Welcome to From The Upper Deck, my blog about RSL and soccer in general. I have a lot of passion for the beautiful game. I am just a fan that likes to sit in the upper deck and take it all in.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

When is a Rivalry Not a Rivalry?

With the final match of the Rocky Mountain Cup this weekend, I was thinking about looking back at the history of the rivalry between the two teams and writing a blog post on it. But as I was thinking about it, something just seemed different this year. The anticipation for the match just wasn't that great. It is nothing like it had been in the past. I started to wonder just how intense the rivalry still was between the two teams.

No one can say that there wasn't an intense rivalry in the past. From the first win in franchise history, to the infamous yelling match between Pablo Mastroeni and Dave Checketts, to the multiple times that RSL knocked Colorado out of the playoffs on the last day of the year, the rivalry was one of the best in MLS. It was always fun to look forward to the last game of the year knowing that we would be playing the hated "Crapids".

But it has seems to me that all of that has started to change. Over the past few years the games just haven't meant as much to me. I am not sure what changed. Was it the fact that RSL had won the cup every year since 2007? Was it the fact that players like Connor Casey and now Mastroeni that I really disliked no longer play for Colorado? I don't know. I wasn't even sure if I was the only one that felt this way.

 I thought I would find out what other people thought. I conducted an informal survey on Twitter and on the Big Soccer message boards. I asked the simple question "Who is RSL's biggest rival?" The answers I got somewhat surprised me.

I had almost 100 people respond to my question. Out of those, 35% said that RSL's biggest rival was the LA Galaxy. 23% said that they felt that Seattle was the biggest rival. Colorado came next at 21%. I do have to say that my favorite response were the few people that said either MLS or the refs were the biggest rival.

I was not alone in feeling this change. I can't imagine if I would have asked the same question four years ago that anyone would have said anything but Colorado. But times have changed.

My next thought was if Colorado felt the same way about us? I ventured to a Rapids message board and asked them the same question. Every person that responded said that RSL was the Rapid's biggest rivals. The rivalry is alive and kicking on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Probably the fact that they have not won the Cup in so many years helps to fuel that fire.

If we feel that LA is our biggest rival, what did they think of us? I went to a Galaxy message board to find out. In asking them the same question, the vast majority of Galaxy fans said that San Jose was their biggest rival. Some mentioned RSL in passing but only after they professed their hatred of the Earthquakes.

I didn't even bother to ask Seattle. I think everyone knows that Portland is their biggest rival and next would probably be Vancouver. The hatred between the Cascadia Cup participants is pretty intense.

All of this research lead me to a question that I am not sure I can answer. Is a rivalry a rivalry when it is only one sided? Do you need both sides to truly hate each other for it to be considered a rivalry? And if Colorado was to win the Rocky Mountain Cup this weekend would those numbers above change? I would love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Kickstarter for the Soccer Stat Geeks

I just found an interesting project on Kickstarter that some people might be interested in. The guys over at www.soccermetrics.net are trying to get a digital magazine up and running. I have been going to their site for a while and they post some good stuff. They really dive into the analytics side of soccer stats. If this does get off the ground it would be a really good addition to the soccer analytical community. I put a little money towards it. Check it out and see if you are interested.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Crunching the Numbers- New York

Sports can be a cruel cruel thing. The emotional roller coaster that the RSL/NY match took us on was one example of that. From the lows of playing so poorly in the first half and being down 2-0, to the highs of Saborio's hat trick, and then to the ultimate low of having another stoppage time goal that rips points away from us. There were some interesting things, both good and bad, that jumped out to me while I was looking at the numbers.

  • RSL has scored 36 goals this season or a goal every 55.00 minutes. This is still by far the best scoring rate in team history. The defense has now given up 24 goals or a goal every 82.50 minutes. 
  • 15 of RSL's 36 goals were scored in the final 15 minutes of matches (41.67%).
  • With Alvaro Saborio's hat trick, he has now scored 7 goals in 9 games played. He is scoring at a rate of .85 goals per 90 minutes played which is pretty incredible. His COR score dropped from 24.17 to -6.00
  • Saborio has played 160 minutes with Joao Plata. In that time the team has scored 6 goals or a goal every 26.67 minutes. This is the best team scoring rate for any of the forward combinations. 
  • Plata has played 191 minutes this season coming off the bench. During that time the team has scored 8 times which gives him a MpTG of 23.88. When he is a starter, his MpTG rate is 68.77.
  • Olmes Garcia continues to lead the team with an overall MpTG of 41.13. He now has 5 goals and 3 assists in only 658 minutes of play. Out of his 23 shots, 11 have been on goal (highest on the team with 47.83%) and four more hit the post/crossbar. Strangely enough with all that offense he only has a +/- (RSL goals minus opponent goals)  of +3. At the moment Tony Beltran and Javier Morales lead the team with a +/- score of +14.
  • Tony Beltran has played 1429 minutes this season. During that time the team has given up 11 goals or a goal every 129.91 minutes. In the 551 minutes that Beltran has not played the team has given up 13 goals or a goal every 42.38 minutes.
  • Lovel Palmer has a +/- of -7. The only other RSL player that has a negative +/- is Aaron Maund with a -1. 
What can we learn from these numbers? It should come as no surprised that the defense is struggling. For the match against New York, the team was missing 5 out of the 6 starting defensive players on the team. No team can handle those type of losses to the back, no matter how deep they are. I think the biggest key is to get Beltran back. He has quietly become a key to the back line, and it has not just been this year. Last year he missed playing 190 minutes and the team gave up 7 goals. That is a goal every 27.14 minutes!

