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.

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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