Commentary: Real Salt Lake’s ageless midfield still the driving force behind success
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
In the recent win over Los Angeles Galaxy, Olmes Garcia certainly stole the show. Indeed, the striker may have equalled Alvaro Saborio as Real Salt Lake’s top scorer this season—they both have four goals each—but the driving force behind saturday’s victory was undoubtedly the midfield.
Khari Stephenson scored the opener, before Javier Morales paved the way for a Garcia double, with Kyle Beckerman also playing a part in Garcia’s first goal. Throughout the match, the midfield was instrumental in holding possession and creating chances out of nothing.
The Galaxy game was not unique in this respect, however. RSL fans have almost become accustomed to witnessing midfield magic on a weekly basis, all from a central group that has become very familiar.
At the ages of 31, 33, and 29 respectively, Beckerman, Morales, and Ned Grabavoy have the right blend of skill and experience that has developed over the years, giving them a solid stranglehold over any opposition that they face in today’s MLS.
And they have the numbers to back it up. Of the 16 games that Salt Lake has played this season, the team has scored a total of 24 goals. Of those 24 goals, 10 have been scored by midfielders. A further 14 were borne out of assists from that all-important central pack.
It is something that has not gone unnoticed by head coach Jason Kreis either.
“We have Ned Grabavoy, Sebastian Velasquez, and Javier Morales involved in not just some of the attacks, but all of the attacks, and Khari Stephenson gets inside the diamond,” Kreis said after the game on Saturday. “That’s what will typically create all of the chances—it’s a numbers game.”
A numbers game indeed, and RSL’s midfield continues to prove that age is just one of those numbers—blending perfectly the experience of players such as Beckerman and Grabavoy, with the relative youth of 22-year-olds such as Velasquez—who played a huge part in the victory over LA.
If there is one player in particular who has managed to defy his age and fitness problems, to define the Real Salt Lake midfield more than any other in recent years, it is Javier Morales.
As he showed on Saturday and has shown throughout many other special performances this season, the top of Morales' game is quite spectacular. He is a midfield force that is still capable of directing games and dictating results.
“When he’s really, really fit is when he is his absolute best,” said Kreis. “There is no other way to [test] that than to have him play 90 minutes, and towards the end of the game he was making some really hard runs. He is showing that he is at the top of his fitness level, and he is also showing that he is at the top of his game.”
Morales is no longer the only midfield force to be reckoned with in Rio Tinto Stadium.
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