The offensive side of the ball is a different picture. The team is only 11 goals away from breaking their all time record for goals in a season with 12 games to go. Their scoring rate of a goal every 55.00 minutes is 5 minutes better than their previous best scoring rate. RSL's 36 goals is the highest amount in the league. The next highest team (NY) has 3 less goals than RSL. The crazy thing is that all of the offense occurred and Saborio has only played in 9 of the team's 22 matches.

Garcia's offensive numbers are amazing. Here is another way to look at them: He has played 658 minutes which is 33% of the total number of minutes that RSL has played. But while he has been on the field, RSL has scored 44% of their goals. Exciting things happen when he plays.

The big question for Coach Kreis is who should he start together? Saborio and Plata have amazing chemistry together. But, Garcia's numbers are off the charts. Do you start Plata and Saborio with Garcia being the super sub off the bench? Or do you continue with the Saborio/Garcia pairing? I honestly don't know. What do you think?

Friday, July 26, 2013

RSL Family Part 2- Fan Natasha Cottrell

In part one of my look at the RSL Family, Coach Kreis made the comment how the fans were just as much a part of the RSL Family as anyone in the organization. It seems like the fans have always had a special relationship with the players. That started from the early years with the club and it continues on today.

As I was preparing to write my original post about the RSL Family, I knew that I would want to get some quotes from RSL fans. I sent out some messages to some of the RSL fans that I knew truly loved this team. I wanted to ask them the same thing I asked Ian Joy. "What does the RSL Family mean to you?"

One of the people I sent a request to was Natasha Cottrell. Now I had never really talked to Natasha before, but having followed her on Twitter I felt she would be a good person to ask. The email she sent back to me was amazing. Once again I could not imagine just taking a quote or two out of her whole email. It was just so emotional and powerful that I asked Natasha's permission to post the whole thing. Thankfully she said yes.

My story is kind of a long one...but I will make it kinda short!!! lol We are blessed with the greatest bunch of guys ever from coaching staff to players! We've been fans for about 6 years now. Here's how our love and obsession with Real Salt Lake happened...my husband passed away from suicide in 2004. My kids and I had a very hard time for about 3 years. There's always a lot of blame with suicide and that's what happened to us...my kids played soccer their entire lives, with my husband as their coaches! They each played for about 6 years! But once he died, they gave it all up! They just didn't want to play and have a good time without him here. Some how we managed to make it to 2009! That same year, my doctors found I had some tumors. So my kids we're faced with losing the only parent they had left!! So we waited for the autopsy results to come back...which fortunately came back as benign!!! I was taking some anti cancer drugs and was unable to attend any games that year. Watching RSL win the 2009 MLS Cup championship on TV changed our lives. It made us long to attend our first RSL game! In 2010...we attend almost every home game. We became season ticket holders in 2011. I still don't have tickets for all of us to come only 2 per game. In 2012, my daughter was raped. Fortunately for her, she had this team. She gets excited for game day and holding her scarf up, chanting for our team to win! So you ask "What does this team mean to me?" I've seen a team pull her out of her fear, anger and sadness. We go to practices and the guys know us! They come over and talk to us, they message with us on Twitter and Facebook. A bunch of guys who aren't paid to be our friends...but take the time for us, to make us happy! I don't mind supporting a bunch of guys like that! These guys are like family to us. We love them...this is our team!!! I am glad the coaching staff brings good guys here...the kind of guys I am honored to have as my kids heroes!!!!! A bunch of guys I will yell my lungs out for and scream til I am hoarse!!! I'm here for RSL!

First I would like to thank Natasha again for her willingness to share her and her family's story. I know that her words really touched my heart. I recently had the chance to meet her at an RSL practice and I can say that the RSL Family is better because she is a part of it.

