Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
The night started slow for Real Salt Lake as they faced off against Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday night. Kansas City had them pinned in their third most of the first half due to an inability or unwillingness to transition the ball through the midfield, opting instead to try for long balls over the top that Sporting's defenders were able to easily cut out. The second half improved as Real Salt Lake settled down and moved more play through the midfield. They came out on top off a beautifully executed set piece as Kyle Beckerman lofted a ball into the box from 40 yards out to find the head of a streaking Nat Borchers.
Nick Rimando's heroics started in the 23rd minute when he saved a point-blank shot with his feet from KC's Teal Bunbury. His 40th minute save seemed to give the boys in Cobalt and Claret reason to shift the quality of their game and his brace of saves in the second half sealed the deal. Grade: A
Robbie Russell seemed cold Saturday night as he struggled to keep tabs on the KC players roaming through his zone. His poor positioning and lackluster play combined with a less than stellar night from Jamison Olave made for a frustrating first half. Thankfully he found is groove by the second half and while bending never broke. Grade: B-
Jamison Olave is always a force to be reckoned with in the middle but on more than one occasion his touch betrayed him and his passes out of the backfield kept Real from finding any rhythm in transition through the first half. Grade: B-
Nat Borchers was not the fastest or the most skilled player on the field but once again he proved his quality by captaining a back line who seemed befuddled much of the first half against a very eager Sporting Kansas City front line. By the second half his line settled down an fell into place, but it was his streaking header in the 53rd minute off a Kyle Beckerman free kick that makes him my man of the match. Grade A
Chris Schuler played in place of a suspended Tony Beltran on the left side of the defensive line. His size and speed proved to be a very good match up to Sporting's strong right side. Chris picked up a yellow card in the 12th minute for a light tackle on Sporting's Kei Kamara. The Referee obviously considered it payback for a previous hard tackle By Kamara on Kyle Beckerman moments before. He got stronger as the game progressed and by the end gave RSL fans a reason to hope the young defender might get some more chances at left defender. Grade: B+
Kyle Beckerman defines his position with smarts, speed and agility. He showed why he may be the finest defensive midfielders in Major League Soccer, tracking every ball that came his way and helping the back line to settle in for the second half and play a much more controlled game. his free kick in the 54th minute couldn't have been more perfectly executed lofting over the wall from 40 yards out to find the head of a streaking Nat Borchers for a perfectly placed header past SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. Grade: A
Will Johnson once again proved to be the spark plug in the midfield. Once play started moving from the back line through midfield he and Andy Williams kept the flow going and gave the Real forward line more chances in the final 25 minutes than they'd seen all game long. Grade: B+
Andy Williams must have taken some Will Johnson pills before the game because he was all over the place both creating opportunities and tracking back to win a number of hard fought 50-50 balls. Grade: A
Luis Gil couldn't get anything going in the first half and struggled to stay relevant in the second half. He was subbed out in the 58th minute in lieu of an energized Ned Grabavoy. Grade: C+
Alvaro Saborio's improving form slipped a little Saturday night as he struggled with Sporting KC's offside trap. His touch was off and his normally strong play with his back to the goal was not as good as it's been. The better midfield play in the second half gave him better opportunities where he was clearly better, especially in the 80th minute when he sent a rocket volley right into the hands of KC goalie Jimmy Nielsen. Grade: B-
Fabian Espindola wasn't able to get too involved in the first half due to the poor play out of the backline but once the game settled down in the second half he sucked the wind out of Sporting KC's defensive line with speedy run after speedy run. Grade: A-
Ned Grabavoy seemed to touch off a powder keg when he came off the bench for a struggling Luis Gil in the 58th minute. His energy and fresh legs turned the tide in the midfield and gave Real Salt Lake the possession advantage for the rest of the game. Grade: A
Jean Alexandre came on in the 89th minute for a clearly winded Fabian Espindola. He didn't play enough for a grade. Grade: Incomplete
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