Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

MLS playoff focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Thursday’s second leg against the LA Galaxy

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Ahead of Thursday’s second-leg of this Western Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Jason Kreis’ Real Salt Lake (Thursday’s match kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2):

  • Ned Grabavoy out; a big blow for RSL

A hamstring strain will keep veteran midfielder Ned Grabavoy out Thursday; RSL manager Jason Kreis confirmed so to media on Wednesday.

He collected the injury during the second half of Sunday’s 1-0 first-leg loss at the StubHub Center outside Los Angeles.

It’s a big loss in that Grabavoy was reborn in 2013. After a few years of “just OK” around Rio Tinto Stadium, Grabavoy was a central element thanks to sharp form from the first 2013 kick. He eventually posted career highs in starts (29), goals (5) and assists (5).

Second-year man Sebastian Velasquez seems the most likely candidate to replace Grabavoy. He is probably more mobile and energetic than Grabavoy (not to mention 8 years younger). But if you don’t think MLS playoff know-how is important, see “Houston Dynamo upset New York.”

Then again, RSL is likely to return to its 4-4-2, which could mean re-introducing Robbie Findley into the starting 11 alongside striker Alvaro Saborio. (Or even Joao Plata if he is healthy enough following a recent injury.)

  • Formation shift for RSL

Remember when Jason Kreis was a 4-4-2 guy through-and-through? That diamond midfield was RSL’s signature.

Kreis, still young at age 40 but with quite a few years at this managerial thing now, having assumed his current post at age 34, has matured. He now has the confidence to put something different on the field tactically.

And he has the confidence the say hold up his hand and say “My bad … that didn’t work.”

The set-up against Los Angeles for last weekend’s first leg was a 4-2-3-1, with   Yordany Alvarez sitting alongside longtime Rio Tinto holding midfield fixture Kyle Beckerman. Alvaro Saborio was the lone striker, supported by Javier Morales centrally, Grabavoy on the right and Luis Gil on the left.

Safe to say, we won’t see that again. Not tonight at least.

It was mostly a way to deal with the Galaxy’s dangerous counter-attack. Only, it didn’t work out at all, confusing Beckerman when in possession and certainly in the defensive assignments, too.

The result was more or less to RSL’s liking. A draw would have been better (or a win, of course). But going back home trailing by one goal isn’t the worst thing ever. Still, the Galaxy created plenty of chances, often moving through RSL’s defensive shape with too much ease.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy second leg preview)

  • RSL center backs had better be on it

One of the lesser told narratives this year around MLS has been the rise lately of Chris Schuler as Nat Borchers’ partner in the middle of the defense. He’s certainly big enough (6-4) – they sure needed those long, stretchy legs of his a couple of times on Sunday – and physical enough, but also technical enough.

And he had better be good enough tonight.

The movement of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane troubled RSL’s entire back line Sunday, but the central areas (along with Real Salt Lake’s two holding midfielders) will be particularly vulnerable to their pair’s movement, which is so quick and instinctive at the instant the Galaxy win the ball.

If Schuler and Borchers cannot communicate with each other with midfielders in tracking those feints, curling runs and big sprints from the Galaxy’s pair of star attackers, the one-goal deficit could expand in a hurry.

(MORE: What we learned from LA Galaxy-RSL first leg)

  • In praise of the old faithfuls … like Nick Rimando

We all like to look for the next new thing … the new restaurant or the new show on TV or whatever. But it’s always important to take a step back and appreciate the old stand-byes, too, right?

That’s Nick Rimando. His numbers remain strong, he’s a strong and commanding leader in the back and the 34-year-old can still deliver the big, game-changing save.

Rimando been so good for so long that we probably take the man for granted. Don’t forget, Rimando’s first starting assignment in MLS was 14 years ago with some good Miami Fusion teams. A lot of RSL holdovers have an MLS Cup medal from that 2009 title claimed over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Rimando also has one from 2004, when he started for DC United.

(FYI, three current MLS managers started on that 2004 D.C. United side: Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen.)

  • Yellow card warning

Kyle Beckerman is the only RSL man on yellow card warning. “Only” man is a bit mis-leading. Beyond Rimando and Borchers, Beckerman is probably the most important RSL figure, not just for all the midfield tackling and calm possession, but for the leadership and composure.

The U.S. international will miss the next playoff match if he receives another booking.

(MORE: MLS playoff scheduling, timing and pace make no sense)

EURO 2016: Spain, Switzerland earn qualification

<> on October 9, 2015 in Logrono, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Friday’s EURO qualification action, as two more teams have booked a ticket to France.

Spain 4-0 Luxembourg

Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla hadn’t scored a competitive goal for Spain in more than six years, but he scored twice today to help earn his country a berth in EURO 2016. Cazorla and Paco Alcacer scored all four goals for the Spanish, while Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas became Spain’s all-time leader in assists. However, both David Silva of Manchester City and Alvaro Morata of Juventus were forced off with injuries, with Morata’s looking to be serious.

Switzerland 7-0 San Marino

Switzerland led just 1-0 at halftime, but a six-goal second half which included three penalty kicks means the Swiss have secured qualification from Group E for EURO 2016. As expected, Switzerland dominated every aspect of the match against minnows San Marino, and Vladimir Petkovic’s side had seven different goalscorers.

[ MORE: Thursday’s EURO 2016 roundup — Northern Ireland qualify ]

England 2-0 Estonia

England remained perfect in Group E, taking their ninth win from nine matches today at Wembley. Theo Walcott‘s great scoring form from Arsenal carried over to the national side, opening the scoring just before halftime. In the second half, Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy came on as a substitute and assisted to Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who made it 2-0. With a few minutes to play, Tottenham teenager Dele Alli got a short run in his England debut.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group C

Macedonia 0-2 Ukraine
Slovakia 0-1 Belarus

Group E

Slovenia 1-1 Lithuania

Group G

Liechtenstein 0-2 Sweden
Moldova 1-2 Russia
Montenegro 2-3 Austria

Sergio Aguero expects to miss a month with hamstring injury

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After scoring five goals against Newcastle United, Sergio Aguero may have to wait a bit of time to get back to scoring in the Premier League.

The Manchester City striker lasted just 25 minutes in Argentina’s World Cup qualifier on Thursday, as he was stretchered off with a hamstring injury. 

Aguero underwent testing in Argentina, and told the local media “I think I’m going to be out for a month.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Manchester City and Argentina teammate Nicolas Otamendi said Aguero was in tears in the dressing room, and some reports have penned the injury as a torn hamstring.

If Aguero were to be ruled out for a month, he would miss City’s Champions League clash vs. Sevilla, as well as the massive Manchester derby away at United on October 25.

To make matters worse for City supporters, David Silva was forced off after just ten minutes while playing for Spain today. Silva took a harsh challenge from behind, and hobbled off with what looked to be an ankle injury. If Silva’s injury ends up being more than just a knock, City could be without their two most important players in the attack.