Friday night's Fourth of July matchup with the New England Revolution is Real Salt Lake's first MLS home game since May 24 when a World-Cup depleted Salt Lake side drew with Dallas in a well-played effort. It was also Real's first game with U.S. Men's National Team players Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando back on the field after returning home from Brazil early Thursday morning.
The first half saw both RSL and New England score within minutes of each other in a bizarre turn of events: Javier Morales scored from the spot due to the Revolution's Darius Barnes committing a foul in the box, then Barnes scored off a free-kick produced header created by a yellow-card penalty on Morales 20 yards outside his own 18-yard box.
The second half started amid a temperature of 88 degrees, and both teams looked sluggish. However, another foul in the box by the Revolution came on Chris Tierney in the 64th minute, which put Joao Plata at the spot to give RSL the go-ahead goal, and eventual game winner.
Nick Rimando has been with the U.S. Men's National Team in Brazil for the last three weeks, and in training for three weeks before that. While he's trained with the best, he hasn't had much field time in a competitive game for a while. He didn't get too many opportunities to show off the work he'd done in his World Cup training, but in the 37th minute, only two after giving RSL its first goal by taking down Chris Schuler in the box, Darrius Barnes found the end of a tremendous Chris Tierney free kick to head it past Rimando at point-blank range. Rimando had another chance in the 53rd minute and that time, he and the bar did just enough to keep the score level on a bouncing Revolution shot.
Tactics: RSL rolled out the standard four on the back line, Beltran, Borches, Schuler and Wingert. They played a little higher defensive line Friday than normal, which brought Nick Rimando, one of the most sure-footed goalies in MLS, outside his 18-yard box as a sort of sweeper-keeper much of the time.
Tony Beltran got forward a handful of times during Friday's game. He was effective, but most of Friday's attack for RSL came up the left side, and Beltran found himself watching the game too much.
Chris Schuler was involved early and often Friday night, using his big frame to win a high number of balls out of the air and his soft touch and surprising deftness in a crowd to link up with Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales to start several breaks from the defensive and middle third.
Nat Borchers played well. He was good in the air and solid in his positioning. While Schuler seemed to be more heavily involved in starting attacks, Borchers was content to play the safety man, keeping RSL's defensive shape in good order much of the night. Borcher's finest moment of the night was a galloping run back to tackle the ball out of bounds just as the Revolution's Patrick Mullins was prepping a shot on goal.
Chris Wingert ended up getting much of the offensive wing play Friday night as RSL concentrated its attack on the Revolution's right flank. He and Luis Gil were very good together and linked up with Javier Morales, Devon Sandoval and Plata to give RSL its most effective attacks of the night.
Tactics: RSL might have been tempted to play the much-watched 4-2-3-1 formation played by so many of the teams in the World Cup, but coach Jeff Cassar went back to RSL's traditional diamond-midfield 4-4-2, with Kyle Beckerman back on the field in his defensive mid position and Luis Gil and Jon Stertzer taking the wings for an injured Ned Grabavoy and red-carded Luke Mulholland.
Javier Morales was sharp Friday night. His ability to find players in tight spots gave RSL a tremendous advantage against New England on Friday night, particularly in the attacking third of the field. In fact it was just this sort of play that put RSL in a position in the 35th minute to earn a corner kick in which Chris Schuler was taken down in the box by Darrius Barnes. Morales stepped up to the spot and in a move reminiscent of James Rodriquez' goal for Colombia earlier in the day against Brazil in World Cup play, he stutter stepped and sent the ball to the keeper's right while he was diving left. He earned a yellow card off a hard challenge only minutes later.
Kyle Beckerman hit the ground running Friday night and appeared eager to get back into a more attacking mindset after playing a pure holding position on Jurgen Klinsman's USMNT World Cup squad. His forays deep into New England's side of the field were exceptional and played a critical role in keeping New England on its heels much of the night.
John Stertzer showed surprising speed Friday night. Stertzer started his career with RSL a little more hyped than your standard recruit, but injury has kept him out of action most of his time with the Cobalt and Claret. Friday night he offered a glimpse of the player Real brass are excited to watch develop in a Salt Lake uniform. In the 64th minute, New England's Chris Tierney took Stertzer down in the box to give RSL its second chance at the penalty spot.
Luis Gil looked as good as he's looked all year Friday night. His passes were crisp, his defense was really strong, particularly in the midfield, and his decision-making was both decisive and creative.
Cole Grossman (SUB 69') came on for John Stertzer. Grossman dropped back beside Beckerman into a double holding mid position several times during the night to help shore up RSL's lead. The few times he ventured forward, it was more for defensive purposes than offensive.
Ned Grabavoy (SUB 76') came on for Luis Gil. Grabavoy had to look six inches taller and a few miles per hour faster than reality to a worn-down Revolution team when he came on late in the game with both guns ablaze. Immediately he had an impact, punching through the left flank to give Javier Morales the ball and Kyle Beckerman a shot at goal.
Abdoulie Mansally, (SUB 84') for Joao Plata, came on as another defensive midfielder, putting essentially three defense-minded midfielders in front of the four defensive backs.
Tactics: Devon Sandoval and Joao Plata are thunder and lightning, the big post-up man and the lightning quick ninja in the box.
Devon Sandoval gave Chris Wingert, Luis Gil and Tony Beltran an ample target for crosses on the wings, and he did well to pull several down and use his unusually soft touch to lay the ball off to runners.
Joao Plata looked eager to be back on the field after sitting out much of the last few weeks with a hamstring injury. He was sharp and dangerous in the box against the slower New England defenders. The 65th minute found Plata at the penalty spot for RSL's second opportunity and a chance at going up 2-1 after a Chris Tierny error in the box. Plata pounded a gutsy shot into the top netting for his seventh goal of the season.
Chris Higbee is a former general manager of DeseretNews.com who continues to write about Real Salt Lake.