Jason Kreis

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Sunday’s visit from Portland

Leave a comment

(Originally posted Saturday night)

Previewing the first left of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference final (Sunday, 9 p.m. Eastern), here are the must-knows about Real Salt Lake ahead of their meeting with the visiting Portland Timbers:

  • Diamonds are forever

It’s not that Jason Kreis’s formation change for leg one of the conference semifinals was completely ineffective. After all, the whole point was to slow down Los Angeles’s counterattack, and to RSL’s credit, the Galaxy’s transition was a relative non-factor during their first hour in Carson. Unfortunately, RSL’s unfamiliarity with the night’s 4-2-3-1 formation left them unable to connect passes into attack, something that gave LA more of the ball and, eventually, most of the first hour’s chances.

Back in Salt Lake, despite the loss of midfielder Ned Grabavoy, RSL went back to their usual diamond midfield and eventually won, a 2-0 victory in which LA’s counter was no more effective than in Carson’s opening hour. While two defensive midfielder-formation may have made sense in theory, the players just couldn’t pull it off. Sometimes, it’s best to ignore the chalkboard and  to play your best players where they’re most comfortable. Don’t expect Kreis to do too much experimenting going forward.

  • Expect Ned Grabavoy back; but what of Sebastián Velasquez?

Quietly, Ned Grabavoy has an excellent season, particularly over the first half of the campaign. The 30-year-old’s ability to take his game to a slightly higher level helped offseason the loss of Will Johnson and compensate for the periodic absences of Luis Gil. On Sunday, he’s expected to return to the lineup, a move that will have the unfortunate consequence of relegating Sebastián Velasquez to the bench.

Four days after having a major impact as a substitute in Los Angeles, Velasquez scored his first professional goal, his header pulling opening RSL’s account on Thursday. Though logically you’d think he goes back to the bench with Grabavoy’s health, he’s playing better than Gil. At least, he’s given Real Salt Lake a needed spark going forward.

Odds are Jason Kreis stays with the players who’ve established themselves as starters, meaning Velasquez goes back to the bench. But given what we saw from him in the last round, the second year pro should have an impact on this series; if not in the starting XI, then in a super sub’s role.

source: AP
Chris Schuler (left) was limited to 16 appearances in the regular season. In the conference semifinal, the 26-year-old scored the series-winning goal after playing in the middle of a defense that allowed one goal in 210 minutes. (Photo: AP.)
  • Schuler and Borchers present a new challenge

Portland torched Djimi Traoré on Thursday, with the Seattle left-center half playing a part in all three Timbers goals. Five days earlier, the Malian defender was also at fault for a goal, as was central defense partner Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. The duo’s mistakes were one of the Sounders’ major downfalls.

Portland can’t expect the same leniency from Utah, whose central defenders have been excellent thus far in this postseason. Over two legs against Los Angeles, the only goal RSL conceded was a 24-yard bomb from Sean Franklin, one neither Nat Borchers nor Chris Schuler should have been expected to stop. Constantly stressed over the last 30 minutes in LA, the duo held out, muffling that dangerous Galaxy counter. In Sandy, they kept LA off the board for 120 minutes, with Schuler finding the series-winner in extra time.

Schuler, out for much of the season, is getting some much-deserved attention for his play, but Borchers, a former best XI defender, has been his equal. Together, the duo became MLS’s first to solve the Robbie Keane-Landon Donovan conundrum. They’ll prove much more difficult to beat than Traoré and Hurtado.

  • Who starts at forward?

It won’t be Álvaro Saborio. The Costa Rican has been ruled out of Sunday’s match with a muscle injury, leaving Jason Kreis with four players to choose from for his two forward set:

    • Joao Plata is the incumbent of sorts (Saborio’s normal partner), but the Edcuadorian didn’t play a minute against Los Angeles, hampered by a hamstring injury. He made the bench in game two, but …
    • … with Robbie Findley starting both games against the Galaxy, Kreis may elect to keep the veteran in the starting XI. A member of RSL’s 2009 title-winning team, Findley provides a good bridge to …
    • Olmes Garcia, the young Colombian coming off the bench on Thursday after failing to make the team in Carson. Only 21 years old, he is the least likely to start on Sunday, with Kreis preferring to us him off the bench.
    • The true (or true-ist) like-for-like option for Saborío is rookie Devon Sandoval, who can serve as a target man – somebody to provide an outlet from Portland’s pressure.

