Here are this week’s 15 thoughts after RSL drew with the LA Galaxy in their home opener for 2014.
1. Major props to the fans. It was nice to see the stadium full for the tifo, the big tifo in the south end, along with the numerous flags and two-sticks throughout the stadium. It’s crazy to see how far this fan base has come in just 10 seasons.
2. The team came out ready to fight. Likely due to the energy in the stadium, RSL came out of the gates fighting and pushing LA. It’s a shame Plata couldn’t have found the net on the turnover by LA or one of our few other chances. Had we found the net sooner, I think it would have deflated LA.
3. The goal by Sabo was a thing of beauty. LA does what numerous other teams do – they give defensive assignments for set pieces. RSL has found ways to exploit this on multiple occasions, this was yet another. The short ball to Plata put the LA defense all out of sync leaving the best target forward in MLS wide open at the back post. Sabo was given time to trap (what a lovely first touch) and then deftly lift the ball over the onrushing keeper. It likely won’t win goal of the week, but it truly was a special sequence.
4. The Plata injury changed this game. Plata has been the best field player for RSL in 2014. It’s no competition. The offensive third has been as creative as it has because of Plata’s ability to find space, use his burst of speed, and his willingness to drop deeper and run more. Once he got hurt, RSL lost their identity in the offensive half of the field.
5. The Robbie Keane goal lies on Chris Wingert. It’s a cardinal sin to turn the ball over in your middle third as a defender. If you give up the ball cheaply you give the other team numbers on a counter. LA did well to force Wingert into an uncomfortable position and find Robbie Keane. Unlike down in LA, Keane wasn’t going to miss that chance.
6. After the game was leveled, it lost any real sense of attack. Both teams were playing not to lose. The midfield got bogged down and the sun drained the life out of the players. This is one of the reasons I despise midday games as much as I do. They suck the energy out of the entire event (fans, players, staff, etc) faster than an evening game.
7. Rob Friend went to the Steven Lenhart school of diving. It was really just disrespectful to the game to do what Friend was. Under very minimal contact, this 6’5″ mammoth of a man went down numerous times – and the ref bought it. What was frustrating is that the ref never really handled it. Either Borchers and Schuler deserved yellows for persistent infringement or the ref needed to clue into how easily Friend was going down. Leaving it without a card but just a (inconsistent) whistle created a lot of confusion.
8. Should we be concerned about the fitness of this squad? It is a bit worrisome that RSL seemed to run out of gas faster than a team from sea level that played a midweek match. RSL has been known to be a fitness driven team under Jason Kreis. Is Jeff Cassar not the same way? How do you exploit your altitude advantage if you aren’t fit? To finish the way we did was very disheartening.
9. The second half of this game was one of the most forgetful you’ll see. There was really only one good RSL chance – the Ned Grabavoy shot that was pushed wide. Outside that, the half was just dull. That makes it two weeks in a row that RSL has started a game hot and then lost their identity in the second half. It’s not a good mark of a team, but not something overly surprising given we’re just 3 games into the season. Still, this has to be addressed. This team needs to find a way to at least play 30 minutes of good soccer in each half.
10. The pitch was awful and played a bigger factor in this game than people will give it credit for. There were loads of bad touches from each team that were directly connected to the quality of the pitch. To those that want MLS to switch to a Winter schedule – this is as good as the pitch would get. It looked terrible and ruined a lot of flow to the game.
11. Luke Mulholland saved the point for RSL late. He didn’t have as great of an appearance offensively as he had in the previous two matches. However, his work rate to win balls for RSL late in this game preserved the draw. Specifically the diving header at the top of the box around the 85th minute. Without that header, the ball falls to an unmarked Robbie Keane at the top of the 18. I’m glad we didn’t have to see how he took it.
12. Olmes Garcia looked lost. The difference in team chemistry from Plata to Garcia was night and day. It didn’t help that the midfield lost all their creativity after the Plata injury, but Olmes wasn’t doing anything to help either. This is a scary prospect given Plata is likely out for some time with a hammy injury.
13. There was way too much disconnect between the RSL defense and the RSL offense. Especially late in this game, the gaps that were forming between the two blocks were far too large. This team plays “total football” in that everyone is part of the attack and everyone works to defend. This wasn’t the case on Saturday. The gap left the midfield chasing constantly.
14. How does this team respond next week? The biggest concern is the loss of Joao Plata. RSL has not scored a single goal without Joao on the pitch in 2014. He’s been the spark offensively and does the dirty work up top defensively. How does this team now play without him?
15. If you consider yourself even a passing fan or soccer you need to come to the game Saturday. The best American player will be on display for our foes. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Defoe, Julio Cesar, Alvaro Saborio, Nick Rimando, and Kyle Beckerman will all be playing. Each one has a very good chance of playing in Brazil for the World Cup. This will be a great showcase match, one well worth the price of admission.
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