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Know Your Enemy: Real Salt Lake - Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

The second installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC’s upcoming opponent, Real Salt Lake – studying the game film for strengths and weaknesses, before highlighting a few points of interest

Beckerman and Morales - the Heartbeat of the Salt Lake Midfield
Beckerman and Morales - the Heartbeat of the Salt Lake Midfield
Ezra Shaw

Part One was posted earlier today.

The Tactics

By now, three-plus years removed from their surprise run to - and victory of - the 2009 MLS Cup, Salt Lake’s style should be well known.

Emanating largely from a strong central hub – Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman – with a pair of hardworking outside midfielders who tuck in to provide options and increase the flow of the ball, as well as full-backs that charge up-field to provide width, Salt Lake has been one of the more impressive attacking units in MLS.

Nowhere is that style more evident that in their silky movement up-field on the counter.

Take their most recent goal, Robbie Findley’s versus Seattle from last weekend.

A long ball into the middle of the park draws striker Alvaro Saborio back into the midfield, dragging the centre-backs with him.

The right-midfielder Ned Grabavoy moves in-field to pick up the loose ball feeds over to Morales who threads what looks like a return ball to Grabavoy.

But it isn’t; Grabavoy lets it go – or misses it, debatable – and it finds Findley in space back on the right.

This finish isn’t great, but it’s about how the ball got there that is of interest.

Key to that threat is how quickly they can transition from one end to the other, as witnessed by this goal against Vancouver.

Though, of course, they can be just as dangerous in a slow methodical build if allowed the time and space to have their way.

Pairing with that manipulation of tempo is the equally devastating ability to pick a ball. Salt Lake is the finest through-ball playing side in the league.

Watch how they bide their time, circulating the ball in the centre circle, until Khari Stephenson picks out the run of Grabavoy for their fourth against Chivas.

What makes that threat all the more difficult to stop is that every player on the pitch – more or less – is capable of playing such a ball.

Stephenson – as above, Morales - as below, Joao Plata, Saborio - when he drops back or Luis Gil – the latter two are thankfully away on international duty - etcetera.

Toronto will have to limit the time attackers have on the ball through pressure, while also seeking to clog passing lanes and step in front of potential through-balls, intercepting the danger, which may require more awareness than TFC is capable.

Even if one does manage to stifle the passing, Salt Lake can still do damage.

Whether from moments of pure class, as in Garcia’s wonder-strike in Vancouver – it was his first goal in MLS.

Or, through some cheeky bit of trickery, such as this clever short-corner routine finished off by Gil against Seattle.


When defending RSL has been opened up by using the space wide to exploit the gaps created in the middle.

Both of Los Angeles’ goals in their 0-2 shock win at Rio Tinto – it was a very youthful Galaxy side – came from service on the right: the first, when Mike Magee got on the end of a Juninho free-kick to head in, and then, after Jack McBean played out to Hector Jimenez, who hit a low ball through the goal-mouth where Charlie Rugg had burst in front of a dozing Tony Beltran at right-back.

After the match, coach Jason Kreis, remarked that he fretted showing his side the opposition’s lineup prior to kickoff, diagnosing their failure as a drop in intensity due to an air of complacency.

This could be advantageous for Toronto, who should look to hit quickly, catching Salt Lake with heavy legs and minds overlooking such a lowly opponent.

Another example of wide play opening pockets came against Montreal, where Jeb Brovsky plays out to Justin Mapp wide – on the right once more – and his hopeful ball into the middle finds an unmarked Felipe for a sliding finish.

Aside from that failure to pick up runners in the box, Salt Lake has also been troubled by energetic fits of pressure applied to defenders on the ball with limited options.

Dallas’ Jackson forced this awkward back-pass from Lovell Palmer to Josh Saunders leading to a poor touch from the back-up keeper and a second goal for the home side.

Similarly, Colorado’s speedster Deshorn Brown forced this turnover out of Kwame Watson-Siriboe and finished the chance off handily.

Toronto should definitely look to be assertive, forcing the issue with Salt Lake is not only a good defensive strategy, but can result in goals as well.

Points of Interest

The two sides have met eleven times in league play with Salt Lake winning five, losing four and drawing the other two. However, they have never won in Toronto, losing three and drawing twice, both scoreless affairs - in 2010 and 2007.

Salt Lake won last season’s meeting 3-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium in April on a late goal from Jonny Steele after Kyle Beckerman and a Richard Eckersley own-goal were cancelled out in turn by a lovely Eric Avila strike and a header from Doneil Henry – his first and only goal in MLS.

The home team has won the last three meetings and eight times in total.

They also met twice in the 2010 CONCACAF Champions League group stage, with RSL winning 4-1 at home, before drawing 1-1 in Toronto – it was the only goal Salt Lake has scored in Toronto. Salt Lake would top the group - with TFC dropping out of the competition – and go on to reach the final as the first MLS side to do so in the reformatted tournament, only to lose painfully to Monterrey 0-1 in the home leg of the final, having draw 2-2 in Mexico.

The two were further linked in history - it was TFC’s epic collapse at New York at the end of 2009 that allowed Salt Lake to slide into the playoffs – they would go on to win the MLS Cup that season.

Salt Lake has been involved in four penalty kicks this season – one for and three against. Saborio had his attempt on Colorado’s Clint Irwin saved, Camilo scored his for Vancouver, but Rimando, one of the better keepers in the league at doing so, saved the other pair against Chivas’ Edgar Mejia and New England’s Sair Sene.

Just to get the heart-rate primed, Salt Lake has scored ten of their twenty-six goals this season in the final fifteen minutes of matches. They have conceded five of their sixteen against in that same time frame.