Working on this series of blog posts so far has been really interesting. In the first  two responses that I have posted, very little has been said about the soccer being played on the field. It seems to me that what makes the RSL Family so special is the quality of the people involved. Both Ian and Natasha have been uplifted by the people involved with this team. It will be interesting to see as I continue to get comments from all aspects of the organization if this running theme continues.

What do you think? What does the RSL Family mean to you? I would love to see more comments on the topic. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Starting vs. Off the Bench

I was talking with someone the other day about RSL stats and the suggestion was made to take a look at a players stats when they start compared to when they come off the bench. I thought this was a great idea. For the past few weeks I have been saying that I thought Olmes Garcia was a much better player when he came off the bench than when he started. I had an idea on what the numbers would show after looking into this, but after I was done the results still surprised me.

When I began my research I was pretty sure that the numbers would be better for players coming off the bench. It is, somewhat, the nature of soccer. There are more goals scored in the second half of matches than in the first: A lot more. Currently 66.7% of all RSL goals comes in the second half of matches. To look at it closer, 39.39% of all team goals are coming in the final 15 minutes of a match. But it is not just RSL that scores their goals in the second half, all teams do. RSL opponents are scoring 65% of their goals in the second half as well. These numbers make sense. Towards the latter portions of the second half teams will start pressing for goals. Players get tired, the field seems to open up more, fresh subs comes on, and many times goals are scored. 

So as I looked at these numbers. I was not surprised to find that subs have a better minutes per team goal (MpTG) rating. What I was surprised about was how big of a difference the two numbers would be. A couple more things before I dive in: The sample size of some of the numbers below are very low. We need to take that into account while we analyze the information. I only did the research on the five forwards plus I threw in Sebastian Velasquez for fun. Also, these numbers only take into account MLS matches, not Open Cup matches.

First we will look at each player and their numbers when they started the match:

Player Games Started  Minutes Played as starter Team Goals  MpTG
Saborio 7 627 7 89.57
Findley 12 761 9 84.56
Plata 12 894 13 68.77
Sandoval 7 538 10 53.80
Garcia 4 312 4 78.00
Velasquez 7 535 7 76.43

Here is a look at the same players coming off the bench:

Player Games as Sub  Minutes Played as sub Team Goals  MpTG
Saborio 1 28 1 28.00
Findley 3 75 2 37.50
Plata 5 178 6 29.67
Sandoval 5 70 3 23.33
Garcia 10 256 9 28.44
Velasquez 8 170 8 21.25

What can we take away from these numbers? First I was really shocked by how big a difference there was between the two. The numbers are really drastic especially when you start taking into account the amount of minutes played between the two. Garcia has played 56 less minutes as a sub than as a starter. But the team has scored 5 more goals during that time! That is pretty crazy.

Another thing that I noticed was Sandoval's MpTG rate as a starter. It is much lower than any of the other forwards. Perhaps he should have seen more time as a starter while Saborio has been gone. 

I think the other thing this shows is the true effect of offensive subs on a match. This really makes the case for how important it is to use all three subs during the match. Now I am wondering if it would be better if you actually brought subs in a little earlier than normal so they have more time to affect the match? Perhaps I should take a look into that as well. What do you think?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Crunching the Numbers- KC Edition

I don't want to get into the ref controversy in this article. But if you have not read it, I would highly recommend reading this article over at RSL Soapbox about the experience of refs that work RSL matches. Great work done there by Matt.

Lets take a look at some numbers, including some really strange stats coming out of the match.

  • RSL is now scoring a goal every 57.27 minutes, which is still best in club history. The defense is now giving up a goal every 94.50 minutes, which has gone down, but it is still good for second best in club history.
  • The Robbie Findley/Joao Plata forward combination has now played 405 minutes together. This is the highest among any forward pairing on the team. During that time, the team has scored 5 goals or a goal every 81.00 minutes. 
  • RSL has given up 10 goals at home this season. They have also given up 10 goals on the road.
  • The team has not given up a goal between the 15-30th minutes. They have given up 7 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches.
  • Plata leads the team in shots (35) and shots on goal (15). Alvaro Saborio leads the team by averaging a shot every 4.12 per 90 minutes played. 
  • Over the past two seasons, Tony Beltran has missed 7 matches for RSL. In those matches, the team has one win, four losses, and two draws. In those 7 matches, the team has been given four red cards.
  • In the past six matches with post game fireworks at Rio Tinto Stadium, there have been five red cards shown.
  • Olmes Garcia has started in four matches. In those matches the team is scoring at a rate of a goal every 78.00 minutes. He has played 256 minutes as a sub. In that time the team has scored 9 goals or a goal every 28.44 minutes.
  • Lovel Palmer has played 773 minutes. In that time the team has given up 12 goals or a goal every 64.42 minutes. The team has only had five matches where they have given up more than one goal. Palmer has started all five of those matches.
There are some interesting things to take away from these stats. I was surprised to see that Plata and Findley have played the most together. I am not a big fan of the pairing in general, but against KC it worked really well. Against most teams I would still rather see a target forward to go along with the speed option. With Saborio coming back next week, my guess is that we will see less of these two going forward.

