Report card: Real Salt Lake finds way to win in tight contest with Portland Timbers
RSL fielded the standard midfield of Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy and Javier Morales with Luke Mullholland filling in for Luis Gil for the second game in a row while Gil recovers from a left hamstring injury. RSL and Portland are near-mirror images in the midfield, despite the fact that on paper Portland plays a 4-3-3. Portland's Kalif Alhassan drops into the midfield and Diego Chara drops into a central defensive position, making Portland essentially a 4-2-2 diamond the majority of the time. The matchup between Chara and Morales and Beckerman and Alhassan will be key to the outcome of the game.
Luke Mullholland gives RSL's midfield a shot of speed, which comes in very useful against Portland's quick attacking midfield. It also comes in handy on the attack, where Mullholland has been somewhat of a surprise. His vertical and diagonal runs into the box early in the game made RSL's attack much more dynamic. He lost momentum later in the game and by the 63rd minute he had to be subbed out for Sebastian Velasquez.
Javier Morales is one of the most fouled players in Major League Soccer because he's just so dangerous in the final third, and sometimes the only way to stop him is to foul him. That's what happend Saturday night. Portland had no answer for Morales during the run of play, giving Morales several free kicks around the box. Unfortunately, his quality on set pieces was not his usual.
Kyle Beckerman used a little "Will Johnson" Saturday night, often streaking right at players as the ball came to them. It's unnerving and can be very effective when followed by a quick reaction either way. And Beckerman's reactions were superbly quick Saturday night. As a result, Portland's two Diegos (Valeri and Chara) were ineffective in driving Portland's attack from anywhere in the middle of the field.
Ned Grabavoy was superb off the ball. He was superb with the ball at his feet. He was superb in defense. But when it came to his final ball, he fell short. Sometimes that's just how the game goes, but Saturday it seemed Grabavoy lacked concentration that's made his game one of the most exciting to watch at Real this season. That is until the 78th minute when he blew the top off an anxious Rio Tinto Stadium with a tremendous bit of skill to get just inside the 18 where he had no trouble finishing against a diving Donovan Ricketts far-post to give RSL a 1-0 lead.
Sebastian Velasquez (Sub ’67) showed growth Saturday night. He's struggled with holding on to the ball a step or two too long during his time in Salt Lake, but Saturday he was still very good on the ball, but his passes were quicker and his defending was also much improved.
Alvaro Saborio saw his red-hot strike partner of the first few games of the season make it back into the 18. Joao Plata started the game on the bench, while Olmes Garcia got the opening slot. Garcia played the first 63 minutes like it was the last game of his life, streaking all over the field in a single gear, high. He clearly knew the last 30 would belong to Plata, and most likley the lion's share in upcoming games should he remain healthy.
Alvaro Saborio is cagey. Everyone knows he plays mind games, but he is also just plain sneaky. On set pieces, he knows how to hide in a crowd, and 90 percent of the time off the ball, he's lurking in defenders' blind spots. All his tricks were on display Saturday night.
Olmes Garcia brings such speed to the forward line that everyone holds their breath whenever a ball is played into space in front of him. His sprint in the 39th minute to beat Pah Modou Kah to the endline and ping a cross perfectly onto Saborio's right foot nearly gave RSL the goal they needed to crack the game wide open, if not for Saborio skying the shot over the goal.
Joao Plata (Sub ’67) was dynamic from the moment he stepped onto the field Saturday. His runs were dangerous, his passing was creative and he clearly had Ka and Danso remembering how he cut them to pieces during the playoffs last year with his quick runs and slice-and-dice play in the box.
Chris Higbee is a former general manager of DeseretNews.com who continues to write about Real Salt Lake.
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