For the first time in far too long, I took in a live soccer match without having to worry about writing. I forgot how much more enjoyable it is that way. Also sat in the upper deck (front row, center stripe) for the first time. Great view!
The atmosphere was great, especially for a crisp, but clear Wednesday evening in the fall in the Wasatch Front. Chivas fans were out in full force. The FSC crew called it 50/50, but I saw it more like 80/20.
More coverage in the Deseret News/SL Tribune and at RSLBoz:
Michael Black’s story (Deseret News):
Michael C. Lewis’ story (SL Tribune):
RSL opened in the familiar 4-4-2 diamond with:
Much has already been made about how well RSL played in the opening half hour, but I didn’t see it that way. I actually felt that Chivas played poorly. They struggled to connect on anything positive, and played a TON of minus balls, keeping themselves pinned in their own end. Of course, RSL’s high pressing play had something to do with this, but much of it also seemed of their own doing.
As most of you know, Espindola scored around 20 minutes in. The score came off of a play where Chivas had recovered the ball, but Yura checked back and poked the ball away to Espindola who stumbled as he tried to make his way toward the goal. He then recovered, and set up a shot, but slide as he took the left-footed blast from 18 out. However, he was able to sneak the ball around the defender, and under the arm of the diving keeper.
RSL really did dominate play in the first half, but it was an ugly half. I was embarrassed by the antics of the Chivas players, who appeared to “bump” into the referee on several occasions. I was also embarrassed by Javier Morales’ intentionally reaching out and tripping a Chivas attacker after being beat by him on the play and finding himself on the turf. A red card offense in my book, but it only yielded a yellow (likely because it was a “friendly”).
Things were nasty over the last 20 minutes. Morales and Grabavoy had received some hard tackles. Olave gave some physical blows out of his own. But the worst came at the end of the opening 45 minutes. A scrum broke out behind the play. A Chivas fan next to me said that Olave “clothes-lined” a Chivas player. I heard a similar rendition after the game on the radio broadcast, but I didn’t see it either live or on the FSC broadcast. I did, however, see a Chivas player take a shot at Olave. The amusing part is the Chivas player appeared to be roughly 1/2 the size of Olave. Both players were ejected – somewhat of a rarity in these type of “friendlies”.
Chivas came out to play in the second half – much more aggressive. They also threw Omar Bravo and eventually Ramoncito Morales into the mix, giving them more pace and quality on the ball. RSL made wholesale changes bringing Johnson, Campos, Rimando, Borchers, El Khalifi, Findley. Andy Williams had come on just before the half.
This group would give up the equalizer, but I thought they created some good chances and some of the better play on the night came from this group of players.
I thought Will Johnson did an unbelievable job of distributing the ball. He played more like the player we saw last season, but haven’t seen much of this season. El Khalifi also played well, delivering some good crosses. He also had a great corner kick, but the header was missed. Campos played well with the ball at his feet, but struggled to finish inside the box with several good chances.
Olave, Beltran, Espindola, Yura and Morales (despite the cheap tackle) also played well. I also felt like Horst was very solid.
In my view Wingert, and Mathis struggled. Especially at the start of the 2nd half when they were both lined up on the same side. Chivas used its pace, and the lack of pace of those two to try to exploit that side. However, the Chivas goal came on the opposite side with a nice through ball played into the area and a quick blast that went right over Rimando and into the net.
Fortunately, Mathis appeared to recognize the mis-match in speed after about fifteen minutes and I saw him signal to El Khalifi to switch sides, which they did for a good portion of the half. Will Johnson also shaded over to that side for much of the half to help counter the speed.
All-in-all it was an enjoyable experience. I love the atmosphere, especially at this time of year. I look forward to future “friendlies” at Rio Tinto. More importantly – I can’t wait to see RSL beat NYRB on Wednesday. Finally.