Colorado Rapids v Real Salt Lake

Are Real Salt Lake getting enough love? Probably not, and for the typical reasons

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Like it or not Middle America, people like me take you for granted. I’m a lifelong West Coaster, am used to my sports starting at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and with almost half a life in the books, I’ve become set in my ways. Before soccer writing became my profession, that meant watching an East Coast game, a West Coast game, then going to sleep. I imagine my East Coast urbanite friends did the same, albeit at different times.

The net effect is an East Coast bias. And a West Coast bias. Basically, an anti-Middle America bias that has nothing to do with politics, lifestyle, or even geography. Sometimes, it just comes down to time slots on calendars.

It’s something to consider when we think about the question implied by this tweet, with our friends at Real Salt Lake nice enough to let the world know about some of PST’s work:

[tweet http://twitter.com/RealSaltLake/status/351915069115875328]

Saying no one’s talking about Real Salt Lake may be an exaggeration. I think. I mean, I don’t really know since I haven’t actually heard anybody talking about the West’s first place team, a squad that has their conference’s best defensive record and second-best goal difference. Yet for various reasons, it seems like Jason Kreis’s team is garnering less attention than any of their conference competition, be that attention for good reasons (Portland, FC Dallas, Colorado), disappointing reasons (LA Galaxy, Seattle, San Jose, Chivas), or anything in between.

Perhaps it’s because RSL has been too consistent for too long, and in more ways than one. Since claiming their title in 2009, Real Salt Lake has been a perennial contender, playing the exact same system with the same cast of leading men: Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Nick Rimando, and over the last two-plus years, Alvaro Saborio. While RSL hasn’t necessarily been taken for granted, their stability leaves us  short on stories that haven’t already been told. Javi Morales is good … Yeah, we know!

Although they don’t have as many trophies, Real Salt Lake are like an MLS version of the San Antonio Spurs. Or Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves. We all know they’re good, but we can’t just keep talking about the same things, can we? Even when we’re talking Tim Duncan or Greg Maddux, there’s only so many times we can cover the same ground.

Of course, after what happened this offseason, that view is a bit lazy. This year’s big story about Real Salt Lake is that there are differences, even if they’re small. Will Johnson, who has been one of the best midfielders in Major League Soccer this season for Portland, had to move on this offseason. Jamison Olave, who has been excellent in defense for New York, was also traded this winter, as was Fabian Espindola, another player from that 2009 team. Those are major losses.

But in what’s become a trademark of their current run, Real Salt Lake reloaded, leveraging Major League Soccer’s best scouting  as well as what seems like endless depth. They convinced Joao Plata to come back from Ecuador, incorporated New Mexico’s Devon Sandoval, brought Olmes Garcia up from Colombia while promoting Carlos Salcedo into the senior team. They’ve brought in Aaron Maund, Lovel Palmer, Khari Stephenson, and Josh Saunders, persisting with what has to be an annoying habit (to other front offices) of getting the most out of others’ scraps. Luis Gil is getting more time, Ned Grabavoy has stepped up, and Robbie Findley’s come back from England.

In case you lost count, that’s 11 contributors who’ve either newly arrived or have picked up their game in the wake of what some people saw as a dismantling. Even RSL’s staff spoke about this as process, especially when the season started without Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert …

But who are we kidding? RSL clearly knew what they were doing. They knew the talent they had. They knew what they were capable of acquiring. They’ve come to epitome the cliché: They don’t rebuild; they reload.

Had they rebuilt, we’d probably be talking about them more. But because Garth Lagerway just keeps reloading, because Jason Kreis has his system down, we never stop to consider RSL as a new project. We only see the same stories – the same characters from a team we know is good. As a result, we don’t talk about RSL.

At least, we don’t talk about them enough. In fact, we almost don’t talk about them at all.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.