Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sounders Pummel RSL 2-0 (and the aftermath)

Match Recap

Real Salt Lake got off to it's usual start to the season Saturday night with a loss against the Seattle Sounders in a match played on a cold, wet turf at Qwest Field. Unfortunately the team has yet to find a win in its opening game in five tries.

The game started out a bit harried, and ragged. Then around the 15th minute Seattle began to put some pressure on RSL's backline. Two opportunities occured that nearly netted the Sounders an opening goal. Rookie forward Steve Zakuani managed to make a move past RSL right back Tony Beltran and blasted a shot which came back to him after hitting an RSL defender. He managed a second shot which was deflected wide.

Just moments later Sounder midfielder Osvaldo Alonso disposessed RSL midfielder Javier Morales. The ball was knocked out-of-bounds but on the ensuing throw-in Alonso passed the ball on the right flank to sensational forward Fredy Montero who managed to rotate completely around and away from RSL defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Montero then managed a shot that went over the bar.

However, Seattle would not need to wait long before lighting the lamp with a goal as Zakuani received a long pass from Alonso who was positioned at the center circle. Zakuani then again twisted Beltran around before making a nice flick pass from the outside of his right foot that went right to an unmarked Nate Jacqua positioned directly in front of the goal. Jacqua deftly redirected the ball with his right foot past a defenseless Rimando. The goal was Jacqua's sixth goal in six matches against RSL.

The second half was much better for RSL as they were able to string together more possession which is so crucial to their game, as pointed out in this Deseret News article. They also managed to create a couple of chances. The first came when Movsisyan managed to fight of Sounders defender Hurtado and chase down a ball just as it reached the top of the box. Movsisyan was pulled to his left by the defender just as he shot the ball to his right. It appeared to be the right shot as Sounders keeper Kasey Keller dove the opposite direction but managed to block the shot with his feet. The second opportunity that Movsisyan saw was when he was standing near the penalty spot and had a deflected ball come down right near his feet, unfortunately his low volley attempt skipped off of the wet turf and bounded harmlessly over the net.

As RSL continued to push for an equalizer, disaster struck in the middle of the second half when Montero struck a looping ball from 35 yards out towards the net. Rimando who was several feet off his line was fooled by the ball's movement and unable to recover and make the leap to stop the laser-guided ball. That would prove to be the end of the scoring, as the Sounders maintained their clean slate at home with 5 goals scored and 0 suffered over their first two matches.

The match saw the debut of Swedish DP Freddie Ljungberg who had little impact in the match, but showed that he is recovering from his preseason hip surgery. For RSL, rookie Raphael Cox provided a slight amount of hope as he came on and produced a couple of impressive crosses into the box.

Overall the RSL midfield thought to be one of the better in the league, underperformed. Javier Morales and Will Johnson showed their strong work rate, but seemed to struggle against the Sounders middle. Clint Mathis and Kyle Beckerman fared a little better, but as a whole the group didn't manage to put together the possession and quality that we've come to expect.

Tony Beltran also struggled mightily. He was the most immediate culprit (along with Jamison Olave who was caught ball-watching) on the first goal. He had struggles with his one-on-one defending. He also appeared to be out of position on several occasions. He did manage to get forward quite often, but he failed to do anything positive with the ball once he was there.

The Aftermath

While RSL fans are ready to jump already after this one loss, it's probably not yet time to take drastic measures. Fortunately the team has a quick rebound as they face the Champs (Columbus) on Thursday. However, here is a look at some of the things that the fans are saying:
  • "Where's our striker?" - referring to expectations in the offseason that the club would bring in a striker. The reality is that they did bring in Luis Escalada who was not available do to an ankle sprain.
  • "Why can't Yura finish?" - referring to Yura missing out on two opportunities in the 2nd half against the Sounders. Neither opportunity was an easy one, but this shows the pressure that Movsisyan will be under this season to show that he has turned the corner as a goal scorer.
  • "Why did Kreis bring in a midfielder for a forward?" - referring to the 2nd half susbtitution of Andy Williams coming in for Findley. That's a good question, but here is my guess: Findley was largely ineffective against the Sounders. The only forward in reserve was Tino Nunez who recently had knee surgery and has only been in full practice for less than a couple of weeks. Both Williams and Mathis can play forward, but at that stage of the game I'm not sure the designation is important. It's just a matter of getting players in front of the goal.