Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake - Western Conference Championship - Leg 1

Real Salt Lake’s 2013: The not-so-rebuilding year that could end in an MLS title

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“What are you doing this offseason” is the question you hear most this time of year around Major League Soccer, but it has less and less significance. With seasons starting sooner and ending later, there’s barely enough time to fit in drafts, re-entry drafts, ang preseasons before we’re kicking off again in March. The games may stop on this Saturday, but come Monday morning, teams will start overhauling their rosters. With player movement often grabbing headlines as big as the matches themselves, there is no offseason for an MLS diehard.

Take last year. Coming out of Los Angeles, you’d think there would have been a period of reflection on the year that was, particularly since neither David Beckham nor Landon Donovan seemed ready to give us quick answers to their career quandaries. Instead, Garth Lagerwey was putting us to work. As planes were lifting off from LAX, the Real Salt Lake general manager was shipping Jaimson Olave and Fabian Espindola to New York. Around the same time, news broke that Will Johnson was going to Portland. While the rest of the league was resetting, an Real Salt Lake team that have been to five straight post seasons was rebuilding.

At least, we called it rebuilding, though now that Jason Kreis’s team is back in their first title game since 2009, we might want to reconsider the label, one which became a bit of a cliché throughout the regular season. Espindola, Johnson, and especially Olave were valuable pieces for RSL, but when you look at the core Lagerwey maintained, the offseason looks like more of a small shuffle than major remodeling. The core of the team was still in place.

That core starts at the back with U.S. international Nick Rimando and continues through a back line that returned three quality veterans: fullbacks Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert and former Best XI central defender Nat Borchers. In the middle, Real Salt Lake still had their linchpins: Kyle Beckerman at the base of their diamond; Javier Morales at the tip. And although he wasn’t there when the team raised the cup in 2009, Costa Rican international Álvaro Saborío has been an integral part of the team’s continued success. He was coming back, too.

Add in Ned Grabavoy, key in a season where RSL were occasionally without Kyle Beckerman, and the team had eight starters returning from a squad that finished second in the West. Among the replacements they had in house, Jason Kreis could call on Luis Gil in midfield and Chris Schuler at the back. The only real question was whether they’d have somebody to fill Espindola’s shoes. By the time March came around, they’d have more than enough options: Robbie Findley; João Plata; Devon Sandoval; and Olmes Garcia.

source: Getty Images
Jámison Olave, seen here playing with RSL, was the best defender on a team which reached a CONCACAF Champions League final. This offseason he was sent to New York, with RSL trusting Chris Schuler, Kwame Waston-Siriboe, and Carlos Salcedo to take up the spot next to Nat Borchers (Photo: Getty Images.)

How did this come to be thought of as rebuild? It was probably that Olave trade that got the ball rolling. That it came so quickly, involved such a good player, packaged him with another starter, and didn’t land Real Salt Lake a significant player in return hinted Lagerwey was being forced to hit the reset button. To a limited extent, that was true, but whereas many saw those early December trades as auguring a complete rebuild, the next dominos never fell, even if the narrative had already been set in motion.

If we’re forcing ourselves to call 2013 a rebuild, then it started all the way back in 2010 when they drafted Chris Schuler. It continued when they traded for a 17-year-old Luis Gil a month later then took a three-year break. That’s when (this offseason) the team drafted Sandoval, traded for Findley and Plata, and signed Garcia. In between, players like Sebastian Velazquez (draft) and Lovel Palmer (re-entry) were added, but they aren’t a big part of the rebuild narrative. If we’re looking at how RSL were able to like Olave, Johnson, and Espindola go without regressing, the answers lie in a series of moves that don’t look much different than the drafting of Sebastian Velazquez or the reclamation of Lovel Palmer.

Except for those high profile departures, 2013 has been business as usual for an organization that continues to uncover talent. Sometimes that involves getting the most out of recycled talents like Rimando, Grabavoy, and Wingert. Other times it’s late draft steals like Schuler and Velasquez. There’s the occasional Garcia-esque signing from abroad, and when they need to, they can go out and get a Morales or Saborío. This isn’t rebuilding. This is roster management done within the thin margin allowed a small market team competing against the likes of Los Angeles and Seattle.

It’s natural to think of the emptied lockers of Olave, Johnson, and Espindola and assume big changes were in store, but the fire sale never came. If Real Salt Lake’s brains continue running their organization the way they have, that fire sale will never has come. When the day comes that Rimando, Beckerman, and Morales have to go, the transitions may prove just as smooth, provided the same philosophies are underpinning them.

If changes stay limited and can be planned for in advance, there’s no reason why RSL can’t continue to succeed. Last year, they finished second in the West and made the conference semifinals. This year, they finished second and are playing for an MLS title.

WATCH: Red Bulls academy product scores 4 goals in 4:20 for Marist

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Quickfire goals are nothing new in American college soccer, but this is bonkers.

Marist sophomore Cameron Harr now leads the nation in scoring after the New York Red Bulls Academy product scored four goals on Thursday.

Oh, and those four goals came in four minutes and 20 seconds. That’s high-powered output.

[ MORE: Atleti accepts January transfer ban ]

The Red Foxes hammered Manhattan 5-0 on Wednesday evening, with Harr scoring a beautiful opener before tapping in a second and then adding a pair of penalties — within 44 seconds (!!) — to complete his haul.

Harr’s 15 goals have him one ahead of Florida Gulf Coast’s Albert Ruiz, who coincidentally scored three goals in 3:19 earlier this month!

MLS Playoff Picture: How high, low can every playoff hopeful finish?

