Rio Tinto Stadium

Domestic soccer treble? Odds say “unlikely,” but Real Salt Lake has the chance at something very special

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I have known some members of Real Salt Lake’s management for years, going back to their earliest playing days – and they will absolutely hate me for what I am about to do. Then again, this is what journalists and content providers do … stir the pot, whether it needs a stirring or not. So here goes:

Real Salt Lake has a chance – not a great one, but not a terrible one, either – to pull off something unprecedented in domestic soccer. And something quite special.

With Saturday’s improbable victory in Vancouver, where a squad 100 percent stocked with reservists went into BC Place and left with all three points, Real Salt Lake remains in contention for Supporters Shield. Seattle has games in hand, but the Sounders’ schedule ahead is far tougher than RSL’s remaining schedule. (Of course, teams in the East have something to say about this, too.)

Real Salt Lake has done enough to be considered an MLS Cup threat. And the men of Rio Tinto Stadium (pictured) will be heavily favored for Tuesday’s final in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition.

So … a U.S. Soccer professional soccer Treble? That is, U.S. Open Cup winner, Supporters Shield winner and MLS Cup winner from the same address in the same season?

Again, all kinds of things can go wrong here; history speaks to the difficulty of accomplishing such a thing. That is to say, it’s never been done.

Some quality clubs have checked off two of the three over the years. Six teams, in fact, have captured Supporters Shield and MLS Cup in the same season, the 2011 LA Galaxy being the most recent “Double” winners. (The list of Supporters Shield winners is here.)

Three teams have claimed MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in the same year. But none have gone the full distance, so to speak, also capturing Supporters Shield in that same season. (The list of U.S. Open Cup  winners is here; the list of MLS Cup winners is here.)

So this is just a heads-up: Odds say RSL walking with all this is highly unlikely, especially considering how many young hands remain on deck for Kreis’ team. Still, it’s worth noting that such a chance even exists.

The first check on the box has to come tomorrow from Rio Tinto.

Big opportunity ahead as United States faces Honduras in World Cup qualifying action

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SALT LAKE CITY – The United States has done such great work over the last two weeks, scooping up valuable points and invaluable momentum in the reach for a seventh consecutive World Cup, putting itself in such swell positioning ahead of a summer international break.

It really would be such a shame to fumble away all that momentum now.

So manager Jurgen Klinsmann is stressing the need to finish strong, to take care of the details and to demonstrate the kind of 24/7, ultimately focused regional watchdog approach – the one he has worked to build over two years – Tuesday against a vulnerable Honduran bunch.

Klinsmann’s team has so much going for it at the moment, starting with the momentum of a three-game winning streak. A 4-3 victory over Germany may have been a meaningless friendly, but it became a springboard of confidence before a highly meaningful World Cup qualifier win in Jamaica, then a boss-man performance in last week’s 2-0 win in Seattle over Panama.

The praise flew effusive for that one, probably the most complete match yet in 22 months under the German manager. Plus, it had the crowd sing-songy with the “We are going to Brazil! …. ” bit.

Not yet. Not exactly. But the United States sits majestically in first place in the six-team final round group, with three of the final five matches at home. “At home” is massive in these qualifiers as the United States has not lost one on U.S. soil since 2001. The team is 22-0-2 in that time.

Kickoff at sold-out Rio Tinto is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN  and in Spanish on UniMas.

“As you see, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said Monday. “We’re playing really good soccer. When we’re losing the ball, we’re fighting hard to win in right back real quick, making good decisions in the attacking third and scoring goals. It’s about keeping that going and, like Jurgen said, keeping that consistency.”

(MORE: Starting the vacation right, by feeling extra good about things)

(MORE: U.S.-Honduras lineup prediction)

Generally speaking, Honduras always looked like the tougher of two opponents in the States over the past week. Panama, frankly, proved a pretty tame opponent in last week’s memorable encounter in Seattle.

Honduras has talent to go with a true grit and big belief, and it was no accident that the Catrachos qualified for World Cup 2010. Two years later the under-23s were a real revelation during the London Olympics.

But the team has critical absences, notably to commanding center back Victor Bernardez. He would have been the chief obstacle for U.S. striker Jozy Altidore, the young U.S. striker who has shushed his critics with a goal in each of the last three U.S. matches.

