Real Salt Lake drew the LA Galaxy Saturday in the home opener. It was an ugly match, with a goal from Alvaro Saborio canceled out by a counterattack from Robbie Keane. Here are 10 observations from the match.
1. A Home Draw is OK with Cassar
In the Jason Kreis era, a home draw usually ended with an angry press conference. But Jeff Cassar is much more upbeat. Having picked up five points in three tough matches, Cassar said this:
“I’m very optimistic. If you look at the schedule we have to start off the year, it’s pretty daunting. The guys are up for it… Taking four points out of six [on the road], we’re pretty pleased with that. We come home and we want to put on a good product for the fans – they deserve that – and I thought we did that. I think the fans saw a team that fought hard. We just need to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
The Real Salt Lake schedule is a first half gauntlet of brutal matches, followed by a pretty weak second half with poor teams littered throughout. If Salt Lake can just keep pace through the first half, this side will sail into the playoffs and possibly the Supporters’ Shield in the second. So a home draw against a really good team isn’t the end of the world.
2. Injury Bug
The biggest concern for Real Salt Lake has to be injuries. Joao Plata’s “moderate” hamstring strain was Saturday’s contribution to the Salt Lake injury report. That means the side will probably have only two (Alvaro Saborio and Olmes Garcia) of its five forwards available for next weekend’s match against Toronto FC.
That’s especially a concern if another player goes down. Jordan Allen is probably the next forward up, but Real Salt Lake really needs to be playing its key guys for this rough part of the season if it wants to keep pace.
3. Schuler Returns
While the forwards continue to pile up injuries, the centerbacks are getting healthier. Chris Schuler made his return to the lineup and played well. His presence in the air was evident from the first minute. With Schuler back in the lineup, Los Angeles only managed one shot on goal the entire match.
As long as this back line is intact, it is going to keep Salt Lake in every match it plays.
4. RioT Atmosphere
The atmosphere at Rio Tinto Stadium was fantastic. That started with the squad’s seventh sell-out in its last eight matches, and attendance of 20,466. The stadium-wide tifo to start the match was awesome. Virtually the entire sell-out crowd was standing at their seats and singing “Believe” before the kickoff. It was the perfect environment. If Real Salt Lake fans can do that every match, they will start getting the national acclaim that is currently reserved for fans in the Pacific Northwest.
5. Joao Plata
He missed on an early breakaway that should have been an RSL goal, leading to a Robbie Findley joke in the press box. But otherwise, he was really good while he was healthy. Plata has taken on a large part of the creative duties for RSL, and his injury is going to leave a major void on the attacking end of the field. If the little guy can get healthy and stay healthy, it’s hard to imagine how he isn’t a weekly starter for the Claret and Cobalt.
6. L.A.’s Experiment
The Galaxy tried out a diamond type formation that was a little different. Bruce Arena’s side left Landon Donovan, Rob Friend, and Robbie Keane to do virtually all the attacking by themselves, with the wide players – Stefan Ishizaki and Baggio Husidic – holding back rather than making runs in behind the defense.
“Sometimes it seemed like there was a lot of space to pass in both halves, and sometimes it seemed like there wasn’t… some of those spaces that are usually open going the other way weren’t necessarily open,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. “They almost at times looked like a 4-5-1, but I think they tried to give Landon the spot in and around [Beckerman] to find and create space and play with Keane and Rob Friend.”
7. L.A. Regains Its Bite
An underrated component of the successful L.A. Galaxy teams of previous seasons was the bark and bite exhibited by role players. While DPs Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, David Beckham, and Robbie Keane have generally kept their noses clean in how they played, many role players stepped in to commit hard fouls, mix things up with opponents during stoppages, or even take dives.
Thanks to his golden boot campaign last season, it’s easy to forget how much Mike Magee played this role for the Galaxy. I used to call him Napoleon for all the shoving matches he tried to start. But after he left, the Galaxy didn’t have that bark. This season, the Galaxy have A.J. DeLaGarza, James Riley, and Stefan Ishizaki all taking hard cracks at opponents, while Rob Friend does more than his fair share of diving. It is a nasty part of the game, but it is one the Galaxy always has when it thrives.
8. Javier’s Return
After missing last weekend’s match in San Jose, I assumed (and wrote) that Javier Morales was likely to miss a few weeks. After all, he had missed a whole week of practice, and back injuries generally take a while to heal. I was wrong.
Morales was back in the starting lineup and played the full 90 minutes Saturday. He even played some defense with an impressive sliding tackle on Landon Donovan and a two-footed challenge that earned a yellow card in the 55th minute.
9. Set Pieces and Javier Morales
Since his ankle injury, Morales has not been the same on corner kicks. I really prefer seeing Joao Plata taking them, which moves Javier into the box as an additional weapon. I hope we’ll see this more in the future. We saw what Plata could do with his long assist on the goal. Morales’ bicycle kick strike last season is a reminder of what he can do on the receiving end of a corner kick.
10. Saborio’s Leadership
Alvaro Saborio has always been a different cat. He keeps to himself for the most part, and he eats, sleeps, and lives on goals. He’s loosened up over the years with Real Salt Lake, but Saturday’s goal celebration seemed like another step to me. He celebrated with the whole team on the field before running over to the bench to celebrate with the reserves. That second part was new. I think it’s another sign that Sabo’s trying to become a leader and mentor to the younger players.
Category: Five Thoughts