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Didn’t the 2016 MLS season just start? What do you mean it’s October, and the season started in March?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

As difficult as it is to believe, First Kick was indeed nearly eight months ago, which means this is it. Sunday’s slate of 10 simultaneous finales (4 p.m. ET — full coverage right here on PST) will signal the end of the line for eight sides; the end of the regular season, and the start of the real journey, for 12 others.

Following last weekend’s penultimate round of games, we covered the scenarios for teams yet to clinch a playoff berth. Today, we’ll focus on seeding — how high and how low each of the 14 remaining playoff hopefuls can finish.

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (54 points, 15 wins, +15 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 2nd.

New York City FC (51 points, 14 wins, +2 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 3rd. To finish 1st, NYCFC need to win vs. Columbus Crew SC, and RBNY lose vs. Philadelphia Union, doing so by combined margins that make up 13 goals in the goal differential column.

Toronto FC (50 points, 13 wins, +11 GD) — Can finish as high as 2nd; can finish no lower than 3rd. To finish 2nd, TFC need to win vs. Chicago Fire, and NYCFC lose or draw vs. CLB. To finish 2nd, TFC could also draw vs. CHI, and NYCFC lose vs. CLB.

D.C. United (46 points, 11 wins, +8 GD) — Can finish no higher than 4th; can finish as low as 5th. To finish 4th, DCU need to win vs. Orlando City SC. To finish 4th, DCU could also draw or lose vs. ORL, and Montreal Impact draw or lose vs. New England Revolution.

Montreal Impact (45 points, 11 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 6th. To finish 4th, MTL need to win vs. NE, and DCU draw or lose vs. ORL.

Philadelphia Union (42 points, 11 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 5th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, PHI need to win vs. RBNY, and MTL lose vs. NE.

New England Revolution (39 points, 10 wins, -13 GD) — Can finish as high as 6th. To finish 6th, NE need to win vs. MTL, and PHI lose vs. RBNY, doing so by combined margins that make up 12 goals in the goal differential column.

Western Conference

FC Dallas (59 points, 17 wins, +10 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 2nd. To finish 1st FCD need to win or draw vs. LA Galaxy. To finish 1st, FCD could also lose vs. LA, and Colorado Rapids draw or lose vs. Houston Dynamo.

Colorado Rapids (57 points, 15 wins, +7 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish no lower than 2nd. To finish 1st, COL need to win vs. HOU, and FCD lose vs. LA.

LA Galaxy (51 points, 12 wins, +15 GD) — Can finish no higher and no lower than 3rd.

Real Salt Lake (46 points, 12 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish no higher than 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, RSL need to win vs. SEA. To finish 4th, RSL could also draw vs. SEA, and Sporting Kansas City draw or lose vs. San Jose Earthquakes, and Portland Timbers draw or lose vs. Vancouver Whitecaps.

Seattle Sounders (45 points, 13 wins, 0 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, SEA need to win vs. RSL.

Sporting Kansas City (44 points, 12 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, SKC need to win vs. SJ, and RSL and SEA draw with one another, and maintain a goal differential advantage over POR if POR win vs. VAN.

Portland Timbers (44 points, 12 wins, -2 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, POR need to win vs. VAN, and RSL and SEA draw with one another, and overcome a goal differential disadvantage over SKC if SKC win vs. SJ.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man United, Southampton face Fenerbahce, Inter in UEL

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 17:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates with Anthony Martial as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford on May 17, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s the most … wonderful day … of the week — Thursday afternoon Europa League.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Thursday’s Europa League action ]

Following Monday’s mostly dull affair at Anfield, Manchester United return home to Old Trafford, where they’ll host Fenerbahce (3:05 p.m. ET) for the first time since 2004. Man United (3 points) enter matchday no. 3 as the third-place side in Group A, a single point off the pace of Thursday’s opponent for the top spot. United captain Wayne Rooney will be desperately hoping (one can only assume) to start a game for the first time in a month (Sept. 21, versus Northampton Town — just 66 minutes played in four games since).

Two hours before kickoff at the Theater of Dreams, Southampton are set to visit another of the world’s famous venues, the San Siro, as they take on Inter Milan for the first time ever. Claude Puel‘s side (4 points) currently sits atop Group K, ahead of Hapoel Beer Sheva and on goal differential. Inter, on the other hand, are in search of their first point in the group stage.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]


Hit the link up top to following along with all the afternoon’s action in Europe’s “other” competition. For a firsthand look at the scene in Milan, PST’s lead writer and editor, Joe Prince-Wright, is tweeting up a storm outside and inside the San Siro.

Atletico Madrid accepts January transfer ban amid ongoing appeal

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 02:  Atletico de Madrid manager Diego Pablo Simeone reacts during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Atletico de Madrid at Mestalla Stadium on October 02, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
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ZURICH (AP) Atletico Madrid has accepted it will not sign players in January while it fights a FIFA transfer ban at sport’s highest court.

[ MORE: Ozil won’t sign new Arsenal contract until Wenger does the same ]

FIFA and Atletico jointly say in a statement they agreed a timetable for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to give a final ruling on the Spanish club’s appeal by next June.

Atletico could have sought to freeze its one-year ban pending the verdict but has “waived its right” to try, the statement says.

Still, Atletico “completely maintains its position that the transfer ban is unjustified.”

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]

FIFA imposed one-year sanctions on Atletico and city rival Real Madrid for signing underage players in violation of transfer rules.

During an appeal to FIFA in the offseason, Atletico signed several players including France forward Kevin Gameiro and Argentina midfielder Nicolas Gaitan.