For as long as they have been in MLS, there has never been a D in Real Salt Lake. Not literally or figuratively. Things seem to be changing.
RSL has posted three straight shutouts and has allowed just one goal in four matches, the kind of stingy defending we’re not used to seeing from the boys from Utah.
San Jose has seen its share of shutouts. Unfortunately for the Earthquakes, they are usually on the losing end of them. Wednesday night marked the eighth time this season they were shutout, though it was only the second time they held on for the draw, which can be seen as a positive.
SBI correspondents Scott McAllister and Kevin Matthiessen took in the action and share their thoughts on the goal-less draw with us:
No goals, but the RSL D is rock solid again
By SCOTT McALLISTER
Due to the sparse crowd on hand at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Wednesday night, I almost feel it necessary to provide a full game recap before diving in. An announced 10,333 tickets were distributed for fans to see Real Salt Lake continue to struggle offensively and be found wanting for goals at the final whistle. It’s a familiar tune for RSL supporters; one that I’m tired of talking about and will not harp on today, except to say that Salt Lake is obviously lacking in the final third.
Where the story changes from the past is on the other end of the pitch. Nick Rimando and the four stalwart defenders that make up the backline have now earned their third consecutive clean sheet. When was the last time an RSL team did that, if ever? Granted, San Jose didn’t have the most potent strike force as their top choices were still out on International duty. But, keeping the nets clean for a combined 276 minutes, and remaining unbeaten in four straight games, is something Salt Lake can be proud of.
As mentioned in previous games, Jamison Olave is the linchpin of the backline. His presence intimidates attackers and inspires his comrades. Not only is Nat Borchers better because of Olave, but the outside backs, Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran are pushing up into the attacking. This is mostly good, as Wingert provides decent service, and Beltrans tenacity is beneficial higher up the flanks near the center stripe. The flipside to their eagerness to get forward is that they are easier to get behind. This was the case on San Jose’s most dangerous scoring chance in the second half when Ronnie O’Brien broke down the flank before setting up John Cunliffe to sky it into the north end of seats.
Luckily we don’t have to think about this one too long as New England are in town on Saturday, riding on a seven-game unbeaten streak. The upside is that they also played on Wednesday night, so they’ll be just as tired if not more so from traveling in from the East Coast. For Salt Lake, getting back in touch with their scoring side will be difficult against the league’s top team.
Not your average scoreless draw
By KEVIN MATTHIESSEN
Ah, the dreaded scoreless draw. The kind of game you hope is not showcased on MLS Prime Time. The kind of game you don’t want when you are trying to lure the non-soccer fan. The kind of game that’s, well, boring.
For me, as a passionate Earthquakes fan, this game was not boring. And this game has me begging for more. No, I am not the kind of masochistic cynical fan that normally enjoys the nil-nil draw. See, this year, when you are rooting for a team that has lost almost 70% of its games, you’ll take any point you can get, zero-zero or otherwise. And this was an epic tale of grit and character.
In fact, this game reminded me of one of the best games I’ve ever seen. That game was no other than the 0-0 draw the USA had against Mexico at El Azteca for a World Cup 1998 qualifier. I have it on video tape and I like to replay it from time to time. Like Jason Hernandez’ sending off in the first half, so too was Jeff Agoos in that fateful US game. Other similarities included an excellent performance by the keepers (Joe Cannon/Brad Friedel) and a lot of route one football with a single attacker looking more like a long distance runner than a loan striker (Smarte/Henderson).
While the importance of Wednesday’s match is indeed nowhere near as important of that qualifier in the grand scheme of things, it was similar in its relative importance. This scoreless draw came at a place where they had been beaten twice already this year by a combined score of 7-1. It was the start of a four game road trip. It was played on the kind of artificial turf that the Quakes have only found misery so far this year. The Black and Blue were also fielding a makeshift lineup including both center backs out due to injury. The list seemingly goes on and on.
Not only was it a good performance by the away team, Frank Yallop showed some gumption with his squad selection and with the adjustments he made throughout the match. Though it’s no surprise, he sure has a difficult task this year. But he seems to be doing OK so far. (Man, when you think of it, this guy has had three of the toughest coaching jobs there is in North America. There’s the under-funded and overlooked Canadian National team job, the half season Beckhamania circus ring leader job last year, and now the leader of an expansion team.)
As far as the players go, Kelly Gray was phenomenal at center back, Ronnie O’Brien was all over the place offensively and defensively (yes, you read that right), and Joe Cannon had moments reminiscent of his pre-Galaxy years.
After a performance like this, I expect that the Earthquakes will put up a good fight vs D.C. United on Sunday as well. Will they win? Probably not. What kind of a result would I be happy with? Yup, I’ll take a nil-nil.