I have very mixed feelings about Plata. I love his work rate and his skill with the ball. It makes sense that he is leading the team in shots and shots on goal as he has played the most minutes out of any of the forwards. His MpTG of 56.68 is slightly below the team average so the team seems to play well while he is on the field. I just wish that he would do more with all of those shots. Only 2.86% of his shots have hit the back of the net. By comparison, 25% of Garcia's 20 shots have been goals.

Although Garcia did not score, he continues to be a spark plug off the bench for RSL. It is generally known that more goals are scored in the second half than the first so subs should have better stats than starters. Even knowing that the 28.44 scoring rate from above seems very impressive. I will be looking closer at this with an article later this week.

Finally, my stats hate Palmer. His team conceded goal rate of 64.42 is by far the worst on the team. If you look at a traditional +/- stat while he is on the field he is at a -6. That means RSL opponents have scored 6 more goals than RSL has while he has played. He is the only RSL player that has a negative +/- rating. Palmer is strange to me. While I watch him play, he looks pretty good. I don't notice him playing poorly. But the numbers just are not in his favor.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The RSL Family Part 1- Ian Joy

About a month ago, there was an excellent article written about RSL by Matt Doyle. One of the things that really stood out to me was how the players always refer to themselves as a family. A couple weeks later Liviu Bird wrote another great article about RSL. In this article, it went even farther in talking about the family aspect of the team. But in thinking about it, the RSL Family is way more than the camaraderie among the players.

The RSL Family permeates throughout the whole organization: from the front office, to the players, to the fans and even all the way down to the RSL academy. If you want to see a great example go to twitter and do a hash tag search for either #RSLfam or #RSLfamily. You will find tweets from many fans, of course, but you will also find many players, academy players, and even the main RSL twitter feed using the hash tags.

I think Jason Kreis said it best in a quote found in the Liviu Bird article. "We've done everything we can to make this club more than just a soccer club. We believe that it's a family. That starts in the locker room, but it proceeds out into the management, it proceeds out to the people that work in our club, it proceeds out even further than that, to all our fans. We truly think that they're all part of our family."

As I continued to think about it, I decided that I would write a post about the RSL Family. Not that I have a lot of experience with other teams around the league, but my thinking was that we have something very different here with the family feel of the team. I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of a wide range of people from all aspects of the team. I began going to various people and asked them "What does the RSL family mean to you?"

When I started to get responses back I was pretty blown away. Many of the responses were very emotional and heart felt.  And at that point, the scope of my blog post changed. One post was not going to do justice to this topic. So instead of just one post, this is the first of an ongoing series that I will be writing on the topic of the RSL Family and what it means to people.

One of the perspectives that I wanted to get was that of a former player. I contacted former RSL defender Ian Joy to see if he would be willing to tell me his thoughts on the RSL Family. He graciously wrote me back his thoughts. Instead of just pulling out some quotes from his email, I felt I would just include his whole response.
The RSL family is something very special.

I believe a lot of clubs around the league strive to be like Real Salt Lake simply because of the way they act.

When The gaffer (Jason) took over as boss he made changes within the club immediately & the most important change he made was within the locker room mentality. He wanted to have a team of winners but that was never going to be easy to get.

Garth is key to RSL's success he is the man who travels the world, meeting players & club officials & he is the one who pulls the deals together. Jason gives his stamp if approval to every single deal.

Before you get to sign for Real Salt Lake Jason will go into great detail to find out exactly what kind of person you are off the field. This is Vital to RSL's success. You can be the best player in the team but if your personalty or character doesn't fit in with the Locker room the "Team" fails. It's that simple it only takes 1 bad apple to upset the compete atmosphere within the squad, Making it much harder to succeed.

Jason has an incredible talent of assembling a squad of players that will look each other in the eye everyday knowing that each player will do anything possible to win for the person next to them. Every single training session became like a war zone because we all wanted to win.

I'd never seen a squad full of players who got on so well with each other off the field than at RSL. It was/is something very special for everyone involved. Then throw in 2/3 coaches who live & breath the game and you have a recipe for success.

Real Salt lake is blessed to have an incredible backroom of staff that mix with the team every day and they are very important part of the family but the most important part of the family is the fans! The fans are the ones who push & motivate the team to be successful, the fans are the ones who push the team to that next level. The stadium was a big part of bringing us all together and allowing us a platform to showcase our talents & I don't just mean the players on the field! I mean the fans too. The RIOT has become a fortress of noise & passion and I feel very fortunate that I managed to play in front of you incredible fans.

