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. Where in the world is Angel Di Maria? Man United boss Louis van Gaal has no idea

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT

    Louis van Gaal & Angel Di Maria, Manchester United FC Louis van Gaal & Angel Di Maria, Manchester United FC

    Louis van Gaal seems to have misplaced his club’s $90 million investment, purchased just 12 months ago.

  2. Anfield exit looming? Balotelli, Borini left out of squad for Liverpool’s final preseason games

    Jul 30, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT

    Mario Balotelli, Liverpool FC Mario Balotelli, Liverpool FC

    With three attacking signings already made this summer, Balotelli and Borini look destined to leave Liverpool before the transfer deadline.

  3. Report: Julian Green will start season with Bayern Munich reserves, not on loan

    Jul 30, 2015, 6:24 PM EDT

    Julian Green, FC Bayern Munich Getty Images

    Julian Green will be playing in the fourth division of German football to begin the 2015-16 season.

  4. David Beckham’s Miami MLS team is getting a really, really bad stadium deal

    Jul 30, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT

    Marlins Park — Miami Marlins Marlins Park — Miami Marlins

    The terms and conditions of building a stadium next to Marlins Park couldn’t be any less favorable to the prospective MLS franchise.

  5. CONCACAF president to review refereeing department after Gold Cup fiasco

    Jul 30, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT

    Mark Geiger — Panama vs. Mexico — 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Mark Geiger — Panama vs. Mexico — 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup

    CONCACAF’s refereeing department could be in line for something of an overhaul in the coming months and years.

  6. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Norwich City

    Jul 30, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    Norwich City FC Norwich City FC

    Back in the Premier League after a season away, can the Canaries stay up and solidify their place among England’s elite?

  7. Mauricio Pochettino: USMNT’s DeAndre Yedlin could go out on loan

    Jul 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    2015 MLS All-Star Game Getty Images

    Following Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to the MLS All-Stars, Mauricio Pochettino said he is unsure as to where Yedlin will be playing next season.

  8. Zlatan says his next move will be “a very big surprise”

    Jul 30, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic AP

    Zlatan’s contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires next season, but he won’t let anyone know his plans for the future.

  9. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Newcastle United

    Jul 30, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT

    newcastlecrest

    Last season was a complete disaster for Newcastle. Can Steve McClaren turn things around for the Magpies?

  10. Thursday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Lambert to West Brom, Balotelli back to Italy

    Jul 30, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT

    Hull City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Liverpool could lose two strikers, while Mario Gomez is on his way to Besiktas.

  11. Chung Mong-joon to run for FIFA presidency, calls out Blatter and Platini

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:06 AM EDT

    Chung Mong-Joon Speaks About Possible FIFA President Candidacy Getty Images

    The South Korean billionaire is looking to become the new president of FIFA, and he had some choice words for his rivals.

  12. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Manchester United

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT

    manchester.united.crest

    Heading into Louis van Gaal’s second season at Old Trafford, trophies are on the minds of everyone in Manchester.

  13. Report: Sergio Ramos to sign extension with Real Madrid until 2020

    Jul 30, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID-MALAGA Getty Images

    The defender had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, but it looks like he’ll be staying at Madrid.

  14. MLS All Stars 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Kaka powers MLS to win

    Jul 29, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT

    2015 AT&T Major League Soccer All-Star game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 29, 2015 in Commerce City, Colorado. Getty Images

    Kaka and David Villa scored for the All Stars, which built on last year’s 2-1 win against Bayern Munich.

  15. Manchester United 0-2 PSG: Early goals lead French champs past Red Devils

    Jul 29, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT

    CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  Phil Jones and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Manchester United in action with  Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint Germain during the International Champions Cup 2015 match between Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain at Soldier Field on July 29, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Tom Purslow/Man Utd via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Halftime substitutions including Andreas Pereira gave some life to United, but the Red Devils still couldn’t find the back of the net.

  16. WATCH: Carli Lloyd with another screamer, this time in NWSL play

    Jul 29, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT

    LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 236 -- Pictured: Carlie Lloyd of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Champion U.S. Women's National Team, during an interview on July 27, 2015 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images) Getty Images

    The 86th minute tally came moments after FCKC had drawn level at 2-2.

  17. Jaime Penedo and L.A. Galaxy surprisingly decide to call it quits

    Jul 29, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07:  Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo #18 of the Los Angeles Galaxy makes a save in the second half of regulation time during 2014 MLS Cup at StubHub Center on December 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Galaxy defeated the Revolution 2-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Could this be on account of overseas interest, or is he just ready to go closer to home?

  18. UEFA Champions League wrap: Celtic escapes through Boyata; Ajax draws

    Jul 29, 2015, 7:14 PM EDT

    GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 29:  Dedryck  Boyata of Celtic scores against FK Qarabag during the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round 1st Leg match between Celtic and FK Qarabag at Celtic Park on July 29, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Azerbaijani champions nearly walked out of Celtic Park with a deadlock, but Boyata’s second goal in as many games did the trick.

  19. Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea’s John Terry joins Rog and Davo

    Jul 29, 2015, 6:18 PM EDT

    meninblazers

    Rog and Davo pod from Chelsea vs. Barcelona at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. Chelsea captain John Terry guests.

Featured video

Analyzing PL clubs in the transfer window