Real Salt Lake gutted out a 0-0 draw at Sporting Kansas City Saturday. Getting a road result in Kansas is always an impressive feat for Real Salt Lake, but doing so under the circumstances it did was even more impressive. Here are 10 tidbits I picked up from the match.
Real Salt Lake is undefeated. Only FC Dallas can match that record in MLS thus far. Every other club in the league has lost at least once. That is an impressive accomplishment. It speaks to how good this Real Salt Lake squad is.
2. Running the Gauntlet
Going five matches unbeaten is an impressive-enough feat, but this Real Salt Lake squad did it against the toughest stretch of competition it will face all season. Every squad Real Salt Lake played will make the playoffs, and three of the four squads are regularly picked to make MLS Cup.
3. Holy Jeff Attinella
When I picked Real Salt Lake to lose this match, I did so in part because of the replacements that would play. I expected Rimando to play, but the other absences did not surprise me. So when Jeff Attinella got the start, I expected things to go badly, fast. I’m happy to report I was wrong. Attinella played brilliantly, making eight saves, and keeping a clean sheet despite playing with two reserve outside backs.
“[Attinella’s performance] was fantastic. He commanded his box. We have a ton of confidence in Jeff and he has been training extremely well this year, playing extremely well,” head coach Jeff Cassar said. “We talked earlier in the week about opportunities and taking your opportunities and running with them. Jeff did that tonight.”
4. Balchan and Mansally
With Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran out injured, the projected weak spot on the depth chart, reserve outside back, saw the spotlight. Both Abdoulie Mansally and Rich Balchan played well enough to maintain the shutout. That would be impressive at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Montreal Impact, but doing so against RSL’s kryptonite, Sporting KC, on the road speaks to just how deep this RSL squad is. Hopefully, these two will only start together again in Open Cup and reserve matches, but the ability for either to step in and play is a strong sign for the squad.
5. Injury Bug Continues
Chris Wingert got injured during the Toronto FC match and Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran picked up knocks in the USMNT match. We aren’t sure how long they’ll be out. It may just be the one match, but Salt Lake continues to experience numerous injuries.
“I’m extremely proud of the team’s effort. We feel confident sliding guys into certain spots and we’ve shown that last year and we are prepared to show that again this year,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. “We have had a couple freak little injuries and some guys have had to step up and they played well.”
6. Still Work to Do
The performance, while it produced a result, wasn’t the best Real Salt Lake can do. The side was out-passed, and out-possessed by wide margins. When has that happened? The recovery defense worked and the side managed to get a result, but the match was not perfect by any means.
“We didn’t have our best soccer tonight but credit to our team. We showed we could get a result in a different way,” Grabavoy said. “I think that’s a positive to build on going forward throughout the season.”
7. These Teams Don’t Like Each Other
Dom Dwyer said it before the match and backed it up with chippy play throughout the night. Uri Rosell got hit with a red card for a rough tackle as well. Real Salt Lake fought back with some hard hits of its own. For those who thought this was just some overhyped media storyline, the play on the pitch confirmed the distaste between these clubs is real.
8. Depth Issues
Real Salt Lake only used two of its subs in this match, and you can understand why. The bench featured two centerbacks, Maund and Salcedo, and only two proven attacking subs. Luke Mulholland and Devon Sandoval both made it into the match as a result, but the only other attacking option was John Stertzer. Cassar clearly doesn’t trust him. RSL’s depth has done well thus far, but it is strained to its breaking point. Another injury or two at the wrong positions could be a serious problem.
9. Beckerman – Iron Man
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman went well over a half with the USMNT on Wednesday in a match that was really fast-paced and then went the full 90 in Kansas City. He played well in both and showed again why he is the captain of the squad.
10. Keep on Rolling
Real Salt Lake has survived a brutal stretch of the season, but things won’t get much easier any time soon. Moreover, a poor run of form during another stretch could cancel out all the good this squad has done so far. The ability to consistently put a good product on the field is the true test of a soccer club. Salt Lake has proven it has the depth and the strength to maintain a solid run for a season. Now it is time to execute.
Category: Five Thoughts