Plata’s relationship with Saborío is part of the reason the duo often start together, so with the Costa Rican out, Findley may again be preferred. But while Sandoval seems a logical option to complement the former U.S. international, Kreis could still elect to get creative in the absence of his first choice number nine.

  • The importance of Kyle Beckerman

Beckerman is always important to RSL, but against Portland, his performances could prove vital. As the Timbers seek to press high and create quick turnovers, his ability to retain possession, take advantage of openings, and decide when to do which will play in big part in RSL’s potential success.

Perhaps as important: How Beckerman handles Diego Valeri. Or Darlington Nagbe. Who knows? Depending on Portland’s tactics, either could end up demanding Beckerman’s attention, but with both free to drop deep into midfield to pick up the ball,  there’s also the potential for one to open up space for the other.

Communication will be vital. Nat Borchers will have to be sure to pull Beckerman back when players are moving into his space, and Beckerman will have to make sure Grabavoy and Gil are positioned to pick up Portland’s creators as he lets them go. Beckerman can’t contain both but he will be expected to neutralize whomever tries to get the ball in front of RSL’s line.

Clearly, Real Salt Lake have already has some success defending Portland’s stars (undefeated in four against them this year), but with the Timbers clicking as they never have before, Beckerman will be particularly stressed to maintain his normal standard of play.

Mascherano to stay at Barcelona through 2018-19 season

Javier Mascherano, FC Barcelona
AP
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Argentina international Javier Mascherano has agreed to extend his contract with the Spanish champions until June 2019.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

Club executive Albert Soler says “we have reached an agreement to improve (Mascherano’s) contract” without specifying the financial details.

The 32-year-old Mascherano plays as a central defender for Barcelona alongside fellow first-choice centerback Gerard Pique.

[ MORE: Zlatan reveals MLS offer ]

Since his arrival in 2010 from Liverpool, he has played in 282 games for Barcelona and helped it win 16 titles, including two Champions League crowns.

Also on Wednesday, Barcelona presented new midfielder Andre Gomes.

Transfer Rumors: Koulibaly to Chelsea, Stones to Man City, Arsenal chase CB

MILAN, ITALY - APRIL 16:  Mauro Icardi (L) of FC Internazionale Milano controls the ball against Kalidou Koulibaly of SSC Napoli during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and SSC Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on April 16, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

It has been reported by Sky Italy that Chelsea have made a $50 million bid for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

The towering Senegalese defender has been liked with both Chelsea and Everton and Koulibaly’s agent has recently said that his client will leave the Serie A side this summer.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

Koulibaly, 25, is refusing to sign a new deal with Napoli and with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill as Chelsea’s three experienced options at center back — Kurt Zouma is still recovering from a serious knee injury and Matt Miazga is still developing at Stamford Bridge — new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte appears to favor strengthening his central defensive options.

Leaking goals was a big problem for the Blues last season as their title defense started woefully and they ended up finishing 10th in the Premier League table. Conte will shore things up and this reported bid for Koulibaly suggests he is ready to splash some more cash, despite questioning the sustainability of big money transfers less than 24 hours ago.


Manchester City is reportedly closing in on deals for four different players as Pep Guardiola looks to bring in plenty of new faces ahead of his first season in charge.

According to the BBC, Everton and City are discussing the transfer of John Stones for $65 million. The 22-year-old center back has long been linked with City and the England international has reportedly told Everton he wants to leave Goodison Park. Stones struggled for most of last season after breaking through in the previous two PL campaigns but he believes his fluid passing from the back game will flourish in Guardiola’s system.

[ MORE: Zlatan reveals MLS offer ]

Three attacking players are also linked with City as Leroy Sane returned to training with Schalke on Wednesday. The 20-year-old attacker is valued at over $52 million by Schalke and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are in talks about the transfer fee.

Sky also says that City are close to tying up two deals for South American teenage forwards Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno. Atletico Nacional in Colombia want around $11 million for Moreno, while Palmeiras value Jesus at over $26 million. The latter will be playing for Brazil at Rio 2016 Olympics and there is a slight snag with both of these deals as obtaining work permits could be an issue.


Arsene Wenger has made his transfer target clear: “We have to look for an option to get a bit more experience.”

He was, of course, talking about an experienced center back.

