The question we’re left with after Jay DeMerit’s performance against Real Salt Lake: Why did he play? The Vancouver Whitecaps’ captain was on his third game in six days, with only one days’ rest between his performance in Chester and his appearance in Salt Lake. By now, you know the details, though only Martin Rennie knows why DeMerit played 90 on Friday.
Because of the league’s unique rules, squad and roster management is more important in Major League Soccer than any circuit in the world. As the profiles of CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup continue to grow, demands on thin squads have increased. If you’re going to be viable in all competitions, depth is mandatory. It’s one of the reasons Seattle’s been able to have relative success on three fronts. It may also be why last year’s champions, LA Galaxy, could only manage one competition.
Last night, Real Salt Lake’s depth was on display. With RSL’s Champions League starting with a mid-week trip to Costa Rica, Jason Kreis elected to sit three starters: Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert, and Ned Grabavoy. Luis Gil got the start in midfield, reclamation project Kenny Mansally was in Wingert’s place, and with Chris Schuler still out, former Fire defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe played in central defense.
All acquitted themselves well. Luis Gil’s quality is no surprise, his attacking play creating multiple first half threats on goal (be it with his shot or his passing). Watson-Siriboe was perhaps helped by the presence of Nat Borchers, be the 25-year-old looked (and, more importantly, played) confident most of the night. Kenny Mansally’s speed proved a virtue against Dane Richards.
On the other side, a number of Vancouver players were carrying the miles of a long MLS season. DeMerit’s two mistakes cost them the game. Gershon Koffie looked like a run down version of his early season self (and was brought off at 71′). Even Lee Young-Pyo seemed late getting back on multiple occasions. Combined with a so-so performance from Barry Robson (why was he exchanging words with DeMerit in the first half?) and Vancouver fans have to be left with mixed emotions. Rio Tinto’s a tough place to play, but the Whitecaps could have won last night’s game.
Is it too easy to say the difference was depth? Probably, since it wasn’t the only difference. If Kenny Miller’s headers go on target, if Jun Davidson finishes a great chance created by Darren Mattocks, if Martin Bonjour doesn’t lose track of Alvaro Saborio, the game goes Vancouver’s way. Depth was only one of the issues.
But what is it about Real Salt Lake? Though expansion and cost concerns has picked over their team through the last three years, they’ve still got as much quality on the bench as anybody. After `09, it was Yura Movsisyan, now tearing it up in the Russian Premier League. After 2010, they lost Robbie Findley. Last year was the big one: Robbie Russell, Raushawn MacKenzie, Andy Williams and Collen Warner. They’ve also lost quality role players in the likes of David Horst and Jean Alexandre, yet when everybody’s healthy, they sill have a great MLS bench: Paulo Jr., Gil, Jonny Steele, Yordany Álvarez, Chris Schuler, Terakazu Tenaka. The likes of Kwame-Siriboe, Mansally, Sebastian Velasquez, and Justin Braun might not Jason Kreis’s ideal bench.
Real Salt Lake has one of the best cores in the league. Their cohesion, enabled by time together in a consistent system, is unparalleled. It almost seems unfair the Garth Legerway and Kreis can augment it by taking parts from others’ discards and plugging them in as needed, particularly when you see a few of their Western Conference competitors (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Dallas) struggling to get more out of some of their designated players.
But if Kreis can take a Mansally or Kwame-Siriboe and get them up to RSL’s level, team certainly deserves to be where they’re at.