Reality? Check! Welcome to MLS, newly crowned designated players. This is what a club that actually functions like a club looks like. Saturday showed us how a team that isn’t getting any respect for being a model club reacts to the over-hype of money in a big market. Real Salt Lake simply dominated Toronto. Their wasn’t a faucet of the game that RSL wasn’t better in. Here are my thoughts:
1. Toronto has talent. Yes, we showed that a team performs better than individuals in this game, but don’t fool yourself. That TFC team has talent. We did well to limit their talent and force them to use their other pieces. That’s what a good team does.
2. Michael Bradley was the best individual player. This probably won’t win me too many supporters, but it’s the truth. Individually speaking, he was the best player. I don’t remember him having really a “bad touch”. His vision and decision-making were incredible. He played a 40+ yard ball in the first half that was on the foot of a breaking Jermain Defoe. With a better first touch, it would have been a goal. It doesn’t make me a bad RSL fan to acknowledge this. People need to realize that and be proud that we beat the guy.
3. Luis Gil was the Man of The Match. Yes, weird coming after my Bradley comment, but Gil was the best player in the game. Every RSL goal had him involved. You could tell he was trying to make Jurgen think about adding him to the Brazil roster. If he plays like that, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t make it.
4. That was the most complete game of the young 2014 season. That doesn’t mean it was a complete game all the way. I would still have liked to see the team close it out without giving up possession into our middle and defensive half. Still, the improvement is there and there is still plenty to be had. That is a very good thing this early in the year.
5. Alvaro Saborio came to play. Maybe we should slip some money to opposing team coaches to say something negative about the guy during the week. I’m a huge Sabo fan, but the guy that showed up in this game wasn’t your typical Saborio. He was a beast in more than his normal sense. Fantastic play from the best #9 in the league.
6. Toronto committed the defensive flaw Vancouver did last year. By pressing RSL too high, you’re opening yourself to big holes in the offensive/middle area of the pitch. Vancouver did this last year when we went up there with a “reserve” laden lineup and beat them 1-0. If you press RSL, you have to win the ball early. If you don’t, you give Javier Morales time and space around your 18. Not a good idea.
7. Chris Schuler owned Jermain Defoe. It wasn’t a complete destruction, but Schuler had Defoe locked up for lots of this game. The only real chances Defoe had were when he switched over to Nat. Even then, Borchers did enough to keep the Englishman from firing at Nicky. Very great game from the center backs for RSL.
8. Olmes Garcia looked improved. He is still far from the chemistry we saw with Plata, but it’s coming along. Saborio is the player that needs to adjust the most. His runs have to be slightly different. He doesn’t have Plata behind him to drop in and win the ball at his feet. Olmes wants to run. Thus, Sabo needs to float a bit more instead of making the looping back-post run as often as he was with Plata.
9. The yellow card on Chris Schuler was pathetic. If Schuler ends up missing an important game after his 5th yellow, Toldeo is the man to blame. The tackle by Chris was one of the hardest and most clean I’ve ever seen live. It was a textbook. All ball, no studs, just a big man going in. It reminded me of Jamison Olave early in his career. You can’t punish a guy for being stronger than another player.
10. Rich Balchan showed he could serve in rotation. This is vital to RSL’s success this year. If we could have even just one more outside back to rotate through the group it would do wonders for the health of this team come seasons end. Wingert is aging and Beltran can’t be expected to play over 35 games this year. Balchan has to play. These minutes were key.
11. What a joy to see Devon Sandoval. It wasn’t the prettiest of games from him (not that I would ever call his style pretty) but it was important to get minutes. You couldn’t paint a better situation to come back to. RSL had the game in the bag and the TFC defense wasn’t overly committed. It was game speed but not killer game speed. Great environment for Devon.
12. Cassar blew a chance with his last sub. Because of the setting, I felt Cassar could have done himself well in bringing in a different guy. This isn’t a knock on Mulholland, I really like the guy, but the situation was perfect for Grossman or Stertzer to log minutes. They need to get first team minutes, Jeff missed a chance to get roughly 10 minutes for one of them.
13. The wing play of RSL was a welcome surprise. I’m very critical of this teams inability to use width. It’s a flaw of our formation (every formation has a flaw) that irks me but makes sense. The best way to introduce width is through the outside backs. Under Kreis, this was discussed but obviously highly discouraged. This can be seen in how involved Wingert and Beltran are in the attack this year. The second goal was because Wingert was involved in the attack. Yes, Gil finishes, but the initial dummy by Sabo (which was fantastic) doesn’t happen if Wingert isn’t up the field.
14. Rotation is key to success. With 4 RSL guys playing in the Mexico friendly in
Mexico North Phoenix, RSL needs to find rotation. This goes back to point #12 in that Cassar needs to start trusting some of these other guys to get minutes. This club doesn’t get better long-term if you don’t give the upcoming talent log minutes with the first team.
15. Cassar needs to find a way to bottle this game and take it to KC. It’s how we can beat that team. The guys should obviously have a fire inside given how MLS Cup 2013 was our last trip to KC. Utilize that energy and focus on our own film this week. The quick ball movement and utilization of the outside backs will beat KC.