I can only speak for my own personally experiences at RSL and its a time I will never forget. I wasn't going through the best time of my life off the field but the way that the Team, Jason, staff & fans treated me has made me a better person today. For that I will forever hold RSL close to my heart.


I would like to thank Ian for sharing this with me. I think the last paragraph of his message is the true essence of what the RSL family is and why it is so important to all of us.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The COR Score- RSL Offensive Ratings

Everyone that reads my blog knows that I think highly of the Minutes per Team Goal stat (MpTG). I feel that it is a good indication for how the team plays while a player is either on or off the field. But what it doesn't do very well is tell the story on how a player is playing overall.

Now I know that there is not one stat that can tell you the whole story. Garth Lagerwey said as much when I interviewed him about statistics. But what I did want was something that could at least tell me part of the story. I wanted something more than just goals and assists. I also felt that the MpTG was an important piece of the puzzle as well. I really wanted something that combined individual stats with MpTG. I felt this would give a better overall picture. So I created the Charles Offensive Rating system or COR. Not the most original of names but the name isn't really important anyway. 

Here is how COR works: It starts off by using MpTG as a base. Now remember, with MpTG the lower the number, the better it is. From there I created a formula that calculates in goals, assists, shots on goal, shots, goals per shot %, and completed pass %. Why did I choose these stats? I felt that they were all important in showing how well a player is doing on the offensive side of the ball. Also, they are stats that are somewhat easy to obtain from www.mlssoccer.com. I would love to include more things, but as an outsider I only have access to what stats that I can find on the web.

Once I picked the stats I was going to include, I went through a process of weighing how important I thought each stat was. I felt a goal should get greater weight than an assist. A shot on goal is worth more than just a shot and so forth. I spoke with a couple others to get their thoughts as well. I gave each stat a numerical value depending on how important I believed each stat was. For example, a goal might be worth 10 points and an assist might be worth 8. From there I added up all the points that a player received and then subtracted that total number from the MpTG to get there overall COR score. On the COR scale, the lower the number, the more effective that player is offensively. 

It was here that I ran into a problem. Starters were coming out with a much lower COR scores. This was due to them just playing more than some of the guys on the bench. I still wanted to be able to compare all players so I changed up my formula a bit. Instead of using goals, assists, shots, and shots on goal, I calculated goals per 90 minutes, assists per 90 minutes and so on. By doing this, it didn't matter how many minutes a player had played. Just how well he was doing per 90 minutes that he was playing.

Below are my findings.

Player COR
Garcia -35.22
Morales -8.57
Grabavoy 11.70
Velasquez 19.61
Plata 21.88
Sabo 24.17
Sandoval 24.33
Findley 24.61
Stephenson 31.13
Beckerman 33.57
Gil 36.27
Alvarez 37.83

We all know that Garcia has been amazing this season. His high offensive production with his limited minutes puts him off the charts. I think it is no surprise that Morales is so high either with his 5 goals and 8 assists. 

Given the nature of these stats and the position that they play, it does not surprise me that Beckerman and Alvarez are towards the bottom of the team. I only ran these numbers for forwards and midfielders, no defenders. The defenders would be even lower if included.

What is interesting is some of the guys in the middle. Sandoval has a killer MpTG stat. But his individual stats are not very impressive. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Saborio. He has a very poor MpTG but his individual stats are pretty good. In that sense, COR seems to be doing a good job in combining individual stats with MpTG. 

So what do these numbers really tell us?  Other than the fact that Garcia has been amazing, I am not really sure yet. I am going to keep tracking this to see if I can get a better sense of what it means. I would love to hear other opinions. Do you think there is value to be found in a stat like COR?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Crunching the Numbers- Dallas Edition

Olmes Garcia
Photo by Charles Barnard
Before I jump into the numbers I want to talk about something important that happened in the aftermath of the RSL match in Dallas. Yes, the team finally broke it's "Texas Hex" by winning it's first match in the Lone Star state. Yes, with the win the team pulled farther ahead in the race for the Supporter's Shield. Although both of these things are great, it is not what I am talking about. In my mind, RSL went from a really good team to a team that I think might be really special.

The team had every reason to lose that match. They were missing four players due to international duty. They were playing in Dallas where they have always played horribly. They were actually playing pretty poorly the first half hour and probably should have been down multiple goals. And, then they had to sub out their starting keeper and replace him with someone that didn't have one minute of MLS experience.

The team had every reason to fold. But they didn't. Not only did they not fold, they got stronger. It really showed me something. I really think this team is special. Not just a couple of players, but from the first man on the roster to the third string keeper. The rest of this season is going to be a fun one to watch.