The Gunners could be without Laurent Koscielny for the start of the season as he continues to recover from a busy summer with the French national team, while Per Mertesacker has been ruled out with a long-term knee injury leaving Wenger with only Gabriel, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers (maybe even Nacho Monreal shifting in from left back) to choose from.

It will be interesting to see who Arsenal go for in their hunt for some cover. Maybe Martin Demichelis who is a free agent?

Ranking the top 20 players at Rio 2016 Olympics

Brazil's Neymar celebrates his goal on a penalty kick against the United States during the second half of a friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
AP
1 Comment

It is just one week until the Olympic soccer tournament kicks off at Rio 2016.

Pumped? Yeah, I thought so.

[ STREAM: Watch Olympic soccer here ]

With the likes of Neymar, Hirving Lozano and Manuel Lanzini in the men’s tournament, plus Carli Lloyd, Marta and Alex Morgan on the women’s tournament, the battle for Gold is always intense and we often see plenty of rising stars come of age at the Olympics.

Below is a list of the top 20 players in both the men’s and women’s competitions in Rio.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.


Men’s

  1. Neymar (Brazil)
  2. Gabriel Barbosa (Brazil)
  3. Julian Brandt (Germany)
  4. Marquinhos (Brazil)
  5. David Selke (Germany)
  6. Max Meyer (Germany)
  7. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
  8. Lars Bender (Germany)
  9. Felipe Anderson (Brazil)
  10. Manuel Lanzini (Argentina)
  11. Thiago Maia (Brazil)
  12. Teo Gutierrez (Colombia)
  13. Ali Adnan (Iraq)
  14. Oribe Peralta  (Mexico)
  15. Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)
  16. Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)
  17. Angel Correa (Argentina)
  18. Giovanni Simeone (Argentina)
  19. Matthias Ginter (Germany)
  20. Jonathan Calleri (Argentina)

Women’s

  1. Carli Lloyd (USA)
  2. Marta (Brazil)
  3. Alex Morgan (USA)
  4. Christine Sinclair (Canada)
  5. Eugenie Le Sommer (France)
  6. Amandine Henry (France)
  7. Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany)
  8. Camille Abily (France)
  9. Anja Mittag (Germany)
  10. Alexandra Popp (Germany)
  11. Becky Sauerbrunn (USA)
  12. Forminga (Brazil)
  13. Hope Solo (USA)
  14. Lotta Schelin (Sweden)
  15. Caroline Seger (Sweden)
  16. Saskia Bartusiak (Germany)
  17. Megan Rapinoe (USA)
  18. Kosovare Asllani (Sweden)
  19. Julie Johnston (USA)
  20. Tobin Heath (USA)

Zlatan to MLS? David Beckham wants him in Miami

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 18: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of PSG celebrates with team mate David Beckham after scoring to make it 3-0 during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Stade Brestois 29 at Parc des Princes on May 18, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Zlatan Ibrahimovich is keen on Major League Soccer.

The Manchester United striker, 34, just linked up with his new team for the first time on their return to Europe and is ready to get going in preseason ahead of his first-ever season in the Premier League. .

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

However, in an interview with Goal.com he has revealed that former teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, David Beckham, wants him to join his MLS expansion side in Miami.

Here’s what Zlatan had to say about a potential link-up with Becks once again:

“David is a good friend of mine, and he has asked me to play for his [Miami] team,” Ibrahimovic said. “For now, I want to achieve big things with Manchester United, but I have a lot of respect for the MLS, and anything is possible. I am not ruling out the MLS. Once I had decided to leave PSG there were many offers, but with Zlatan that is normal.

“I know that teams from the MLS were interested, but the opportunity to play for Manchester United, and of course to work with my good friend Jose Mourinho again, was impossible to turn down. I would never rule out the MLS in the future. I have a contract with Manchester United, but I feel in great shape. I feel as though I could play until I am 40. It is impossible to predict the future.”

So, there you go. The enigmatic Swedish striker is certainly keen on a move to MLS and who wouldn’t be if this Miami franchise ever gets off the ground?

[ MORE: EFL Trophy includes 10 PL teams

Although a stadium site is almost sorted in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, Beckham and his ownership group still have plenty of hurdles to overcome to make his team a reality.

It would certainly help if Zlatan was around though — both on and off the pitch — and the towering striker has only signed a one-year deal with Manchester United so unless he rips it up in the Premier League this season, expect the Zlatan-to-MLS talk to fire up around January 2017.