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. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 3-0 Colorado Rapids

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT

    New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution Getty Images

    The Revs’ eight-game losing streak ends thanks to another strong night from Lee Nguyen.

  2. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 3-0 Toronto FC

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

    D.C. United's Eddie Johnson scored for the first time since being traded to the club this winter. His 84th minute goal left his team's game with Montréal tied, 1-1. (Photo: AP Photos) AP

    The Red fall nine points back of second place United in the Eastern Conference.

  3. Southampton’s replacement for Luke Shaw: Ryan Bertand, on loan

    Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.46.35 PM

    24-year-old defender loaned out for the seventh time.

  4. Ugly scenes in Northern Ireland as Mexican U-19 player attempts to kick opponent’s head during Milk Cup brawl

    Jul 30, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.26.41 PM

    Game is eventually cut short after a yet unnamed player aimed at the head of a fallen opponent.

  5. Atlético Madrid latest club linked with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández

    Jul 30, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT

    Chicharito Getty Images

    Atlético’s interest could develop into Chicharito’s best option.

  6. Nick De Santis no longer sporting director in Montréal

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT

    500px-Montreal_Impact_(MLS)_logo

    Nick De Santis will stay with the Impact, albeit in an administrative role.

  7. Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT

    MartinezLukaku Getty Images

    Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.

  8. NWSL implements cooling break procedure

    Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.

  9. VIDEO: Liverpool fan from New Jersey cries, loses the plot, after meeting Gerrard

    Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Liverpool fan

    Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.

  10. Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

    Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.

  11. Philadelphia Union sign Algerian World Cup star Rais Mbolhi

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    Germany v Algeria: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Union grab Algerian goalkeeper Mbolhi, throw MacMath’s future in doubt.

  12. FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona dies, Argentina mourns

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIERS-ARG-VEN Getty Images

    One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.

  13. Premier League will use vanishing spray for 2014-15 season

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Morocco Soccer Club World Cup AP

    After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.

  14. Manchester United’s Luke Shaw agrees he’s not fit enough after Louis van Gaal criticism

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Luke Shaw Andrea Ranocchia AP

    Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”

  15. PHOTOS: Scantily clad Cristiano Ronaldo poses for record-breaking magazine cover

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT

    ronaldo cover final

    Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.

  16. VIDEO: Manchester United dominate Inter, win on penalties in Washington D.C.

    Jul 30, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2014 - Inter Milan v Manchester United Getty Images

    United make it three wins from three on their U.S. tour. Watch the highlights from Van Gaal’s men in action.

  17. Manchester United reach “verbal agreement” on $80 million Arturo Vidal deal

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    Arturo Vidal AP

    Will United splash the cash to sign Vidal in central midfield?

  18. Transfer Rumor Roundup: Cuadrado to Manchester United, Lukaku to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT

    Colombia v Uruguay: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    United to splash the cash? Lukaku on his way out of Chelsea? All the latest gossip, right here.

  19. Yaya Toure confirms he will stay at Manchester City

    Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 AM EDT

    Cardiff City v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Toure: “My decision is that I will stay at Manchester City for as long as possible.”