Okay on to the numbers.
  • RSL is still on pace to have their best scoring rate in club history. The 32 goals scored so far are more than what was scored in either the 2005 or 2007 seasons (30,31).
  • The defense is still on pace for it's second best season in club history. They are currently holding opponents to a goal every 100.00 minutes.
  • RSL has a road goal differential of +5. Only two other teams in the league have a positive road goal differential (Portland and Montreal) and both of those only have a +2. Overall the team has a goal differential of +14 which is second highest in team history.
  • 40.63% of all RSL goals have come after the 75th minute of play. 
  • Ned Grabavoy has scored four goals this season. In his four prior seasons with the team, Grabavoy scored three goals combined. 
  • Olmes Garcia has now played 547 minutes. In that time the team has scored 13 goals or a goal every 42.08 minutes. This is the best scoring rate on the team.
  • Garcia has taken 20 shots. Out of those, nine have been on goal. Four others have either hit the post or crossbar. Out of those nine on goal, five have hit the back of the net. 
  • Garcia is now scoring .82 goals every 90 minutes played. The next highest player on the team is Saborio at .55 goals for every 90 minutes played.
  • The Borchers/Salcedo center back combination have now played 450 minutes together which is the second most for all center back pairings. In that time, they have only given up 4 goals or a goal every 112.50 minutes.
So what do these numbers tell us? First and foremost is the team as a whole is still looking great. The best offensive performance in team history with the second best defense is a really good combination to have. To add to that the team is getting points on the road. The +5 road goal differential is really impressive. Our worst road loss of the year was the 2-0 loss to Dallas early in the year. And even if you think about that match, it was still a close match. 

Although I still believe Javier Morales is the team MVP, Grabavoy is making a strong case for himself as well. He has been outstanding this season. 28.57% of the shots he has taken has hit the back of the net, which is a team high. But it is more than just his increased scoring this year. He has just seemed to be the glue in the midfield for RSL this year.

And finally, we come to Garcia. His offensive output has been amazing. I still believe that, at this point, he is best being the spark plug coming off the bench. Here is something to watch when he plays: He forces so many defenders into mistakes. How many times has his hustle and speed caused a defender to make the incorrect play or to just kick the ball out of bounds? I don't know if there is a stat out there that would show this, but if there is I am sure it would be through the roof for Garcia. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Javier Morales- RSL MVP On the Field and In the Locker Room

I was wrong. And, I am very happy to admit it. Let me explain. Going into this past off season one of the biggest questions for the team was the future of Javier Morales. Morales' contract was up at the end of the 2012 season. Would he be back with the team for the 2013 season?

Javier Morales
Photograph by Charles Barnard
I had many conversations with a co-worker about if Morales should come back. I will admit, I was not sure. Don't get me wrong, I have always been a big fan of Morales, but he is starting to get older. I knew that he would be 33 going into this season. Watching him last year, he seemed just off a bit. I wasn't sure if he had lost a step due to age or if he just wasn't ever going to fully recover from his injury in 2011. We had younger players waiting in the wings and I thought maybe it might be better if the team did not resign him.

I told you I was wrong.

Morales has been amazing this season. Even though he missed the first four matches of the season, he is tied for the team lead with four goals, and leads the team with six assists. When he is on the field, RSL scores at a rate of a goal every 51.29 minutes. When he has not played, the scoring rate was only a goal every 95.80 minutes. The difference between the two of 44.51 is the second highest on the team just slightly behind Ned Grabavoy.

It is not just his stats that are great. He just looks better this year. He looks faster than he did last year and more fluid as well. He finally looks like the Morales of old. In my mind, he is the first half MVP for the team.

But in the past few weeks, I have learned that his greatest value might not be on the field at all for RSL. It might be in the locker room. Head Coach Jason Kreis said in his last post game press conference "He (Morales) is really the glue culturally in the locker room between the Hispanic players and the American players. He is such an important figure for us".

Brian Dunseth expanded upon that with me. "Javier is the one earmarked for all the foreign players. He came in and learned English as quickly as possible. He is also a dominate player on the field. He went on to say how the culture with the club has been built up by the coaching staff and many of the players and that "Javier helps set the culture from the foreign perspective".

General Manager Garth Lagerwey recently spoke to the Real Nation podcast about Morales and some of the thoughts behind resigning him. "During our negotiations one of the things we bore in mind was the positive impact that Javy would have in the locker room in terms of unifying what could deteriorate into Anglo and Hispanic cliques...In terms of mentoring the younger Hispanic players I think he has been tremendous as a role model. I think you can't put a price on that."