Starting midfielder Luis Garrido is also suspended for Honduras and forward Jerry Bengtson, who struck the game-winner past Tim Howard in February, has left the team in playing-time feud with manager Luis Suarez. Finally, Honduras will also miss injured, wiry attacker and winger Oscar Boniek Garcia, who gave the United States real problems last time these guys met.

(MORE: Which is the bigger personnel loss for Honduras)

That was in Honduras in February, a 2-1 win for Honduras that ignited the latest predictable moment of “crisis” for U.S. Soccer. It happens once or twice each World Cup cycle, when the fandom and the chattering class fall over backward in disgust as the United States stumbles in one of these tricky Central American or Caribbean.

The United States is in such a vastly different place for tonight’s match inside Rio Tinto Stadium, situated wonderfully at the base of the Wasatch Mountains and home to Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.

Klinsmann has lineup choices ahead: Who replaces DaMarcus Beasley (suspended due to yellow card accumulation)? Does midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones get back into the lineup following his concussion recovery? Is there a place for Eddie Johnson, who held his own along the right in Seattle last week?

Presumably, Graham Zusi will be back into his spot along the right side after missing the win over Panama due to yellow card build-up.

(MORE: Jermaine Jones cleared to play)

The United States is already well positioned and another win Tuesday would leave the drive for Brazil 2014 in glorious shape. In all likelihood, Klinsmann’s team would need just one more win in the final four matches to officially qualify for Brazil. They could probably even make it with just a couple of ties – not that anybody wants to limp into a World Cup leaking momentum that way.

But first things first, and that means taking care of business Tuesday in Utah, where it will be windy and quite warm in the thin air. Honduras will be physical and tactically well organized, probably looking to concede possession and make the United States work especially hard once they reach the scoring third of the field.

“There is no easy game at all anymore,” Klinsmann said of the CONCACAF region. “You first have to somehow break them down, score your first goal and go from there. If you don’t break them down, which happened down in Mexico a few times, you struggle. Because teams are physically very strong, they keep the pace high with you, they keep the rhythm and they are tactically very well organized. They all go behind the ball once they lose it. There’s always a wall of nine or ten guys behind the ball.”

(MORE: United States notes ahead of the match)

(MORE: The atmosphere has been rocking at U.S. matches, and will be again)

Highlights: So this happened to LA Galaxy – five goals from the New England Revolution

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Sometimes it’s not the fact that you lose. It’s how you lose.

That was a refrain we used last week when talking about the Sounders’ collapse in Los Angeles. Allowing four goals in the first half wasn’t necessarily a sign of implosion from a squad that was finishing off a strong May. It was just the way it happened, an inexplicably flat start against a strong opponent, one that couldn’t help but evoke memories of last year’s conference final an the previous postseason’s game at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Today’s late match collapse by the LA Galaxy doesn’t carry such weighty implications, but the undertone of the 5-0 loss may be still telling. The LA defense was without Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant, so extrapolating conclusions onto their first team is a bit of a reach, but as it concerns Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza and youngsters Tommy Meyer and Greg Cochrane, is has to be disappointing for Bruce Arena see a unit just turn off.

After 70 minutes, the score was 1-0. At full time, it as 5-0, with three of the Revolutions’ goals coming after the 86th minute.

It should go without saying that you never want to see your team collapse like that, but with the game all but decided by the time New England went on their three-goal barrage, there’ll be the temptation to brush this off. With LA missing its two best defenders, there may be an implicit asterisk thrown up next to the score. Those conclusions would overlook something a coach never wants to see. Nobody ever wants to see their team stop playing.

Whether Bruce Arena feels that’s what happened remains to be seen. Regardless, giving up five to the Revolution — a team that came into today’s gave with 10 goals in 12 games — should sound an alarm on some level.

Lest we overlook New England’s result, take a look at that first goal, in the highlights above. Yes, the Galaxy defense are playing off Saer Sene like he’s wearing radio active slide shorts, but the nice movement from right flank to the middle of the area hints Sene, making his first start of the season, is ready to start having the same impact he had in 2012.

That gives Jay Heaps one of the league’s top 10 forwards. And he also has Juan Agedulo. And Lee Nguyen. And Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Jerry Bengston and Juan Toja.

And as of right now, New England are even with Philadelphia for fifth place in the East. Maybe the Revolution has begun.

