Carson, Calif. • At some point last week, Jason Kreis said that a 1-0 loss would fit under the umbrella of “acceptable results” in Real Salt Lake’s first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against the L.A. Galaxy.
I asked Kreis if he felt the same way following RSL’s 1-0 loss at the StubHub Center Sunday night in Southern California.
“Did you think I was going to change my mind?” he responded.
I didn’t, and Kreis did not change his mind.
“Yeah, of course,” Kreis continued. “I think we should feel a little bit fortunate.”
That’s one way of putting it. RSL played undoubtedly one of its sloppiest matches of the season in its 2013 postseason debut and somehow manage to enter Thursday’s second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium needing a one-goal advantage to knot things up. But that’s not to say it will be easy.
And there’s definitely work and scheming needed to be done.
Much of the talk this week was about limiting opportunities for L.A. to get out and run, to protect the ball in the midfield and distribute safe passes and avoid seeing Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane on the break. But that’s what much of Sunday’s first leg was: RSL hanging on for dear life due to poor giveaways and careless passes.
Kreis and staff implored a 4-2-3-1, a definite difference from the typical 4-4-2 diamond formation the franchise has become known for league-wide. The obvious design was to attempt to slow down the attack in partnering Yordany Alvarez and Kyle Beckerman, but in the first half, it didn’t work. Once Sean Franklin’s 31-yard laser gave L.A. the lead in the 48th minute, Kreis reached to the bench soon after and went back to a 4-4-2, inserting Robbie Findley, Sebastian Velasquez and Devon Sandoval throughout the course of the second half.
So, what went wrong so often?
“Players need to play better,” Kreis said. “That’s it. The passes are there, you could see that the options were there, we’re just missing simple passes. Some of our most important players need to play better, and they will.”
Tony Beltran made his return to the starting XI after having a rough end to his 2013 regular season. Beltran was tasked with keeping up with Galaxy winger Gyasi Zardes and fared well. While he — like basically everyone on RSL — had poor giveaways, he was rarely caught out of position. Chris Schuler had a phenomenal second half. His physicality picked up in the final 45 minutes and was in prime position against a very difficult team to defend.
“I thought Chris had a great game,” said Nat Borchers. “He covered well, he was in really good spots defensively ... a beast in there, a physical presence. We get better together every single game.”
Velasquez settled down after a couple of early giveaways and really helped RSL find its footing offensively. Ned Grabavoy left the match in the 61st minute with a left hamstring injury. With the second leg being so close, that is something to keep an eye on. If Grabavoy can’t go Thursday, will Velasquez get the nod?
Nick Rimando said RSL did a good job of defending for 50 or 60 minutes, then started to cheat. He elaborated by saying the giveaways in the midfield were compounded by not enough players tracking back on defense.
“To win this series,” he said, “everyone needs to pitch in and play together, offensively and defensively and we know that we can play very, very good at home and we need to do that and show that on Thursday.”
Borchers said regarding entering Thursday’s match down a goal against L.A.: “We’re going to have to make them earn it.”
Obviously wasn’t able to get to the Galaxy locker room after the match, but I thought Keane’s insight into the mentality approaching the second leg of this series was intriguing.
“I think when you get a goal it’s always good,” Keane said, “but we have to be certainly weary and respectful of them and that they are playing in their place, which is always a tough place to go, so it’s certainly not over and if the players think [that] well then, we’re going to be in for a big problem on Thursday night. As long as they know we start off with a 0-0 game, knowing we can counter and score with the players we have on the team and defend very, very well we should be OK. But if we think we are going to go there and the game is done well then we’ll be in for a shocker.”
Can RSL shock L.A.? Can they figure out how to limit the chances and cut down on the simple turnovers in the midfield? We only have three days to find out. One thing is for certain: RSL will be going for broke Thursday — they have no other choice.
“Now we’ve got to go home and score a goal and tie it up and just look for the first one, really,” Rimando said. “When the first one comes, then we can think about the second one.”