Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Real Struggles

What can be said about Real? They certainly are struggling. Their game is like a leaky dam. Every time they seem to fix one part another hole begins spewing water raising concern that the whole thing may come down in an unfixable mess - washing away all hope of making the playoffs.

Before the match against Chivas on Wednesday night RSL had been held scoreless in three of their last four outings - the triple goal performance at New England in the middle of that stretch was clearly an anomaly. For statistical purposes we'll say that Salt Lake have scored a total of 3 goals in the last four games.

During that stretch several chances were squandered by lack of touch, concentration, or fear of touching an easy ball into the net. It's called Easygoalitus. Those inflicted find it impossible to bury "sitter" chances. It ran ramped through much of the RSL offense, but seems to be in remission for now.

The positive side of that stretch is that two of those goal-less performances were draws - wait, no. The Dallas game should have ended in a draw. Abe Thompson did a country two-step through a pair of defenders and then docey-dowed Scott Garlick for the stoppage time talley.

The horror continued four days later as Claudio Suarez (pictured) popped home a Jesse Marsch cross also very late in stoppage time. As you can see from this photo, Suarez had enough space to hold a small fiesta in front of the goal.

Salt Lake's defense has problems. They are very capable of keeping the ball out of their net, but having troubles doing so late. This issue will need to be addressed before the D.C. match on Saturday.

The league's best team has not lost in 14 straight MLS matches and they have not been shut out all year. Our ray of hope lies in their single loss on the year - it was at altitude.

Back in May D.C. fell to the Rapids in Colorado following a 1-1 tie with Dallas the week before. Well, United tied Chicago 1-1 last week and now the Black and Red are climbing the Rockies to play up on the hill at Rice-Eccles Saturday night.

As luck would have it, RSL is in desperate need of a win. All we need is for our defense to stay in the game from whistle to whistle and for the offense to show no signs of Easygoalitus. Couple that with D.C.'s struggles at altitude this season and it looks good for Real Salt Lake.

Monday, July 17, 2006

White Shirts and Compromises

Another feat has been met by RSL! With the 3-1 over the New England Revolution on Friday night Real Salt Lake has now won while wearing their white kits.

If you recall the historic 3-0 win over the Galaxy at Victoria Street back on May 13 of this year the visitors were in their traditional red shirts and blue shorts. But, Friday marked the first win in franchise history while wearing the road whites.

Salt Lake's fortunes were reversed on Friday. Rather than being the team that played better and couldn't finish, they finished with a vengeance. I still can't get over the fact that Jeff didn't loose the ball well spinning and tip-toeing through the led-footed bunch of Revs defenders.

Great goals on all three strikes. Let's keep it up boys!

I don't even want to touch the roller coaster of emotions that is the stadium situation here in Utah. Let it be known that nothing is decided. Owner Dave Checketts has laid out an ultimatum that he will "put the team up to the highest bidder" if a stadium deal is not tangibly in motion by August 12.

Even though he's asked the County Council to take the stadium proposal of the agenda, the council still seems to be drawing up a counter offer. Basically, they want to give RSL $23 million instead of the requested $30 million. And, to be clear, this money would be coming from a hotel tax; no local residents will have their taxes raised for the stadium - unless they stay a local hotel.

This is quite a mature move by the Council and, to me, is a fair compromise. Personally, I think RSL should take it so that Uncle Dave can have his vision of Kreis and Beckham turning over some dirt with golden shovels in August.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

RSL gets first Open Cup Win

I wouldn't call it a dominating performance. It did take RSL all the way into overtime to squeak a 2-1 win out of the Virginia Beach Mariners of the USL First Division (one division below MLS) in the third round of Open Cup play.

Descriptions that we controlled most of the possession are little misleading. We may have had the ball but were either in our own half or traveling east and west at midfield. When Salt Lake did go forward with a healthy build up their chances looked dangerous, but few ended up on frame. The same troubles in front of the net that has been plaguing the first team strikers was affecting the young guys in front of the Mariners' net. Although, I guess Atiba has seen ample time with the first team this year but I still consider him one of the young guys.

The important thing about the game is that we won. The first win for RSL in Open Cup play. Now we're not the only MLS team in history with out a win in the national tournament. To be honest, some MLS sides take the Open Cup seriously while others don't - it's reported that DC has not defeated another MLS team in the competiion since 1997. With this year's playoff possibilities in serious doubt, RSL should really have a go at the Dewar Trophy. It would be tough, but very doable for our side. The win sets up a meeting with the Crapids on August 2nd at Rice-Eccles. I hear that all the season ticket holder's exhibition tickets are all used up, so everybody will need to pay to get in to that one.

