Real Salt Lake held its home opener Saturday, ending in a tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy. This was after the boys from Salt Lake beat LA 1-0 off a Joao Plata goal and a Rimando PK save in their season opener in Los Angeles on March 8.
RSL started things off in fine fashion Saturday with Plata linking up with Alavro Saborio for his first goal of the season in the 28th minute. LA's Robbie Keane equalized in the 34th minute and the division rivals played to a stalemate the rest of the game to end with a 1-1 tie.
Nick Rimando continues to be one of Major League Soccer's top goal keepers, already producing season highlights like his PK save against LA's Keane in the first game of the season to keep RSL's 1-0 win. He found himself dealing with a two-on-two break-away situation, with Keane getting shielded by RSL's own Chris Schuler as Keane sent a shot millimeters inside the left post. Rimando went relatively unchallenged the rest of the game. His passing out of the box was not his usual perfection, creating a couple of uncomfortable moments for his defensive line.
Tactics: Schuler returned to the pitch Saturday, adding veteran savvy to the backline, which should produce a better defensive shape than RSL displayed at San Jose the previous week.
Tony Beltran looked like a child next to the 6'5" Rob Friend. Good thing the majority of his time was spent either pushing RSL's attacks up the right wing or tracking back against the likes of Juninho and Stefan Ishizaki, who he was able to contain relatively well.
Nat Borchers was RSL's last line of defense several times Saturday. He played the combo of Keane and Rob Friend quite well, especially given their penchant for slashing diagonal runs through the box. That and the fact that Friend is perhaps the largest forward Borchers will defend all year.
Chris Schuler was solid against LA's two strong strikers. His shielding defense in the 34th minute was about as good as he could do in a 1-on-1 situation, but Keane got a shot past him that somehow found its way past the goal post to give LA an equalizing goal.
Chris Wingert tapped his chest after Robbie Keane's equalizing goal in the 34th minute, taking full responsibility for losing the ball in LA's 3rd of the field. A charging Juninho picked his pocket and found Keane steaking up the field, 1-on-1 with Schuler who played a good angle, but Keane was able to thread-the-needle to beat the big back and Rimando.
Tactics: With Javier Morales healthy, Coach Jeff Cassar returned to the midfield diamond combination that worked so well in the final games of 2013 with Luis Gil, Morales, Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy teaming up. It looks like Cassar plans to continue playing the narrow diamond Jason Kreis became known for, leaving room for his able defensive wings to give attacking service along the flanks.
Luis Gil found himself struggling a little to emerge from the pack as LA's defenders attacked the midfield relentlessly, hoping to disturb RSL's fabled possession game. Gil did better in the second half to find an inch of shooting space in the 56th minute when his goal-bound shot was saved by a fingernail by LA's 'keeper Brian Perk.
Javier Morales felt a little rusty in Saturday's match. His touch was fine, but his on and off the ball had trouble kicking into a higher gear.
Kyle Beckerman played a key role Saturday as the attacking midfielders struggled to linkup with their forwards. He played the release-valve defensive midfielder well, as usual, working the ball free to the wings on several occasions, with much better effect while Joao Plata remained on the field. Man of the Match.
Ned Grabavoy was the only attacking midfielder who really found himself enough space to be particularly dangerous. His link-up play with Plata during the first 30 minutes of the game kept LA enough off balance to give RSL a slight advantage until Plata went off with an injury.
Luke Mulholland (sub '77) Grabavoy was gassed after going end-line to end-line at full tilt all afternoon. Mulholland has shown tremendous promise in two games this season, with one goal against San Jose and another called back against LA in the season opener.
Tactics: Cassar appears to have found an attacking pair he likes in Alvaro Saborio and Plata. The combination of speed and strength has worked well so far this season. But it's their unspoken connection that seems to have made this one of the most exciting strike duos to watch so far this season. Plata's hamstring injury certainly puts that on hold for the foreseeable future.
Alvaro Saborio has not been himself the first two games of the season, but his strike partner Plata found him in the 18th minute off a set piece, standing alone. Plata sent a 30-yard cross into the box to fall at Saborio's feet, where he simply had to settle it and ping it into the back of the net. Saborio's defense was perhaps his strongest suit Saturday as he was often seen tracking back with pace 20 or 30 yards to break up plays and disrupt play through the midfield.
Joao Plata is on fire with two goals so far this season and now an assist. His 18th minute cross into the box for a waiting Saborio was perfection. Plata pulled up in the 28th minute after making what appeared to be his signature move so far this season, taking a straight over-the-top through ball off his foot and pinging it past the defender. He was finally called off in the 34th minute with a left hamstring injury.
Olmes Garcia (sub '34) maintained the same energy level as Plata, in fact adding speed to the equation after being subbed on for the Ecuadorean. But he lacks the imagination Plata uses so effectively to throw defenders off kilter in their third of the field.
The RSL brass had to be pretty psyched to see a full stadium at kickoff. The crowd seemed energized from the tifo, a large crowd-sourced poster of red and blue cards held up by the audience in the lower bowl that ringed the stadium.
Chris Higbee writes about Real Salt Lake for DeseretNews.com.