Kicking It: Could Real Salt Lake’s Struggles Be Part of a New Era in Mls?

Hello and welcome to ‘Kicking it’ with Demetrius Bell and Megan Armstrong, two of Yardbarker’s most discerning soccer specialists. With the international break on the horizon and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup shifting into high-gear, we have a lot to talk about so let’s get right to it.
Okay, we’ll admit it: We’ve been banging up on Minnesota pretty regularly while ignoring the disaster that is Real Salt Lake. Over the past couple of matches they’ve been beaten by a 11-3 scoring margin. Their own coach, Mike Petke, has had it with his players. What should the team be focused on as they head towards the international break to salvage the season? (Aside of not missing players for the U-20.)
Megan: So, we now know for certain that Kyle Beckerman’s hair doesn’t hold magic within its locks. And you’re right, we’ve been harsh on Minnesota from the beginning of this season – the club’s first ever MLS season. What we’ve seen from Minnesota is to be expected and largely accepted, but for Salt Lake? A club that’s generally been in the mix for years, it’s something different. That said, RSL hasn’t necessarily been the picture of consistency over the last few seasons. From 2010 to 2014, they were near the top of the Western Conference. But 2015, finished second to last. Last season, squeaked into the playoffs. Their performance of late is certainly startling, but I don’t think totally out of the blue.
I sort of equate what’s happening recently with RSL to what we saw to start the season from the Galaxy. Both clubs have built such clout in the last decade, still have some of those cornerstone players, but are struggling a bit to transition into a new “era.”
Demetrius: You really can’t say that it’s a managerial issue because Mike Petke has proven that he’s got what it takes to be successful in this league, so it’s not like this is just a gaffer being blustery for the media. You also can’t really say that this is an issue solely related to the back line being poor. Yeah, bad defensive play was going on but if you go down 5-0 in just one half, that’s a complete meltdown in all facets of the game.
But yeah, Petke basically said it himself in the linked video – the players who are currently at the club need to step up in a big way, and they’re also going to have to make some waves in the transfer window. Both of those tasks are obviously easier said than done, but I’ve got faith in Petke to at least make things respectable there.
Speaking of the international break, while Sporting Kansas, NYC FC, FC Dallas and the Sounders all had notable players out for international play and managed to keep up with the schedule without setback, Toronto suffered without Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley even though they had Sebastian Giovinco back. What’s the difference in how the teams are built to handle these absences?
Megan: Might simply be a case of luck of the draw, and as international duty continues to strip key players away from MLS clubs this summer, you’d like to think it eventually evens out.
Demetrius: I mean, you’re absolutely going to miss having two top USMNT-quality players on your squad, and you’re especially going to miss them when you’re facing a team that went into the game undefeated at home like New England was. Meanwhile, SKC got to play Minnesota in front of The Cauldron, the Sounders got to play against a “Jekyll-&-Hyde” team in the Houston Dynamo, and FC Dallas got to take on that awful RSL team. So yeah, those other teams were indeed missing players but Toronto definitely had tougher circumstances to deal with, in my opinion.
We’re just days away from the MLS teams to slide into the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. The Timbers aren’t very happy with their MLS regional matchup against the Sounders instead of facing a lower-tier club for the third straight year – do they have a point?
Megan: Absolutely. They very clearly lost out on a typical first match-up like every other MLS team gets simply because of geography, and the marketability of a Sounders vs. Timbers rivalry in such an early round of the U.S. Open Cup. If there’s a way to make the tournament more relevant earlier, USSF and the committee in charge will always take advantage of something like this.
Demetrius: Of course they’ve got a point. If the rest of MLS gets to face lower-tier clubs at this point in the tournament while they’re stuck facing off against their closest geographic MLS rivals, then that puts them at a clear disadvantage. With that being said, as long as the USSF and the people who run the Cup are set on making sure that this round is geographically-based, then the Timbers (and the rest of their MLS friends in this part of the country) are kinda stuck.