I truly did not understand the value that Morales has in the RSL locker room. But it makes great sense. The chemistry of this team is outstanding. There doesn't seem to be any of the divisions between the English and non-English speaking players that you might see on other teams. And, it sounds like Morales is a key to this.

Lagerwey and the rest of the RSL Front Office made the right move by bringing Javier Morales back by signing him to a two year contract. Morales could very well be the most important player for RSL. As I said in the beginning, I was wrong. And I am so glad that I was.

Monday, July 8, 2013

RSL Back Line Under the Microscope

It has been over a month since I took a close look at the RSL defenders. Without a weekend match to go over, I thought this would be the perfect time to revisit our back line and see how they are doing now. As a reminder, with the defense I look at minutes per conceded goal (MpCG) not minutes per team goal. With MpCG, the higher the number the better. Here are the player stats for MLS games:

Player Min Goals  MpCG
Maund 90 0 N/A
Beltran 1429 11 129.91
Mansally 368 3 122.67
Borchers 1260 12 105.00
Salcedo 451 5 90.20
Wingert 778 9 86.44
Schuler 1080 13 83.08
Watson-Siriboe 630 8 78.75
Palmer 683 10 68.30

For comparison sake, the team as a whole is giving up a goal every 95.00 minutes which is second best in team history. Maund is at the top of the list with the one match that he played being a shutout. Beltran's numbers continue to be very impressive. This is why I have been saying that when we look back at the players we lost for Gold Cup, it might be Beltran who we will miss the most.

Mansally's MpCG is also very high, although in somewhat limited minutes. I find this interesting as most people consider Palmer a better defender than Mansally. With Palmer having to sit out the next match with a red card suspension, RSL will have no choice but to give Mansally more time. If he plays well I would very much advocate he take over Palmer's spot as Beltran's backup.

Palmer's numbers really surprise me. I have liked Palmer when he has played. He really seems to be an offensive minded player. But in looking at the numbers, that might not be a good thing. Look at it this way: Beltran has played 746 more minutes than Palmer, but the team has only given up one more goal when he has played. That is pretty staggering. 

Here is a look at how the team does when a particular player is not on the field:

Player Min Not Played Goals  MpCG
Palmer 1039 8 129.88
Schuler 630 5 126.00
Watson-Siriboe 1080 10 108.00
Wingert 900 9 100.00
Salcedo 1259 13 96.85
Maund 1620 18 90.00
Mansally 1345 15 89.67
Borchers 450 6 75.00
Beltran 281 7 40.14

The number that totally shocked me in looking at this was Schuler's. The defense has played great since he has been injured. And prior to the team giving up two goals to Philadelphia, that number was at 180! The team needs Schuler to get healthy for added depth in the back line, but I am not sure if he should be put right back into the lineup.

Finally here is a look at the center back pairings and who plays best together.

Players Min Goals  MpCG
Borchers/Maund 90 0 N/A
Borchers/Schuler 540 5 108
Borchers/Salcedo 360 4 90
Schuler/Salcedo 90 1 90
Borchers/Watson-Siriboe 270 3 90
Schuler/Watson-Siriboe 360 5 72

I think the most interesting thing to take away from this is how many different combination that we have used this year. The fact that our defense has played so well with so little consistency with who is playing in the back line is pretty incredible. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Crunching the Numbers- Philly Edition

RSL came back twice while down a man for a dramatic draw with the Union. The match had the team missing four starters to internationally duty, but did see the return of Luis Gil from his time at the U-20 World Cup. There are also some very interesting stats coming out of the match:
  • With both goals being scored by midfielders, RSL now has had 14 goals on the season scored by someone in the midfield. They only had 13 total last season.
  • In 2012 ten different players scored at least one goal in league play. 11 different players have scored in league play this season.
  • Sebastian Velasquez has now played 644 minutes in league play. During that time the team has scored  14 goals or a goal every 46.00 minutes. This is now the lowest MpTG rating on the team.
  • Olmes Garcia's MpTG rating dropped to 47.91 minutes. Now the team has three players (Velasquez, Garcia, and Devon Sandoval) that have MpTG ratings under 50.
  • When Ned Grabavoy plays, the team scores a goal every 54.35 minutes. When he doesn't play, the team scores every 99.00 minutes. The difference of 44.65 is the largest on the team.
  • 22.22% of all goals that RSL has given up has come in the first 15 minutes of play. RSL has yet to give up a goal between the 15th and 30th minutes of matches.
  • Robbie Findley and Joao Plata have played together for 337 minutes. In that time the team has scored 4 goals or a goal every 84.25 minutes. This is the second highest MpTG  rating among all of the forward combinations (the Findley/Alvaro Saborio combo is at 145.50). 
  • RSL has given up 18 goals this season in 19 matches played. Seven of those goals were in the three matches that Tony Beltran did not play in (goal every 40.14 minutes).
  • Lovel Palmer has played 683 minutes this season. In that time, RSL has given up 10 goals or a goal every 68.30 minutes. The team has played 1039 minutes without Palmer in the lineup. In that time RSL has given up eight goals or a goal every 129.88 minutes.
I really believe that the first stat that I listed has been the key to RSL's success this season. The additional production from the midfield has been huge this year. Opposing teams have to pay more attention to our midfielders and this will free up more space for our forwards to work in. 

