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.

Americans Abroad wrap: Goals for Boyd, Gooch, Ariyibi

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Not every American player abroad found himself beneath a cleat this weekend, like DeAndre Yedlin.

[ PL PREVIEW: Arsenal vs. West Brom ]

The Magpies right back went 90 minutes for Newcastle and delivered good service in the 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion. How did other Americans fare abroad?

Germany

Bobby Wood led Hamburg in attempts on goal in Hamburg’s 3-0 loss at Bayer Leverkusen.

— American teenager Weston McKennie made his second-straight start for Schalke, but was again on the losing end in a 2-0 defeat at Hoffenheim.

— Fellow 19-year-old Christian Pulisic went 64 minutes for first-place Borussia Dortmund, leaving with BVB up 5-0 and en route to a 6-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.

— Not many Foals had good matches in that 6-1 defeat to BVB, and Fabian Johnson departed after 72 minutes with his side down four.

— Credit Timmy Chandler for a match-best four crosses in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss at RB Leipzig.

— In the second tier, Terrence Boyd came off the bench to fire his first goal of the season, a 90th minute header that was joined by Tobias Kempe’s 93rd minute marker to give Darmstadt a 3-3 draw versus Dynamo Dresden.

— Alfredo Morales went 90 minutes in the midfield as Ingolstadt lost 2-0 at Bochum.

— Julian Green got another 90 at left midfield/wing but Greuther Furth fell 3-1 at home to Nurnberg.

— On loan from Schalke, Haji Wright went 59 minutes at center forward as Sandhausen fell 1-0 at Erzegebirge Aue. Ken Gipson was on the bench for the ninth time but did not feature for the eighth.

— Jann George had an assist for Jahn Regensburg in a 2-1 win against visiting Eintracht Braunschweig.

England

— Yedlin went 90 for Newcastle, as detailed above.

— On the otherside of the Tyne-Wear rivalry, Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch had a moment to remember in a loss to Cardiff City. Gooch converted a penalty that briefly leveled the match.

— Eric Lichaj isn’t getting Championship run for Nottingham Forest, but went 90 minutes at right mid in a 5-1 League Cup loss to Chelsea at midweek.

— Tim Ream has played all 810 league minutes for Fulham, who drew 1-1 versus Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage

— On loan from Everton, Antonee Robinson is still yet to taste victory as a member of Bolton Wanderers. They fell 3-0 to Brentford, with Robinson putting in 75 minutes at left mid.

— On loan from Spurs, Cameron Carter-Vickers went the distance for Sheffield United in a 4-2 derby win over Sheffield Wednesday. The Blades have won both of the 19-year-old’s starts.

— In League One, Gboly Ariyibi scored for the third time in six days as MK Dons won 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon.

— Duane Holmes put another 90 in the books at right mid for Scunthorpe United in a 2-0 win over visiting Portsmouth.

Elsewhere

— Ethan Horvath picked up a win as Club Brugge went to RSC Charleroi and won 2-1. Brugge is 7W-1L in league play this season, and the 22-year-old has played every minute.

— On loan from Chelsea, Matt Miazga went 90 minutes at center back for Vitesse in a 2-1 win at Ajax.

Benitez peeved by block on Brighton’s clever set piece goal (video)

Leave a comment

Brighton midfielder Dale Stephens and Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez obviously feel quite different about the match-winning goal the Gulls nabbed off a set piece on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Hemed denies intent vs. Yedlin ]

Both agree on one thing, though, there’s blocking involved in the play’s success.

“We’ve tried it a few times,” Stephens said. “I’m glad it paid off. We change the blocker each time.”

Benitez saw his club’s three-match winning streak end largely on the merit of that goal, and thinks a foul should’ve been spotted by Andre Marriner.

Ciaran Clark is partially and purposely blocked from moving toward Stephens at the back post, and also misses the ball after Stephens nods back across goal.

It’s a clever play which led to an important goal, but Benitez feels it was insidious and illegal.

“I am not happy with the way we conceded. It was a block, an illegal block. You cannot argue too much but it is very difficult to understand some things. They pushed my players.

What do you think? There’s not much in the block. At the same time, it’s hard to call it anything but a block.

Hemed denies intention in Yedlin stamp

Leave a comment

Tomer Hemed‘s day could’ve gone south despite scoring what turned out to be the match-winning goal on Sunday against Newcastle United.’

[ RECAP: Brighton 1-0 Newcastle ]

Standing over a prone DeAndre Yedlin, the Brighton striker stamped down on the American fullback’s calf. The foul left Yedlin on the turf in pain for a moment.

The move was not seen by officials, and the Gulls needed every one of their 11 men to hold off a furious late charge by the visiting Magpies.

Hemed says the stamp was an accident, and had nothing to do with a previous incident between the two players. From The Newcastle Chronicle:

“No. It was by accident. Before I just told him: If you cannot jump for the ball, why push me? Try to take the ball, don’t push me. But after that, it was by accident. If I hurt him, I am sorry.”

Brighton boss Chris Hughton says he saw the play, but thought it was an accident.

“My very first impression is no intent,” he said. “There has been contact but my first impression is no intent and knowing the individual I would say no intent.”

The incident threatens not only to color the Gulls’ resolute defending and win, but could cost Hemed a three-match ban upon review.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Newcastle United: Gulls hold off Magpies

Leave a comment
  • Scoreless at half
  • Hemed nabs 2nd PL goal
  • NUFC leads in shots 17-7

Tomer Hemed‘s early second half goal helped Brighton and Hove Albion end Newcastle United’s three-match win streak in a 1-0 match at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

Newcastle drops to eighth on goal differential, while the win boosts Brighton 13th.

Newcastle faces Liverpool on Oct. 1 ahead of the international break, while Brighton is off to Arsenal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A first-minute foul on Joselu cued Matt Ritchie up for a free kick which led to a Newcastle corner kick. The effort swerved outside the 18, where Mikel Merino forced Mat Ryan into a diving right-handed parry.

At the other end? Something akin to a rugby ruck inside the 18 was barely cleared by the Magpies as the first five minutes promised an entertaining encounter.

Brighton worked a scintillating counter in the seventh minute, but it only led to a Tomer Hemed low effort. It was scooped easily by Rob Elliot.

The Seagulls saw Gross’ wide-open rocket clatter off Anthony Knockaert in front of the Newcastle goal, but Brighton had to feel good about the progress of the match.

It was against the run of play that Newcastle almost opened the scoring, as Christian Atsu sent Ayoze Perez down the left and his cutback found Joselu. The Spaniard dragged his shot just wide of the far post.

A wide open game, Chancel Mbemba found Perez for a shot that blazed wide of the frame in the 31st minute. Ritchie hit a free kick into the arms of Ryan eight minutes later.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hemed gave Brighton its lead in the 51st minute off a free kick headed back into the mix by Stephens. Hemed plucked the ball out of the air with a raised boot to make it 1-0.

It could’ve been 2-0 five minutes later when Bruno found Solly March, but Elliot made a sliding boot save on the line.

Ritchie earned a dangerous free kick that was turned into a corner following a Merino rip, and the 63rd minute chance was played short and pushed out of bounds by Newcastle.

A series of corners arrived following the introductions of Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle, though the Gulls handled them fairly well.

The 79th minute saw a terrific cross from DeAndre Yedlin go for nought when Atsu grounded a shot at Ryan.

Substitute Jesus Gamez bounced a shot wide of the near post in the 84th minute, as time was running low for the Magpies.

Hemed stamped Yedlin’s calf in the 88th minute, the clever dirty play unseen by the officials.