Real Salt Lake came out in the first half flat against a banged up Chivas team already dreaming about next season. Chivas appeared as though it might draw first blood when it found itself with the ball at the top of RSL’s 18-yard box and only Nick Rimando to beat, but true to form, Rimando defended his goal with ease. RSL continued to struggle to find rhythm without Javier Morales on the field. Kyle Beckerman provided terrific service on set pieces, and the boys in Claret and Cobalt had numerous shots on goal as a result, but lacked the velocity to make any count.
The second half was a different story. Morales returned to the field, and RSL's famous diamond midfield was restored. It took only three minutes for Alvaro Saborio to put up RSL’s first score and another four to get a second. It looked like the floodgates had opened. Chivas looked spent and RSL found its second wind. But Chivas weathered the storm, closed the gates with a score of its own and made a game of the final 15 minutes. But it wasn’t enough. RSL ended with the win and a much-needed three points to keep its Supporters' Shield hopes alive.
Nick Rimando was the brightest star Wednesday night when much of the rest of the team shone a little duller. His save in the 16th minute off an Erick Torres point-blank shot kept his sheet clean, and more importantly kept Chivas from bunkering in after going up a goal. Rimando couldn’t stop a Julio Morales goal in the 77th minute when a Chris Schuler mistake left Morales wide open and alone in the box.
Tactics: Jason Kreis started Lovel Palmer at right fullback for the second straight game, opting for the Jamaican international over usual starter Tony Beltran because, as Kreis put it to Deseret News’ James Edward, “Tony, I feel, has slipped a little bit and has made critical mistakes and you have to think, and at the end of it all we feel you have to be fair.” That said, Palmer went out in the ninth minute with an injury only to be replaced by Beltran.
Chris Wingert played his standard solid game Wednesday night, nothing flashy but totally reliable.
Nat Borchers earned a yellow card in the 31st minute. Other than that, he came on a bit flat-footed during the first half. His second half was much better, as he showed better positioning and some uncharacteristic speed.
Chris Schüler was issued a yellow card in the 13th minute for a strong challenge on Chivas’ Carlos Alvarez. He too seemed a little flat much of the game. His passing was excruciatingly slow and he was often too content to turn and send the ball backwards to Rimando. Safe, but not always necessary. Schuler gaffed in the 77th minute when the entire defensive line pulled an off-side trap, leaving Julio Morales onside and alone to plink a shot near-post past Nick Rimando.
Lovel Palmer played only nine minutes, subbing out in place of Tony Beltran after pulling his left hamstring.
Tony Beltran (Sub ‘9) seemed rusty after sitting out last Saturday’s game against Portland. His decisions were slow and his defensive decisions were not crisp. He warmed up some by the second half, but a more skilled attack than Chivas’ might have gotten the better of him in a different situation.
Tactics: Javier Morales did not start Wednesday night’s game, though he was in the 18. Jason Kreis sat his all-star midfielder to rest him for the playoffs and started the same midfield RSL had at Portland the previous Saturday — Luis Gil up top, Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy on the wings and Yordany Alvarez at the defensive mid. The combination didn’t work, and the second half started with Morales back at point, Gil and Grabavoy on the wings and Beckerman in the back of the diamond.
Ned Grabavoy was all-around excellent Wednesday night, despite the midfield’s inability to create rhythm during the first half of the game. He was right in the middle of it all, dangerous in the box, crafty in the midfield and tenacious on defense. Grabavoy and Beckerman seemed to be the only players willing to engage Chivas with speed in the open field before Javier Morales joined the game.
Luis Gil appeared anxious in his first-half fill-in role for Javier Morales Wednesday. He has skill in spades, but he lacked patience. The players behind him struggled to build up into the offensive third with pace, and that seemed to play a major role in Gil's anxiety. He looked much more comfortable in the second half when Beckerman and Morales took back their usual positions.
Yordany Alvarez played adequately Wednesday but lacked the flow Kyle Beckerman provides at the defensive mid position. Consequently, the buildup out of the backfield was much too labored. He was subbed out after only 45 minutes to make way for Javier Morales and RSL’s best midfield combination — with Morales playing the point of the diamond, Beckerman back at the defensive spot and Gil and Grabavoy on the wings.
Kyle Beckerman made some terrific runs into the box from his right-wing position during the first half. Unfortunately, the rest of the attack was just enough out of synch to make Beckerman’s runs less effective. His set pieces while Morales was off were very good, but again, the rest of the team struggled to rise to the occasion and though they were able to get shots on goal as a result, none gave Beckerman the assists he deserved. His mastery of the defensive midfield position cannot be over-estimated. As soon as he took it over from Alvarez in the second half, it was as if something clicked, and RSL was back on track.
Javier Morales (Sub ’45) had an immediate impact the minute he came on at the top of the second half. The game flowed much smoother, the buildup was faster and RSL scored not once but twice before the second half was 10 minutes in.
Tactics: RSL ended its regular season the same way it started it by pairing Alvaro Saborio with Joao Plata and leaving Robbie Findley, who has been in very good form of late, on the bench with Olmes Garcia as options off the bench.
Alvaro Saborio had a handful of chances to score Wednesday, but seemed destined to suffer the displeasure of the soccer gods before being handed a PK in the 48th minute, courtesy of a Mario de Luna handball in the box, which Saborio had no trouble putting away.
Joao Plata was adequate in the first half but came on like a house afire in the second half. His dangerous pass inside Chivas’ box in the 48th minute turned into the Mario de Luna handball that earned Alvaro Saborio his first goal, and his terrific passing and positioning in the 52nd minute put him in the perfect spot to mop up a rebound at the top of Chivas’ 18-yard box for a goal of his own. He was subbed off in the 61st minute with cramps in both legs. Man of the Match.
Robbie Findley (Sub '61) may not be scoring a lot of goals late in the season, but his form has not looked better. His shot on goal in the 70th minute was not only dangerous, but 100 percent self-made. If not for a very good Tim Melia save, Findley might have helped Real to a 3-0 lead.