligan’ following bite incident

    Mar 27, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT

    FC Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano de Madrid - La Liga Getty Images

    Suarez doesn’t think he could be classified as hooligan after his biting incidents.

  12. New England Revolution’s early season struggles not hugely concerning

    Mar 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution - Eastern Conference Final - Leg 2 Getty Images

    The New England Revolution have been on the losing end early in the season before.

  13. England lineup: Danny Welbeck starts; Harry Kane awaits first cap from the bench

    Mar 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    Harry Kane, England Harry Kane, England

    No first cap just yet for Kane, though he’s expected to come off the bench in the second half.

  14. U.S. U-23 MNT hammers Bosnia-Herzegovina U-23s, 5-2, in tune-up for Olympic qualifying team

    Mar 27, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT

    Jordan Morris, USMNT Getty Images

    A resounding result for the 2016 Olympics hopefuls, away from home.

  15. Mark Hughes signs contract extension with Stoke City through 2019

    Mar 27, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT

    Mark Hughes, Stoke City FC Getty Images

    Stoke City are on the verge of their first-ever top-10 finish in the Premier League, and Mark Hughes has been rewarded for his success.

  16. Juventus MF Claudio Marchisio tears ACL, will miss Champions League QF, 6-8 months

    Mar 27, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT

    Claudio Marchisio, Juventus FC Claudio Marchisio, Juventus FC

    Another bitter injury blow for Juventus, who now have just one fit, first-team central midfielder.

  17. Frank Lampard is in New York City to watch NYCFC play this weekend

    Mar 27, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT

    Frank Lampard, Manchester City FC Getty Images

    Lampard is in the Big Apple, where he’ll spend time with his future teammates and watch them play Sporting KC.

Featured video

Week 30: Headline PL moment