I suppose the only benefit is that that they won’t have to deal with a mid-week jaunt across the country to play someone in a Cup game, but it’s still a rough situation for the Timbers and the other teams in this area.
Rafael Ramos (finally) makes his debut for Orlando… and gets a red card. What did you think of the call?
Megan: Nobody is going to convince me that this was a straight red. Not even Ramos himself. To me, it looks like Ramos badly misjudged the ball and when he went to play it, ran into Brandon Vincent’s knees. In fact, a strong argument can be made that the reason Ramos ran into Vincent is because he was playing the ball and had complete concentration on the ball.
Demetrius: Over on MLS’s youtube channel, Simon Borg was adamant in his belief that this was warranted. I heard his explanation and I still can’t see how this was a red card. In my opinion it wasn’t even worthy of a yellow – it was definitely a foul but there’s no way that this was worth being sent off. I thought it was a bad call and was the lowlight of what was a pretty bad night for Ted Unkel.
Kansas City, Houston, New England – even Chicago, of these teams seem to be hurting a bit when they play on the road. We’re far enough along in the season to start to wonder, when are these teams going to turn around it around for the playoffs? New England especially looks like they could be facing a 2016 Timbers postseason near-miss if they don’t figure out how to get at least a few points away from home.
Megan: This is a conversation that can be had about any team in any sport in any league: how do you perform on the road? Why are you stronger at home than on the road? Yaddy yaddy yadda, right? But the reason we keep having such a universal topic is because teams continue to prove it a relevant topic every season. In the MLS specifically, the fight for the final playoff spots on Decision Day is always hype, which makes road struggles all the more relevant. We’re going to see New England teetering the red line on Decision Day and come back to this exact period in the regular season.
As far as predicting when these teams will turn it around for the playoffs, I haven’t a clue. But that’s why we watch.
Demetrius: It’s always tough for MLS teams to win on the road, but Houston is making it look like it’s rocket science – no pun intended. They’ve really got to find a way to fix their road form, because it’s unlikely that they’ll go undefeated at home all season and of course you’ve got to get a result on the road once you get to the playoffs, so they absolutely need to find a way to turn it around before then.
Meanwhile, I’m talking about Houston needing to get it in gear for the playoffs, but if New England doesn’t get it together then their road form really could cost them a postseason spot. With that being said, they looked good in their last road trip against NYCFC, so they definitely have the potential to turn it around. They just need to do it pretty soon.
Okay, not MLS but we can’t not talk about how great Real Madrid looked in the Champions League. Even in the loss for Juventus, Mario Mandzukic’s goal was so pretty you could hang it in a museum. What did you love and hate about the match? (Aside of Man City not being there, Demetrius.)
Megan: I would say the only thing I hated about it was that it turned into a rout, but I don’t necessarily feel that way simply because the one goal Juventus scored was one of the most spectacular goals anyone’s ever seen. Mandzukic’s goal should actually have been scored in dog years. Worth seven goals.
Other than that, watching Ronaldo is a treat every time. He’s now scored 600 goals in his career for club and country. He still plays with the same boyish passion and top-tier class. Real Madrid has won three of the last four UEFA Champion League finals, and maybe it’d be nice for someone else to win it, but as long as Real keeps winning in this fashion, I’m not going to complain.
Demetrius: Thanks for reminding me about the biased UEFA once again conspiring to keep Manchester City out of the Champions League Final. Sad! Anyways, my favorite part about Mandzukic’s wonder goal was the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo loved it as well. How do I know that he loved it? Because he immediately attempted to score an overhead goal as well. He was instantly jealous!

Anything that brings out that much envy from Ronaldo is something that’s worth admiration. Juventus may have gotten deservedly routed by the best team in the world, but at least Mandzukic can say that he turned arguably the best player in the world into a jealous wreck for a few minutes.

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