Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Real Salt Lake

4 Comments

(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

What an eventful off-season this has been around Rio Tinto, across all levels of the franchise.

First came the personnel upheaval as one of the league’s more stable clubs turned its roster on its head. GM Garth Lagerwey and manager Jason Kreis, recognizing that things had gone a little stale, dropped some bold moves as quickly as possible into December. Gone were bedrocks Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson.

Later, in moving to recreate some of that bedrock stability, playmaker Javier Morales saw his contract extended.

But as preseason drills began, some “wobbly” returned club with the out-of-nowhere announcement  that ownership was in flux.

Salt Lake City may represent one of the smaller markets and may dwell in a so-called fly-over state, but Rio Tinto Stadium is certainly no boring place at the moment. As far as on-field activity, here’s what Jason Kreis and Co. need to address in preseason:

  • What the 2013 back line looks like, especially early while dealing with injury?

Jamison Olave, a lineup staple at Rio Tinto for the last four seasons, is gone, now in New York. Nat Borchers had recent quadriceps surgery and his return is perhaps the biggest mystery clouding preseason camp. Truly, club officials don’t seem to have a good handle on whether this is a long-term process or something shorter.

Chris Wingert has a broken foot, which might not be as concerning but for the pile-up of injury and roster attrition around it.

Chris Schuler and Tony Beltran will be the stability providers early, with steady veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando providing the calm reassurance and useful information from behind. Still, Kreis will need to sort out the best defensive structure and personnel rotation, probably with Plan A, B and C to account for various scenarios.

  • Where is Robbie Findley’s head?

With Espíndola gone and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio likely to miss matches here and there for international operations, Findley sets up as a major part of the goal-scoring plan around Sandy this year.

That would be fine if this was the same Findley who left Utah back in January of 2011, having hit for a respectable 29 goals over four seasons. But is he the same guy?

Things did not go well in Findley’s efforts to elevate his career abroad; slowed by injury, the 27-year-old striker never gained a foothold at Nottingham Forest.

There are wincing parallels here to Edson Buddle, who left for Europe about the same time as Findley, experienced a similarly flawed outcome and then returned to MLS a different, lesser figure.

Findley says confidence remains high. We’ll see, and we know that confidence means everything for strikers. So, how is Findley’s? And how can Kreis manage matters in preseason to reinforce it?

  • What, exactly, are the expectations for 2013?

We cannot look at a team with U.S. international Kyle Beckerman (pictured), Morales, Rimando, Borchers, Beltran and Olave as a team in rebuilding mode. But with key components gone and with Borchers’ availability in question, the club does seem to be in some level of transition.

Kreis must decide how much, and how soon, to mash the gas pedal, how much to demand. There’s a sweet spot between aiming too low and setting unrealistic expectations, therefore setting up the side for disappointment.

If things fall right, RSL remains a contender. But if a couple of things go wrong, they may need to downshift and look for smaller victories, at least for the time being.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: San Jose Earthquakes

Pogba: Brighton was “hungrier” than Man Utd

Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho said Manchester United was “really, really, really down” at halftime of their 3-2 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

His captain, Paul Pogba, didn’t let those vibes temper his efforts to turn the game around, though he admits his Red Devils weren’t up to the challenge.

“They had more hunger than us and the result is the right one for them,” he said.

Pogba said he was disappointed in his performance, and the team’s mentality.

From the BBC:

“I will always try. I know I lost a lot of balls which shouldn’t happen. I tried, I kept pushing, that’s my personality. I tried to help the team as much as possible. It didn’t happen today.

“Brighton prepared the game very well. Maybe we didn’t have the attitude to break them, to kill them when we had to kill them and to go through the lines. That’s a lesson we have to keep in mind.”

There have been warning bells ringing at Manchester United for some time, and Old Trafford will be a nightmare if the Red Devils don’t answer them against Spurs a week from Monday.

Pogba was far from the main problem on Sunday. He set Romelu Lukaku up for what could’ve easily been the opening goal of the game — and usually would be — with a delightful through ball, and influenced the game on several occasions aside from his converted penalty kick.

But with Fred struggling and Nemanja Matic absent, Pogba was needed more in his 2017-18 role and couldn’t dominate defensively. That’s a tall ask down 3-1, but he has to stop the match from getting to that point.

EDIT: Here’s video and some more thoughts from Pogba after the match:

“Everybody likes to play against United. Obviously they want to beat us, they want to win. We need to be more focused,” he said. “Obviously much better than today. I’m not a superhero to see the future but obviously we need to play much better than today.”

Mourinho: Man Utd was “really, really, really down” at halftime

Leave a comment

Many could hardly wait for Jose Mourinho to take the microphone after one of Manchester United’s worst performances under the mercurial manager.

Unless they were hoping for a small jab at referee Kevin Friend for not letting United send one more ball into the fray, Mourinho was a bit of a letdown by design.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pogba reacts ]

“When I speak of individual performances you don’t accept it,” Mourinho said on NBCSN. “The players, the pundits are very critical when I’m asked to go in that direction. I’ll be happy to analyze my players’ performances when they are good. … When I cannot do that, don’t push me to the other side.”

Mourinho also rejected any comment on United’s inability to purchase one of his center back targets.

“The window opens on the first of January. It’s closed.”

What he did say was that Brighton did not let United off the hook for a number of mistakes in the defeat at the Amex Stadium.

And he did not have a clue United would have a bad day.

“I was not expecting obviously big mistakes because we are not speaking about small mistakes,” he said. “Big mistakes, we made big mistakes and we were punished by that. There’s a normal tendency to lose a little bit of the confidence and the direction of the game plan.”

“You go into halftime where the players were really, really, really down.”

United and Mourinho could be in a huge hole if after their first Top Four test of the season next week, when the Red Devils host Spurs on Monday, Aug. 27.

With all due respect to crafty Brighton veteran forward Glenn Murray, Harry Kane would’ve had a field day on Sunday.

Manchester United baffled by Brighton

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brighton and Hove Albion stunned a haphazard Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

The win puts both teams at 1-1, with the Gulls getting goals from Glenn Murray, Pascal Gross, and Shane Duffy. Romelu Lukaku scored for United in the first half, before Marouane Fellaini drew a Paul Pogba-converted penalty.

Manchester United next meets Spurs at Old Trafford, while Brighton travels to Liverpool.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Pogba played Romelu Lukaku through on goal, but the Belgian’s hard low strike zipped wide of the near post.

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage, and it would be a big dig for United.

Lukaku made it 2-1, rewarding for a fine first half-hour with a knockdown header from Luke Shaw‘s partially blocked shot.

But a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.

Mourinho completed his substitutions early, taking off Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, and Juan Mata for Marcus Rashford (HT), Jesse Lingard (HT), and Marouane Fellaini (60′).

United snapped to life with 16 minutes to play, Paul Pogba forcing Mathew Ryan into a flying parry.

But only a Fellaini-won penalty arrived deep in stoppage time, with Pogba converting his effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Murray scores beauty as Brighton thumping Man Utd at half (video)

Leave a comment

Might we have an upset on our hands at the Amex Stadium?

Manchester United trails Brighton and Hove Albion on a deft goal from Glenn Murray against the run of play and a quickfire addition to the score line from Shane Duffy.

[ STREAM: Brighton-Man Utd ]

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage.

Lukaku answered with a headed goal, but a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.