Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

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It’s easy to forget now, after a nine-month season left last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners out of the playoffs, but back in March, the San Jose Earthquakes were still considered one of the Western Conference’s favorites. How much that changed after Real Salt Lake went into Buck Shaw and won on opening day is difficult to remember, but in hindsight, the victory served early notice. RSL were supposed to be rebuilding. Instead, they handed San Jose their only home loss of the season.

Jason Kreis’s team didn’t exactly burst out the gate, though. A loss at D.C. United, draw at Colorado, and loss to FC Dallas followed. Before closing March with a win over Seattle, Real Salt Lake looked very much like a team going through an adjustment period, which they were. In addition to trading Jámison Olave, Will Johnson, and Fabian Espindola in the offseason, RSL were without the injured Javier Morales, Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert for the first four games of the season. The spine of Álvaro Saborío, Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Borchers and Nick Rimando didn’t play together until April 13 – the team’s sixth game of the season.

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

Over the next 17 games, between league play and the U.S. Open Cup, Real Salt Lake would go on the run that would establish their contenders’ credentials – a 12-2-3 stretch that pushed the team to the top of the conference and into the Open Cup semifinals. Still, the team wasn’t quote whole. Injuries to Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe had forced young Carlos Salcedo into action in defense. When he wasn’t with Costa Rica, Saborío was having trouble staying healthy, while the callups of Rimando, Beckerman, and Tony Beltran for the Gold Cup were testing the teams depth. When Sporting Kansas City took a contested 2-1 victory out of Rio Tinto in late July (Ike Opara scoring the winner in the 97th minute), RSL was missing five starters for what began of a three-match winless run.

source: AP
Real Salt Lake and Portland finished two-one in the West during MLS’s regular season, but RSL went 4-0-2 against the Timbers in 2013. Two wins came in the Western Conference finals. (Source: AP Photo.)

August’s return to Open Cup play brought the Portland Timbers onto the schedule, a team Real Salt Lake would go on to beat four times in 2013. Over the course of the month, RSL would go 2-0-1 against the West’s eventual one-seed, the team’s 4-2-1 month helping the squad move on to from July’s rocky finish.

Yet come September, the bumps were back, with the team losing back-to-back games to Seattle and San Jose. And on Oct. 1, RSL suffered the biggest setback of their campaign, losing a U.S. Open Cup final at home to D.C. United. Looking back on the stretch, Jason Kreis would later confess to not knowing what he had with his team. Did he have a contender? Or would 2013 really be a step back for Real Salt Lake?

Nobody knew for sure until the playoffs. Closing the regular season with two draws and a win (over Chivas USA) earned RSL the West’s second seed, but they’d also be paried with the two-time defending champions LA Galaxy. Perhaps the uncertainty led Kreis to change his tactics for the postseason opener in LA, a move he would later describe as a mistake, but headed back to Rio Tinto for their conference semifinal’s second leg, RSL were tasked with turning around a 1-0 deficit.

It was only after RSL had done so, winning 2-0 in Sandy, that everything truly came together. Two-plus weeks later, after the team had eliminated Portland 5-2 in the Western Conference final, players and staff talked about the importance of the LA second leg in a way that transcended an elimination game victory. In going back to their tried-and-true system – forgetting the 4-2-3-1 they tried in Carson – Real Salt Lake had affirmed their identity, giving them confidence they’d lacked through most of the fall. It wasn’t just that they’d beat the Galaxy, doing what nobody else had done since 2010. They’d done it by going back to what makes them RSL.

Ultimately, that’s what’s defined their 2013. It’s been RSL’s search for self. Offseason changes and early season injures obscured their identity this spring. After their summer surge, they were back on their heels come fall. Yet come mid-November, all the pieces had fallen into place.

The RSL team we’ll see on Saturday won’t be much different than the teams that have defined the club’s success since 2009, even if that success hasn’t been so straight forward in 2013.

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

[ MORE: MLS All Stars vs. Juventus ]

The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.