Real Salt Lake player grades: Claret-and-Cobalt start 2011 MLS season with emphatic statement
There were some doubts about Real's ability to hang in there with the Juan Pablo Angel-enhanced L.A. Galaxy with starters Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson missing for national team assignments. Didn't seem to matter to Real Salt Lake Saturday night, as it dismantled the defending Western Conference champs 4-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Here's how RSL's players stacked up over 94 minutes of play before a packed Rio Tinto Stadium.
Nick Rimando – The California native always seems to show well against the Galaxy and Saturday was no exception. With two solid saves and beautiful distribution throughout the night, Rimando's only mistake was the miscommunication with Jamison Olave that let L.A.'s only goal in. Grade: B+
Jamison Olave – Proving out of the gate why he was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2010, L.A. tried everything to break through the wall that is Jamison Olave. Despite throwing two different forwards at him for each half, L.A. couldn't get past Olave's combination of size and speed. It took a terrific free kick from David Beckham to the foot of playmaker Juan Pablo Angel to find a crack wide enough to slip one through. Grade: B+
Nat Borchers – Nat Borchers is trying to make a case for a second MLS Defender of the Year on RSLs back line in 2011? He was everywhere. Whether nearly powering in a diving header off a set piece during the second half to repelling L.A.'s front line all night long, Borchers was in total control and a major reason L.A. only had three shots on goal that required the services of Nick Rimando. Grade: A
Chris Wingert – It felt like Chris was still coming back from injury Saturday night. His play was solid but RSL missed that extra gear he regularly found down the sideline last year. Good thing David Beckham seemed out of sorts last night, never really challenging Wingert with his dangerous crossing and passing ability. Grade: B
Robbie Russell – Russell has shown brightly so far in 2011 CONCACAF play and Real's season opener but Saturday night he was good but not spectacular. This may be due to the fact that Real's interior passing was so superb and Russell's oft used midfield crossing wasn't needed. Grade: B+
Ned Grabavoy – His work rate and touch were superb as Grabavoy got the start with Johnson away. Playing a more defensive midfield role for the majority of the game, Grabavoy partnered with fellow defensive middie Kyle Beckerman to help RSL maintain control of the midfield. Grade: A-
Kyle Beckerman – RSL's captain was in typical hard-nosed form. From start to finish Beckerman never failed to contest a single ball in reach. He took Juninho completely out of his game and proved to be the lynchpin to Real's ability to control the game. Grade: A
Andy Williams – Did Andy Williams find the fountain of youth? Playing some of his best soccer since joining RSL in its inaugural season, Williams seemed to have Jedi like abilities to do twice the work with half the effort of anyone else on the field. Williams started the scoring in the second minute of the game with a perfectly placed touch through traffic. Andy Williams is a fan favorite for a reason and he didn't disappoint Saturday in nearly 70 minutes of play. Grade: A
Javier Morales – Morales was the MVP of the game. With two goals, one an obvious contender for MLS goal of the week, Real fans couldn't have wished for a better showing from their playmaker. His passing and ball control made it look like Real was playing against a team of unknowns instead of the superstars that make up LA's offensive force. Grade: A+
Paulo Jr. — The young Brazilian made a case for starting more than just this home opener in his first MLS season for Real with an assist, a goal and a slashing run to set up Morales' PK goal. His speed and creativity on the ball was on full display and it sometimes seemed as though LA defenders were too impressed to do anything but watch. Defensively, coach Jason Kreis said he wasn't very pleased with his effort, particularly in the first half. Grade: A-
Fabian Espindola – The Argentine gets some flack for being a bit mouthy but he didn't have to say a word Saturday night. His feet did all the talking. Constantly beating LA's defenders off the ball Espindola finally made them pay when he beat DeLaGarza and Franklin to a left side through-ball that he slid across the face of the goal with perfect weight to find a streaking Paulo Jr. for Real's final goal. Grade: A
Tony Beltran – Beltran made an immediate impact after coming on in the 63rd minute, driving the ball down the right side of the field then deftly sidestepping two defenders to put a hard cross directly into the six yard box that caromed off a defender for a corner kick. His speed and skill on the defensive line were important reasons Real never lost control through the tiring final third of the game. Grade: A-
Colin Warner – The skilled midfielder showed Real's depth off the bench as he used terrific ball control to put Real in dangerous scoring positions a number of times in the short span of time he was in the game. Grade: A-
Luis Gil – Real's wunderkind showed great ball skill and terrific vision in his short stint Saturday night. He partnered with fellow sub Colin Warner on two occasions to create some dangerous scoring opportunities. The future looks good as Gil proved he's game for more minutes in his Real home opener. Grade: B+
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