MLS 2015 Season Preview: Real Salt Lake

Anticipation is now rapidly growing with the new season just six days away and in the build-up to the first game, we’ve had an MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what to expect from Real Salt Lake in 2015…

Real Salt Lake can be optimistic heading into the 2015 MLS season after enjoying a reasonably successful 2014 campaign in the Western Conference as they secured a third place finish. They were knocked out of the MLS Cup by LA Galaxy at the conference semi-final stage after a 5-0 defeat in the second-leg. They were unlucky to tie the first-leg 0-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium after they dominated the game but were only kept at bay thanks to heroics from the Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Had Penedo not been in fine form, it could’ve been a different story for Real Salt Lake. It will be RSL’s eleventh MLS season to date.

Last season’s finish: Western Conference position: 3rd – P34 – W15 – D11 – L8

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What needs to change this year?

The issues that head coach Jeff Cassar needs to address in terms of playing style and the way Real Salt Lake set-up are minimal. The fact stands that only LA Galaxy lost fewer games in 2014 and Real Salt Lake suffered just one home defeat all season giving them the second best home record in the league (P17, W11, D5). Their performances on the road is where they let themselves down. They only managed four wins out of 17 away games and that cost them dearly. Had they picked up just a few more away wins, they would have been in real contention for the Supporters’ Shield title.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Jamison Olave – Defender, Demar Phillips – Defender, Elias Vasquez – Defender, Wellington ‘Pecka’ Paeckart – Midfielder

Outs: Nat Borchers – Defender, Chris Wingert – Defender, Carlos Salcedo – Defender, Ned Grabavoy – Midfielder, Cole Grossman – Midfielder, Sebastian Velasquez – Midfielder, Robbie Findley – Forward

Key Player: Javier Morales – Midfielder

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Javier Morales has been an essential player at the heart of the Real Salt Lake midfield for the past seven years and 2014 saw him enjoy one of his best seasons yet as he notched nine goals and 12 assists. At 35-years-old, he’s heading towards the end of his career but he still possesses great quality and will be instrumental once again.

One to watch: Joao Plata – Forward

Joao Plata has made a real name for himself after his superb performances in 2014. The young Ecuadorian played 26 games last year, scoring 13 goals and assisting six along the way. What he lacks in height, he more than makes up for with his incredible natural talent and he will be an exciting player to watch in 2015. He will miss the start of the season through injury but expect him to make a real difference when he returns to action.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 5th

There is no doubting the fact that Real Salt Lake are a great side and always enjoyable to watch. However, the loss of key players such as Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Ned Grabavoy could have a negative impact. Those three were first-team regulars in 2014 and certainly played an important role in an effective RSL team. Bringing in Jamison Olave from New York Red Bulls is an excellent acquisition, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the new recruits will prove to be sufficient replacements and that could potentially cost Real Salt Lake a few league positions. Having said that, they should have enough quality to comfortably secure a playoff spot.

What are you expecting from Real Salt Lake in 2015?

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2014 MLS Season Review: Real Salt Lake

Western Conference Final Position: 3rd

Western Conference Playoffs: Semi-Final

Review

Real Salt Lake‘s capitulation in what turned out to be their last game of the season when they lost 5-0 at LA Galaxy was both inexcusable and inexplicable, but one poor game should not overshadow what was – on the whole – a brilliant season.

They made the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season and also enjoyed great form at home winning 11 games and suffering just one defeat. Only LA Galaxy and FC Dallas fared better on home soil in the 2014 MLS season.

Best Moment

The 12-game unbeaten run at the beginning of the season set the tone for a successful campaign and it shouldn’t be underestimated as to how hard it is to maintain that kind of form.

Worst Moment

An obvious choice, but the 5-0 defeat against LA Galaxy in the playoff semi-final will be a painful final memory for 2014 and one they’ll want to forget as soon as possible.

Player of the Year

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Javier Morales was a joy to watch and was truly inspirational for his side. Picking up nine goals and 12 assists from midfield makes it hard to look any further, although Kyle Beckerman deserves a special mention for another great season at the heart of the team.

Biggest Win

Real Salt Lake 5-1 Colorado Rapids (September 20 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Regular season: Seattle Sounders 4-0 Real Salt Lake (May 31 2014)

Including playoffs: LA Galaxy 5-0 Real Salt Lake (November 9 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

It’s hard to pinpoint any areas that specifically need improving for a side that are so consistent, but one disappointment for RSL would be their form on the road. They only managed to pick up four wins on their travels and if they could improve that number next season and maintain their strong home form, then they would be serious contenders for the Supporters’ Shield title in 2015.

