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.

Ranking toughness of UCL groups for Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham, Man City

Kompany and City's defense struggled to contain Messi and Barca in the first half.
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Leicester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City all entered the UEFA Champions League at the group stage and they found out their fate on Thursday following the draw in Monaco.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

Right now Leicester, Arsenal and Spurs will be feeling pretty good about their chances of advancing to the UCL’s Round of 16. As for Man City, boy, it will be a tough route through the group stage once again for them.

[ MORE: Ronaldo wins top award ]

Below is a look at the toughness of the group stage draw for all four PL teams.


GROUP G: Leicester City, FC Porto, Club Brugge, Copenhagen

Their first-ever season in the UCL, the draw could not have gone any better for reigning PL champs Leicester in terms of their dreams of advancing. Claudio Ranieri‘s side have FC Porto, who will be a very tough test, but in Club Brugge and Copenhagen they drew two of the easier teams they could have faced. Overall, this is not a tough group especially when you see the full draw. Looks like the fairytale for the Foxes will go deep in the Champions League this season. Toughness ranking: 3/10


GROUP A: Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, FC Basel, Ludogorets

Arsenal will fancy their chances against PSG and when it comes to FC Basel and Ludrogorets they will expect to take two wins from each of these teams. But this is Arsenal so they’ll probably need a 3-0 win in their last group game to make the knockout rounds… Seriously, though, Arsene Wenger will be a relieved man to avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and Barelona in the group stage but Arsenal’s games against PSG will be pivotal in their chances of getting a good draw in the last 16. Overall, could’ve been a lot tougher. Toughness ranking: 4/10


GROUP C: FC Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Monchendgladbach, Celtic

It just had to happen for Pep Guardiola, didn’t it? He will return to the Nou Camp in his debut season at City to face his beloved Barcelona and Man City’s fans will be sick of the sight of Lionel Messi and Co. after they knocked them out of the competition in two of the last three seasons. That said, there will be two magnificent games between the giants with Barca the favorites to win the UCL this season. As for Monchengladbach, they are quietly a very strong team and even Celtic (who famously beat Barca in the group stage in 2012) will provide a tough challenge for City at Celtic Park in the away game. All in all, couldn’t have been tougher for City but they will likely squeeze through with Barca to the Round of 16.

Toughness ranking: 8/10


GROUP E: CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur, Monaco

Maurcio Pochettino’s side will be grinning like a Cheshire cat with this draw. Arguably it is even easier than Leicester’s with CSKA Moscow perennial strugglers in the UCL, plus German side Bayer Leverkusen very beatable and Spurs have done well against Monaco in the Europa League recently. Overall, if Spurs don’t win this group they will be very disappointed. A great draw for the north London club. Toughness ranking: 3/10


Best Player in Europe: Cristiano Ronaldo beats Bale, Griezmann to win award

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal kisses the Henri Delaunay trophy to celebrate after their 1-0 win against France in the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo was named the Best Player in Europe by UEFA on Thursday in Monaco, following the group stage draw for the UEFA Champions League.

Ronaldo, 31, beat other finalists teammate and Welsh international Gareth Bale and France and Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann to the award for the 2015-16 season. Barcelona duo Lionel Messi came fourth and Luis Suarez finished in fifth.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

The Portuguese striker scored 51 goals in 48 games for Real Madrid last season and led Portugal to its first-ever major title as a nation, winning the EURO 2016 trophy.

Ronaldo said on stage that he was “living his dream” by playing football as he won the award for a second time in his career, the list title coming in 2014.

Previous winners of this prestigious award, which takes into account the form of the player both for this club team in Europe and also for his national team, include Messi (the only other player to win the award twice), Andres Iniesta and Franck Ribery.

UEFA Champions League group stage: Premier League teams learn their fate

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  The  UEFA Champions League trophy is displayed prior to the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Premier League teams got off very lightly, overall, in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw.

The draw took place in Monaco on Thursday as reigning Leicester City were handed a very comfy group of opponents in Group G with FC Porto, Club Brugge and Copenhagen, as were Tottenham Hotspur who were placed in Group E with CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco.

Arsenal also got a very decent draw with Paris Saint-Germain, FC Basel and Ludogorets in Group A, but Manchester City once again got a very tough draw at the group stage along with FC Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in Group C.

[ MORE: Full UCL schedule

Reigning champs Real Madrid have been drawn in Group F alongside Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw, with Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid drawn together in Group D.

Below is the group stage draw in full with the opening group games to take place on Sept. 13/14 and a further five group games taking place — each team plays one another home and away — between September and December. The knockout stages then begin in February 2017 ahead of the UCL final in Cardiff, Wales on June 3.

You can click on the link above for the full schedule for group games.


GROUP A
Paris Saint-Germain
Arsenal
FC Basel
Ludogorets

GROUP B
Benfica
Napoli
Dynamo Kiev
Besiktas

GROUP C
FC Barcelona
Manchester City
Borussia Monchendgladbach
Celtic

GROUP D
Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid
PSV Eindhoven
Rostov

GROUP E
CSKA Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen
Tottenham Hotspur
Monaco

GROUP F
Real Madrid
Borussia Dortmund
Sporting Lisbon
Legia Warsaw

GROUP G
Leicester City
FC Porto
Club Brugge
Copenhagen

GROUP H
Juventus
Sevilla
Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb

LIVE – Europa League play-offs: West Ham within reach of group stage

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Reece Oxford of West Ham United and Elvis Bratanovic of NK Domzale in action during the UEFA Europa League Qualification round match between West Ham United and NK Domzale at London Stadium on August 4, 2016 in Stratford, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the UEFA Europa League play-off round takes place on Thursday with the final 22 places in the group stage

West Ham United are drawing 1-1 from their first leg in Romania against Astra Giurgiu, the team who knocked them out in the qualifying rounds last season.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ] 

Slaven Bilic‘s men have a vital away goal and will fancy their chances of getting past Astra this time  as the second leg takes place at their new home at the London Stadium.

Plenty of the 22 ties hang in the balance with Shakhtar Donetsk, Sparta Prague and Olympiakos all with a little work to do to secure their spot in the next stage.

Premier League sides Southampton and Manchester United have already qualified for the Europa League group stage and the draw to decide their opponents will take place in Monaco on Friday.

Below is the full schedule for the second legs which take place on Thursday, while you can click on the link above to follow all the games live.


Europa League schedule 

FK Qarabag vs. IFK Goteborg (0-1)
Brondby vs. Panathinaikos (0-3)
Grashoppers vs. Fenerbache (0-3)
Rosenborg vs. Austria Wien (1-2)
Slovan Liberec vs. AEK Larnaca (1-0)
Partizan Tirana vs. FC Krasnodar (0-4)
PAOK vs. Dinamo Tblisi (3-0)
Genk vs. NK Lokomotiva (2-2)
Osmanlispor vs. Midtjylland (1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Sonderjyske (0-0)
West Ham United vs. Astra Giurgiu (1-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (1-2)
AZ Alkmaar vs. Vojvodina (0-3)
Anderlecht vs. Slavia Prague (3-0)
BATE Borisov vs. Astana (2-0)
FK Shkendija vs. Gent (1-2)
Hajduk Split vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv (1-2)
NK Maribor vs. Gabala (1-3)
Red Star Belgrade vs. Sassuolo (0-3)
St Etienne vs. Beitar Jerusalem (2-1)
Olympiakos vs. Arouca (1-0)
Rapid Wien vs. Trencin (4-0)