News and notes on United States national team

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A scattering of news and notes on the United States national team as Jurgen Klinsmann’s side prepares to gather Sunday in Cleveland ahead of five big matches, including three World Cup qualifiers in June:

Brad Evans has been added to the U.S. contingent set to assemble this weekend. Evans is a heady midfielder who can play a number of positions through the middle third. But don’t forget this: he can also play at right back, where he as appeared previously for the national team. Given the injury to Timothy Chandler and the absence of habitually under  appreciated Steve Cherundolo, that’s a very good thing.

The June 18 match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah is sold out. No surprise there considering the size of the ground and that past U.S. matches in Salt Lake sold well.

Sacha Kljestan is a champion. Again. We talked about that one yesterday.

Everyone will be excited about the match against Germany (June 2 … the full U.S. schedule for the coming weeks is below) will gobble up most of the attention. It’s Klinsmann’s old team against his new one, you know? Plus, it’s the match selected for U.S. Soccer to celebrate its centennial.

But considering all the German absences, and considering the stacked and packed roster Belgium is bringing, the tougher match may well be May 29 in Cleveland. The lowlands country defines “up and comer” in European soccer at the moment.

The Belgian roster includes Chelsea livewire attacker Eden Hazard, Spurs midfielder Moussa Dembele, Everton guiding light Marouane Fellaini, Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, Aston Villa scorer Christian Benteke and quite a few others namey names of European soccer.

More on the Belgian roster is here.

The arrivals of Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson into the United States camp will be delayed – which in this case represents good news. Williams was not involved but Johnson did play as a huge Hoffenhiem win on the final Bundesliga match day. And it wasn’t just any win – their side downed powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, 2-1, in one of the most dramatic Bundesliga matches this year.

The result put Hoffenheim in a playoff against FC Kaiserslautern; the winner of the two-legged series will be a Bundesliga side next year, while the loser sets up for a season in 2. Bundesliga. That would represent a drop for Hoffenheim … and wouldn’t be good for Williams or Johnson.

Those German playoff matches are May 23 and 27.

Details of how it all unfolded are here from the official Bundesliga site and also here from U.S. Soccer.

U.S. Soccer says the ticket sales are at about 18,500 for the Belgian friendly, about 32,000 for the qualifier in Seattle and 39,000 for the friendly against Germany in Washington, D.C.

The schedule (up to Gold Cup activity later this summer) is here:

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Let’s play “Choose the site for U.S. World Cup qualifiers”

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Five lucky communities will soon be named to host the United States’ final round World Cup qualifiers.

Well, four seriously lucky Louies, plus one that may or may not be quite as fortunate; by the time Jurgen Klinsmann’s men face Jamaica on Oct. 11 (the fifth and final home match), they may already be safely through to Brazil 2014.

If the choosing were mine, here are the five venues where Klinsi and Co. would be heading over the next nine months. (Disclaimer: I know everyone outside of these five places will hate me; the good soccer folks of Seattle and Portland will lead the pitchfork-and-lantern way.)

Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City: Great stadium, great fans who know how to get their “patriotism” on, and there already a history of success there (albeit not a long one.) Jurgen Klinsmann and his players were falling over each other to talk up that place last fall in the semi-final round win, so it’s hard to see how this one won’t be picked.

Red Bull Arena outside New York: Establishing that home field advantage here is more problematic, but it’s New York!  You know, the Big Apple, an iconic symbol of our country and a media center. Plus, if we’re only talking about MLS stadium (I know U.S. Soccer isn’t, but I am), it seats about 5,000 more than most of the league’s grounds. Games against Panama or Honduras in June would be the best chances.

Crew Stadium in Columbus (pictured): Of course Crew Stadium has to be in the mix. Who cares if the place doesn’t have the pretty things and fancy high-tech edges of other, newer grounds. This one has history, and important history, at that. It’s where Mexican ambition has gone to die. How cool is that!  Mexico vs. the United States on Sept. 10? Can we please book it?

PPL Park outside Philadelphia: Let’s show CONCACAF that not all the verbal nastiness is confined to small Central American nations. The brotherly fans in Philly can presumably accomplish that, right?  By the way, why aren’t we thinking of making Costa Rica play there in March? I know it’s not as close to Mexico as the other possibilities already mentioned, but aren’t we just talking about an extra two hours in the air here?

Rio Tinto Stadium outside Salt Lake City, Utah: Two qualifier appearances, two wins, glowing reviews from U.S. players, coaches and staff. There’s a lot to like, including the beautiful stadium. Unless you put one game in Southern California at the Home Depot Center, this will probably be the Western-most venue.