Real Salt Lake is having a poor season. At this point their 7-10-8 -11 gd record indicates that their long run as MLS Cup contenders is over. Like Seattle Sounders' dire days, much of this is due to National Team calls and devastating injuries to key players. That bodes well for Sigi's men. Their trip to Sandy, Utah (7 pm, Q13 FOX) should be easier than most. RSL's defense is Nick Rimando and some dudes. Late August could be the thrill ride Sounders fans are desperate to see.
Randal from RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions.
SaH: Is Sebastián Jaime coming into his own and can he lead the offense?
RSLSB: Is Jaime coming into his own? It looks that way, but he is still not consistently scoring. Can Jaime lead the offense? Not quite. Jaime had a stretch where he scored a goal every game for five games in a row across all competitions, but once again hasn't scored for about four weeks. He has had some great chances over the past few games but has been unable to finish when he probably should have at least once. He is a good player and is at his best centrally. We discovered that when Alvaro Saborio was out on Gold Cup duty and never returned due to being traded. Jaime has not continued to play centrally due to personnel availability, but now that RSL is bringing in the 2010 Argentine Footballer of the year, Burrito Martinez, that should solidify Jaime in the central forward position.
With Joao Plata on one side of the field bringing energy and dimension to the team, Jaime centrally, and Burrito on the other side bringing ball control and technical ability, RSL's offense should start to score more often.
SaH: Luke Mulholland is part of the double-pivot with Beckerman. Is that working?
RSLSB: Luke Mulholland did not take long to earn a starting spot when he came to this team. That starting spot was basically taken away from Luis Gil at a time when Gil was coming off of the best season of his career. Mulholland is more experienced which translates to more consistently good play. This year he is also really learning to dig in on defense alongside Beckerman which has helped some in the new 4-3-3 formation that Real Salt Lake is using. The double pivot with Mulholland and Beckerman is not RSL's problem. Injuries of key players and a depleted back line have been RSL's problem, not to mention rotation of very young players and a restructuring of the front office. If everyone was healthy and RSL was able to put out their preferred XI, the Mulholland Beckerman combo would work very well.
SaH: Can Nick Rimando save the defense on his own?
RSLSB: Not a chance. Nick Rimando is very good. Possibly the best goalkeeper MLS has ever seen. I think most people would agree with that. He has come up with some incredible saves this year and throughout his career and is as good or better than anyone in penalty kick saves. Even so, one Nick Rimando cannot make up for the back line in front of him. RSL has used six different center backs this season. Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler, the preferred CBs, haven't played much more than a handful of games. Most of the games have seen Aaron Maund, the fourth preferred CB, start. In a few games, RSL has started Phanuel Kavita and Justen Glad whose average age is about 19 or 20. While all of them have filled in admirably at times, other times have been shaky. It is a lot to ask of some of those defenders to repeatedly start and not make any costly mistakes as inexperienced players in this league. RSL has leaked plenty of late goals and way too many goals have come from individual mistakes. All that to say that Rimando is almost super human between the posts, but not good enough to make up for multiple mistakes in front of him.
RSLSB: Are the problems that the Sounders were facing really resolved with the return of Obafemi Martins? That was fast.
SaH: Getting Oba back was a huge part of that explosion. He was the runner-up for the MVP last season, and before he was down the contest between Martins, Dempsey, Keane and now the clear favorite Giovinco was close. With Martins, Seattle gets great hold up play, someone who enjoys the physical nature of MLS, a potent scorer and a creative force. On the pitch he's an ideal MVP. Off the pitch he doesn't move the needle much, but trophies he helps win do move that needle.
But it's more than Obafemi. Friberg melded rapidly and brings some great long passing to the midfield, strong possession and quality defense. Nelson Haedo Valdez blended into the team even quicker. His name is not much, but those 50ish minutes were a wonderful display in how a DP can contribute immediately. Nelson has quick feet, good vision and is a strong leaper who can create and score with his head.
Together those three brought the offense back. It's gonna be fun as Ivanschitz, Dempsey and Alonso get back too.
RSLSB: The jury is still out to some degree, but what is the fans' perception of Garth Lagerwey so far?
SaH: Five weeks ago the feelings would have been neutral or negative. But that changed dramatically in the secondary transfer window. He used TAM and GAM and a DP slot to reinvent the team on the fly. The final swoop to get a top five CB in CONCACAF (Román Torres) in addition to Paraguay's top striker, a quality creative winger from Austria and a former fan favorite was as close to perfect as the window could be. Anyone that doesn't like Lagerwey now, never will.
RSLSB: What is Brad Evan's best position and is he being properly utilized in Seattle?
SaH: Evans' best position is "on the field." He quickly adapted to centerback and that looked like a great move. Seattle hadn't had an effective possession CB until B-Rad stepped into that role. He's also been a great right back, as we've seen with the US National Team. Last week his time as a defensive mid going up against Kaká was nearly perfect, against Kaká. He's played well as a right mid, a left mid and pretty alright as a box-to-box central mid. The easier question to answer is "What is Brad's worst position?" And he was a bad forward. Anywhere else he is more than a success, but a fringe USMNT player.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Fisher, Torres, Marshall, Mears; Neagle, Evans, Friberg, Rose; Martins, Haedo Valdez