Depth continues to be a virtue for Real Salt Lake

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The question we’re left with after Jay DeMerit’s performance against Real Salt Lake: Why did he play? The Vancouver Whitecaps’ captain was on his third game in six days, with only one days’ rest between his performance in Chester and his appearance in Salt Lake. By now, you know the details, though only Martin Rennie knows why DeMerit played 90 on Friday.

(MORE: Drilling down on: at Real Salt Lake 2, Vancouver 1)

Because of the league’s unique rules, squad and roster management is more important in Major League Soccer than any circuit in the world. As the profiles of CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup continue to grow, demands on thin squads have increased. If you’re going to be viable in all competitions, depth is mandatory. It’s one of the reasons Seattle’s been able to have relative success on three fronts. It may also be why last year’s champions, LA Galaxy, could only manage one competition.

Last night, Real Salt Lake’s depth was on display. With RSL’s Champions League starting with a mid-week trip to Costa Rica, Jason Kreis elected to sit three starters: Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert, and Ned Grabavoy. Luis Gil got the start in midfield, reclamation project Kenny Mansally was in Wingert’s place, and with Chris Schuler still out, former Fire defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe played in central defense.

All acquitted themselves well. Luis Gil’s quality is no surprise, his attacking play creating multiple first half threats on goal (be it with his shot or his passing). Watson-Siriboe was perhaps helped by the presence of Nat Borchers, be the 25-year-old looked (and, more importantly, played) confident most of the night. Kenny Mansally’s speed proved a virtue against Dane Richards.

On the other side, a number of Vancouver players were carrying the miles of a long MLS season. DeMerit’s two mistakes cost them the game. Gershon Koffie looked like a run down version of his early season self (and was brought off at 71′). Even Lee Young-Pyo seemed late getting back on multiple occasions. Combined with a so-so performance from Barry Robson (why was he exchanging words with DeMerit in the first half?) and Vancouver fans have to be left with mixed emotions. Rio Tinto’s a tough place to play, but the Whitecaps could have won last night’s game.

Is it too easy to say the difference was depth? Probably, since it wasn’t the only difference. If Kenny Miller’s headers go on target, if Jun Davidson finishes a great chance created by Darren Mattocks, if Martin Bonjour doesn’t lose track of Alvaro Saborio, the game goes Vancouver’s way. Depth was only one of the issues.

But what is it about Real Salt Lake? Though expansion and cost concerns has picked over their team through the last three years, they’ve still got as much quality on the bench as anybody. After `09, it was Yura Movsisyan, now tearing it up in the Russian Premier League. After 2010, they lost Robbie Findley. Last year was the big one: Robbie Russell, Raushawn MacKenzie, Andy Williams and Collen Warner. They’ve also lost quality role players in the likes of David Horst and Jean Alexandre, yet when everybody’s healthy, they sill have a great MLS bench: Paulo Jr., Gil, Jonny Steele, Yordany Álvarez, Chris Schuler, Terakazu Tenaka. The likes of Kwame-Siriboe, Mansally, Sebastian Velasquez, and Justin Braun might not Jason Kreis’s ideal bench.

Real Salt Lake has one of the best cores in the league. Their cohesion, enabled by time together in a consistent system, is unparalleled. It almost seems unfair the Garth Legerway and Kreis can augment it by taking parts from others’ discards and plugging them in as needed, particularly when you see a few of their Western Conference competitors (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Dallas) struggling to get more out of some of their designated players.

But if Kreis can take a Mansally or Kwame-Siriboe and get them up to RSL’s level, team certainly deserves to be where they’re at.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”