Brotherly Game) Since defeating the New York Red Bulls on June 22, Real Salt Lake has lost twice and drawn four times. What is the cause of this slide, and what is being done to reverse RSL's fortunes?
Derrick Saunders, RSL Soapbox) This is the million dollar question. This past month has been reminiscent of last season for RSL, and in the worst way. Watching draw after draw at home is almost excruciating. Midfielder Luke Mulholland was interviewed after the home draw against Montreal July 9th and had a quote that sums up my thoughts well:
“Still haven’t lost at home this season and you can take that as a positive, but on the flip side of things we’ve only picked up 3 points of a possible 9, so sometimes it’s better to win a couple game and lose a game than to tie 3, so I think we just need to raise our level a little bit.”
Since this interview, RSL lost in Vancouver 2-0, and drew with 0-0 with New England and 1-1 with San Jose at home, . That’s a total of 4 points earned out of a possible 18 in the winless stretch, including 4 out of 12 points at home. The only word to describe that kind of play is dismal.
As Luke said, RSL is still undefeated at home. But this hardly matters if the team isn’t getting full points from the home games. As for the exact reason, it is probably a combination of a lot of things. We could blame international call-ups, injuries to key players, and schedule congestion for poor play. The loss of Sunny Stephen Obayan for 6-8 weeks during this stretch has affected an already thin midfield. RSL hasn’t had it’s full strength lineup on the pitch in months.
The simplest solution for month without a win is to go out and win a match. Maybe even more than just win, if RSL was able to put together a really solid victory with couple goals, it would do wonders for team and fan morale. Will they be able to do that against Philadelphia? That remains to be seen. But an authoritative victory at home would at least be a step back in the right direction.
tBG) At 34 years old, how much longer does Kyle Beckerman have in the tank?
RS) During the past two seasons it is becoming more obvious that Beckerman is slowing down physically. His performances haven’t been affected drastically, and he is still very much an integral part of the team’s success, but he has definitely lost a step. Beckerman has continued to contribute to the USMNT this season, and has only missed MLS matches for national team duty or suspensions. So far this season it looks like his body is holding fine to the rigors of professional soccer.
It’s hard to gauge the length of a player’s career when we don’t know how they’re feeling physically. Beckerman has made no indication that he’s planning on retiring after this season. Neither has Javier Morales or Nick Rimando for that matter, and both are older than Beckerman. So, as it stands, Kyle has at least a season and a half left in the tank before he might entertain thoughts of retiring.
If and when Kyle decides to hang up his boots, he’ll be greatly missed in Salt Lake. Sunny Stephen Obayan has shown that he is a very capable replacement for the CDM position in the 4-3-3 that RSL plays currently, but Sunny is currently out with an orbital bone fracture.
tBG) Who is Real Salt Lake's unsung hero - someone who might not get the recognition but is otherwise critical to RSL's success?
RS) I’m going to select two players as unsung heroes for RSL’s season thus far. Demar Philips and Tony Beltran play LB and RB respectively, and are a huge reason that the defense has been miles more consistent than last season. The meteoric rise of the Justen Glad-Aaron Maund partnership has been well documented, and the two center backs have grown in leaps and bounds from last year. Their play has been incredible, but I don’t think that it qualifies as unsung.
Defenders in general have a thankless job. Often times the attention they receive is for poor play. Highlight reels are full of defenders getting their ankles broken, nutmegged, or flat out embarrassed. But when a defender has a really good game, they are hardly noticed by fans. As fullbacks, Philips and Beltran are expected to defend the wings and also providing overlapping runs and key passes on offense. A lot of responsibility falls on their shoulders, and the fact that both have been solid this season is hardly noticed.
Philips has developed chemistry with Plata on the left wing, and has looked sharp, creative, and aggressive in his defending. Beltran continues to be the veteran presence on RSL’s backline, and has performed at or near his last year’s All-Star season level. Though both have made a few mistakes here and there, they have made RSL more dangerous and resilient. That’s why I think they deserve the title of unsung hero for 2016.
Injuries: Jordan Allen - hamstring, questionable; Yura Movsisyan - hip, doubtful; Emery Welshman - hip surgery, out; Sunday Stephen - face fracture, out
Line-up: Nick Rimando; Demar Phillips, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, Tony Beltran; Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland; Javier Morales; Joao Plata, Juan Manuel Martinez, Olmes Garcia