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. Report: Dutch star Dirk Kuyt heading to Southampton

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Will Saints swoop to sign former Liverpool star?

  2. Reality check: Outclassed by Real Madrid, what now for Liverpool?

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:34 AM EDT

    Liverpool’s players react to Real Madrid humbling, as growing pains continue to spiral out of control.

  3. After winless October, USA drop out of top 20 in latest FIFA rankings

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:54 AM EDT

    Klinsmann Getty Images

    After two draws in October, the USA drops six places in latest world rankings.

  4. Galatasaray’s 3-D Tifo has demanded all others to step their game up

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:04 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.48.58 PM

    How did the Galatasaray supporters pull off this Tifo before Wednesday’s match against Borussia Dortmund? How?!?

  5. Thursday’s Europa League preview: Spurs go Greek, Everton faces Lille

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Europa League AP

    The pair of Premier League clubs remaining in the competition face quite different tests on Thursday.

  6. PST’s MLS Rookie of the Year: Shipp, Hagglund, Akindele or Birnbaum?

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT

    Nick Hagglund; Michael Bradley AP

    Perhaps it isn’t the sexiest year for rookies in Major League Soccer, but there’s a quartet of names set to stick around for a while.

  7. Arsene Wenger: We went big and it paid off against Anderlecht

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    Belgium Soccer Champions League AP

    “I had hope, it maybe didn’t look like it, but it happened,” Wenger said.

  8. It’s official: World No. 3 Colombia to face USMNT in London on Nov. 14

    Oct 22, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez AP

    “So overall, it’s a squad with a lot of experience playing at the highest level, and this will be another great benchmark for us,” Klinsmann said.

  9. Brendan Rodgers remarks on Balotelli and Pepe’s halftime shirt swap

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Of course many are claiming this “is the beginning of end” for Balotelli on Merseyside. That seems a bit much.

  10. VIDEO: Top 10 goals of the MLS season (heading into the final weekend)

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT

    Erik Hurtado AP

    Here’s the bar, Week 33 of Major League Soccer: Please feel free to raise it.

  11. UEFA Champions League roundup: Madrid clubs, Borussia Dortmund roll

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, AP

    We are at the halfway point in Groups A-D, and some English clubs are concerned about their fortunes to be sure.

  12. Three things we learned as Real Madrid rout Liverpool

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT

    Ronaldo and co. rolled into Anfield and issued Liverpool a harsh reality check. Ronaldo and co. rolled into Anfield and issued Liverpool a harsh reality check.

    It was a night to forget for the home side, as Real ruled at Anfield. Here’s what we learned.

  13. Arsenal’s Podolski, Gibbs break Belgian hearts in left-for-late win

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:36 PM EDT

    Belgium Soccer Champions League AP

    The 21-year-old Honduran international did what a dangerous Alexis Sanchez couldn’t, but Arsenal was rescued late.

  14. Michel Platini denies making ebola comments which angered African Confederation

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    Platini Getty Images

    The CAF claimed Platini said something he didn’t, and it hurt his feelings.

  15. Setting the scene at Anfield, as Liverpool host Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-REALMADRID FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-REALMADRID

    Here’s what it’s like at Anfield, as Liverpool host Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

  16. FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League returns for Wednesday slate

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

    Ronaldo Getty Images

    With yesterday’s goal frenzy, will today give us the same excitement?

  17. Robinho being investigated for sexually assaulting teenager

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT

    Robinho Getty Images

    This is the second time Robinho is under investigation for such an alleged incident.

  18. David Villa’s time in Australia could be up already

    Oct 22, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT

    Villa Getty Images

    NYCFC’s first Designated Player will be returning to the United States to fulfill commercial and marketing obligations, and it’s unclear whether he will make his way back to Australia to finish out his loan.

  19. WATCH: Geoff Cameron says he’s fighting for a central position

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:36 AM EDT

    Cameron Getty Images

    Now that he’s back from a hernia problem, the American told Stoke’s YouTube channel that he is no longer a right-back and the club is aware of where he wants to play.

Featured video

PST Extra: Can United beat Chelsea?