As for the team's performance against Virginia Beach I really, really like the combination of Andy Williams and Mehdi Ballouchy playing together. Ryan Johnson looked particularly good on the wing. He has the build and speed to be a great threat streaking down the sidelines. And his crosses aren't bad either. As I have said before, Jay Nolly is a great goalkeeper. The goal that was scored by Virginia Beach was a beauty - one of those that launches Mariners supporters out of their seats and silences RSL supporters and caused me to mummble "wow". Local boy Joey Worthen also made an appearance on the flank opposite Johnson. His hustle and size will help his case for getting into a league match soon.

Monday, July 10, 2006

WC Final: Too bad, FIFA

My mind can't shake the image. The more I digest the memory the more I'm confused. A momentarily lapse in reason and self control overtook Zidane on Sunday in front of nearly half the population of the planet.

Why one of the most graceful players to touch the game felt he needed to use his head as a battering ram and knock a man off his feet is still a mystery. Of course Zidane was provoked, but that still does not justify his action.

The sad thing is that the biggest loser in this drama is not Zidane or even his French national team that lost their chance at football glory of the highest nature, it's FIFA who less than 24 hours after the incident occured awarded Zidane with the Golden Ball as the MVP of the tournament. I won't deny that the fate of France rested on his single performance in every game of this year's Cup - and even through qualifying. But, what message are you sending to the millions of kids and young players all over the world who see Zidane freak out on the world stage? If FIFA were to trully stick by their "Fair Play" motto they would take the award from Zidane. The message would be powerful: everyone should play fair no matter how well they play with the ball.
I should mention that the award is voted on by the press and the vote was taken prior to The Head Butt. But, FIFA should still revoke the honor because of the visibility and outright uncontrolled nature of the action.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

WC: And a Pigstacker shall lead them...

Bastian Schweinsteiger saved his best for last as he had a hand in all three German goals in their 3-1 victory over Portugal in the World Cup third place match.

Foreseeing the low amount of intensity in this match I actually opted to completely skip the first half and instead spend the time with my wife and five month old daughter at the pool. When I eventually started heading over to watch the game halftime was just ending. But, rather than drive up to campus as quick as possible, I decided I was hungry and went the opposite direction to Wendy's to pick up a couple sandwiches.

Now that I was really on my way I was surprised by how not rushed I felt. I figured the game was either knotted at nothing, or Germany blew the game out in the first 15 minutes. Neither was the case. All though the intensity was right about where I thought it would be. To me it looked just a hair more serious than an All-Star game.

It was the Schweinsteiger Show as the kid blasted a pair of beauties from distance and forced an own-goal. When Figo shuffled on to the pitch around the hour mark Portugal were able to pull a goal back after a precise cross from the former FIFA World Player of the Year (2002).

And to bring this all back around to the title. During the semi-final on Monday there was a lad in our group would lived in Germany for a few years. He snickered when heard Schweinsteiger's name. Explained that translated into english the name means's a good thing that kid can shoot.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

RSL: Tweek the Frontline

They haven't been losses, but the way the last few home games have gone they may as well be. I thought last year's team introduced me to all the different ways I could feel frustration - I was wrong.

The difference this year is that now we dominate play. RSL brought the New England Revolution to its knees a couple weeks ago. Ableit, it was a sputtering Dempseyless Revolution side at the time. And tonight they neutralized a hot Chivas USA squad that has not lost since May and have left such teams as Western Conference leaders Dallas in their wake. Both RSL games against the Revs and Goats should have been won, and had opportunities to be won.

We don't need to recall the missed chances from close range during said matches, but the point is clear: the finishing boogey man needs to be remedied.

In times where RSL have scored, like in Chicago at end of June, the defense has broken down. When the defense is clicking, as in tonight, the offense mentally goes on vacation and creatively botches sitter plays.

As I think the recent performances, our problems are all mental. In these last two home games we have seen that RSL can knock the ball around with any team and create chances. The chances have been dangerous - now we just need to finish them.

With all that said I submit what has been bubbling in this fan's mind. What would it be like to have 6'3" Atiba Harris paired up with Jamie Watson? Even just for a half, then bring Jeffy on for some late game heroics.

The rest of the squad is essentially figured out, and works for the most part. I'd like to see Ellinger fiddle just a bit more with our front line to see if the right combo could create a spark.