2014 MLS Season Review: Vancouver Whitecaps

Western Conference Final Position: 5th

Western Conference Playoffs: Knockout Round

Review

Despite their agonising exit from the playoffs via a 2-1 defeat at the hands of FC Dallas, the 2014 season will go down as the best so far for the Vancouver Whitecaps since they began competing in Major League Soccer in 2011. It saw them record their highest points tally (50) – their previous best was the 48 points they accumulated last season (2013).

Best Moment

Their five-game unbeaten run at the end of the season is the biggest highlight as they charged towards the playoff positions and nipped in ahead of Portland Timbers by just one point.

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Worst Moment

The 84th minute penalty conceded by Kendall Watson after he was controversially adjudged to have handled the ball intentionally against FC Dallas in the playoff knockout game. Some will argue that it was the right call to award the spot kick, while many will say very much the opposite. Whatever way you dress it up, it’s a gut wrenching way to lose any game of soccer, let alone bow out of the playoffs. You have to sympathise for the Whitecaps who had worked ever so hard to be in such a great position this season.

Player of the Year

Pedro Morales is a name that has rightly popped up frequently when discussing the Vancouver team. The Chilean has been an inspiration in midfield and to finish the 2014 season as the top goalscorer and assist-maker at the club shows how crucial he is and will continue to be. Keeping hold of him is essential to their future.

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Biggest Win

Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1 New York Red Bulls (March 9 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-3 Portland Timbers (August 31 2014)

Portland Timbers 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (September 20 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

There are numerous positives to take from their performance this year. They have shown a gradual improvement for every season that they have been in MLS and this should fill them with confidence that they can continue to grow.

Vancouver Whitecaps points tally since participation in Major League Soccer:

Whitecaps points tallies

One area they could look to improve is up-front. They have lacked a prolific goalscorer and have relied heavily on Pedro Morales to do the business from midfield. The man with the most goals for the Whitecaps other than Morales is Darren Mattocks with six.

The news of Erick Torres becoming a free agent in the close season is interesting and he could be someone that’s on their radar as they look to fill that void.

Vancouver Whitecaps have the potential to be one of the strongest teams for the 2015 season.

Playoff Preview and Prediction: FC Dallas vs Vancouver Whitecaps

FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps have both earned their spot in the playoff positions after successful regular seasons in the Western Conference but the dress rehearsals are over and now it’s time for the real thing as they clash in the knockout round at the Toyota Stadium on Wednesday.

Dallas are appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 when they fell at this stage, losing 2-0 to New York Red Bulls – they were MLS Cup runners-up in 2010 which is the furthest they’ve ever been.

They’ve finished the regular season with slight inconsistency with four wins and five defeats from their last nine games.

Dallas met with Vancouver twice in the closing stages of the season, winning 2-1 at home in September and losing 2-0 away in October, so this is a game that couldn’t be harder to predict and should make for a fascinating tie.

FC Dallas home form: Played 17 – Won 12 – Drawn 1 – Lost 4

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Vancouver’s only appearance in the playoffs came in the 2012 season when they were beaten 2-1 in the knockout round by LA Galaxy so they will be hoping to make it through to the semi-finals this time around.

As the regular season was nearing its conclusion, Whitecaps defender Jordan Harvey stressed the importance of going into the playoffs in a good run of form and they’ve certainly done that, winning four and drawing one of their last five games.

Picking up victories on the road has proven to be a slight issue for the Canadian outfit, but they don’t lose too many games either, so if they don’t win this in 90 minutes, they may be able to force extra-time and penalties.

Vancouver Whitecaps away form: Played 17 – Won 3 – Drawn 9 – Lost 5

This game marks the beginning of the MLS Cup 2014, so let’s hope these two sides can set the tone with an entertaining spectacle.

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Key Player: Pedro Morales – The Whitecaps playmaker has been crucial to their success this season (10 goals, 12 assists) and a lot of responsibility will fall on his shoulders again.

Key Stat: Vancouver Whitecaps have never beaten FC Dallas at the Toyota Stadium – is there a first time for everything?

FC Dallas last five: W/L/W/W/L

Vancouver Whitecaps last five: W/W/W/D/W

Prediction: FC Dallas 0 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps