Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
If Saturday's home opener is any indication of what this balanced and talented young team can do, 2012 could be a very exciting year for Real Salt Lake. Half the midfield and forward lines were fill-ins, but you wouldn't know it with the way they sliced and diced New York's defense, owning the midfield with impunity. Chris Schuler even held up well in his reserve role against superstar Thierry Henry, keeping his length and strength in check. As a team, Real earned a well deserved A for their first win at home and second of the season.
Nick Rimando worked hard for his clean sheet, particularly in the second half, parrying away what looked like two sure goals, one in the air and one at the left heel of the goal. As usual, his distribution was intelligent and his vision of the field one of the veteran's best kept secrets. Grade: A
Tony Beltran was David to Joel Lindpere's Goliath but he never backed down. His speed and ball handling ability frustrated the NewYork front line most of the night. Kreis' decision to play the injured Beltran was a surprise but the bum knee didn't seem to hamper him at all. Grade: A-
Jamison Olave was a brick wall Saturday night. Henry tried taking it to him and was repelled. Kenny Cooper tried to shiver him out of bounds in the second half on a run down the side and Cooper found himself stumbling off into the night as Jamison shook him off like a pesky kitten. The diminutive Dane Richards didn't even try his luck against the big Colombian. Probably a good idea. Grade: A-
Chris Schuler filled in for the injured Nat Borchers. Tough draw when you're matching up against one of the world's greatest strikers of all time, Thierry Henry. But Schuler didn't flinch. He kept stride with Henry most of the game, allowing him to float free only a handful of times to make some dangerous plays, including a near bicycle goal that secretly had even the Real fans wondering what if. Schuler's finding his stride and Saturday showed he has what it takes to play a full 90 minutes with the best of 'em. Grade: B+
Chris Wingert was steady Eddy Saturday night. Nothing flashy. Nothing out of the ordinary. But that's why Wingert has earned the trust of Jason Kreis. He knows exactly what he'll get. He did happen to string together a handful of nifty passes with his en fuego midfield but it was the midfield that made him look a little more special than he was. Real's defensive line has fewer options this year and Wingert's steady ways could prove to be one of it's greatest strengths. Grade: B+
Ned Grabavoy started the game shaky, fumbling away a breakaway opportunity in the 25th minute when he hesitated on a through ball to a breaking Fabian Espindola, costing Real an unnecessary offside. But once he settled down, Ned's work rate and midfield defense were critical to Real's success. The team of Gil, Grabavoy, Velazquez and Beckerman in the midfield proved extremely potent Saturday. Grade: B+
Kyle Beckerman provided much needed veteran leadership with such a young team on the field Saturday night. Nearly every attack went through him first and he did a terrific job exposing the NY defense with quick, intelligent passing both forward to his fellow midfielders and back to his defenders. His patience ended up being the key to breaking down the Red Bulls and while they seemed to come out with clearer heads in the second half, Beckerman's continued composure held off a push between the 50th and 70th minutes that New York was never really able to remount. Grade: A
Luis Gil showed why he has an incredibly bright future in professional soccer Saturday night with a maturity beyond his years. His ability to quarterback ping-pong passes through the midfield with Velazquez, Beckerman and Grabavoy kept New York on their heels all night. He was issued a suspect yellow card in 21st minute, but his rocket rebound goal in the 59th minute made up for anything the card might have cost the team. Grade: A
Sebastian Velasquez is not afraid of the ball. He shows a tremendous work rate off the ball and when it's at his feet, he proves very exciting. A single early slide tackle on a breakaway and an errant no look pass in the crowded midfield were the only noticeable deficiencies for the rookie. His best moment was his threatening run in the 59th minute to set up Fabian Espindola's shot that ricocheted off NY keeper Ryan Meara only to be knocked in by Luis Gil. Not a bad second game for the former Jr. College player who had his second MLS start in as many games as an MLS player. Grade: A
Paulo Junior filled in for the injured Alvaro Sabario and tortured the left side with speed, skill and a work rate that won him a couple of deadly crosses. His presence along with Espindola up top made Real's dominance in the midfield that much more potent where he seemed able to spring the trap at will. Grade: A-
Fabian Espindola is back and in the best form of his career. He had the defensive play of the game in the 30th minute, sprinting from box to box to catch up with a breaking away Thierry Henry, slide tackling the ball away just as he was prepping to put it into the back of the net. His own breakaway goal in the 39th minute that put Real up one nil was a thing of patient beauty that showed all the work and maturity Fabian has built up over his years in Salt Lake. Man of the Match. Grade: A
Javier Morales came on in place of Luis Gil in the 62nd minute and immediately had an impact. While the run of play had simmered down by the time he entered, his smooth delivery and incredibly field vision game RSL three solid attacks in just the thirty minutes he was on the field. Unfortunately none were converted. Grade: A
Alvaro Saborio came in at the 62nd minute for Paulo Jr. and while he showed off his ability to play with his back to the goal, he seemed like he was struggling to find his stride. Fans have a reason to be giddy when he does because it could mean one of the strongest front lines in Major League Soccer with a healthy Sabo, Fabi and Jr. Grade: B+
Johnny Steele subbed in for a clearly winded Sebastian Velsaquez and seemed to pick up offensively where Velasquez left off, linking up with Javier Morales a handful of times to threaten New York. He didn't seem quite as anxious to play the kind of defense Velasquez did but that may have been because he didn't have the time in the second half to show it. Grade: B
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