Interestingly enough, one midfielder who has yet to score a goal is Velasquez. But even without scoring, things happen when he gets into the game. Although, I don't believe that he should be starting, I do believe that Velasquez needs to continue to get playing time off the bench. As the numbers show above, the team scores when he is in the game.

I am ready for an end to the Findley/Plata forward combination. The two just don't seem to play that well together. I really believe the best combination that we should be using with Saborio gone is Plata/Sandoval with Garcia and then Findley coming off the bench. When Plata/Sandoval play together, the team scores every 53.14 minutes. Garcia seems much better coming off the bench than starting at this point in his career.

I am concerned with the loss of Beltran for the next month. Although I thought Palmer did a great job getting into the attack in the Philly match, the numbers show, with out a doubt, that the defense does not play well while he is on the field. With Palmer out for his red card, the door is open for Abdoulie Mansally to see if he can take over Palmer's spot as Beltran's replacement.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Behind the Mic with Brian Dunseth

Brian Dunseth has become one of the faces of the RSL Family. From his time as a player, to being part of the broadcasting team, and also being one of the hosts of On Frame, Dunseth has become a respected voice in the RSL community. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his broadcasting career, On Frame, as well as what his future might bring.

I asked him how he got into broadcasting. He first started developing his strength in analyzing players and formations when he was a player for the US U-20 team. His coach at the time had the whole team watch USMNT games and take note of formations, player tendencies, and tactical adjustments that were made. He said that this taught him the tools necessary to be able to break down a game.

Later as a player, he had thoughts of going into broadcasting. He said that the seeds were planted by Allen Hopkins and Christian Miles (both broadcasters at the time) in the final year of his career after they told him he would be "perfect for this". That got Dunseth wondering how to get into the business. After retiring from the game, Dunseth moved to Salt Lake and was attending an RSL match. On his way home he listened to the post game show on the radio that was then hosted by Spencer Checketts and Trey Fitzgerald.

The next day he was talking to Checketts who was his friend and he said teasingly "let me know if you want someone who knows what they are talking about". He started the next week.

Dunseth continued, "The next year Trey asked me if I have ever done analyst on the radio? 'Yeah, of course I have.' I had never done it before. I then started working the radio side. Later I got a call from Trey saying that Robin Fraser was taking over as an assistant coach and could no longer do TV. He then asked if I have ever done TV? 'Of course I have.' I had no clue what I was doing. Fast forward two years later I got a call from Fox asking if I have ever done side line reporting? 'Of course I have.' No clue what so ever. Later I was asked if I could do play-by-play? 'Sure no problem'..."

He says he has always tried to put himself into situations where he could grow. "I always say the swindle continues that no one realizes that I am just stealing money talking about soccer."

He credits Fitzgerald for the growth of his career on a national level. "Without his support I would have never been able to do Fox or do NBC. He is the least territorial person that I know. Fortunately, he and Garth Lagerwey and Bill Manning and now Dell Loy (Hansen) feels that it only helps raise the profile of Real Salt Lake if I am doing national broadcasts. I am very fortunate to have that type of support."

I asked him about the origins of the radio show On Frame. He said that it got started with him and Fitzgerald bouncing ideas off each other.

"For me, soccer fans are the most educated out of all of them. I say that because we are constantly forced to search for our information. It is not just given to us. You have to go online and search for it. The idea of On Frame was to recap and preview but to also mix in some different personalities. I think we have a pretty good guest list, it is pretty diverse."

In asking about what the future holds for On Frame, Dunseth said "I think the next evolution of On Frame is taking it into the television realm. I think we potentially have that partner with ABC to allow us to showcase a little more in-depth stuff. And that is right around the corner."

I also asked what some of his future goals were.  He said "I don't know. I have been asked what my end game is and I don't know. I really truly feel that someone is going to find out that I have been doing this and ask 'why is he getting paid to do this?'  I have worked hard and have taken the opportunities that were given to me and ran with them...I don't know what my end game is. I just know that I don't want it to stop. I literally am the luckiest kid in the world."

Monday, July 1, 2013

Crunching the Numbers- Toronto Edition

The curse of Canada has been broken. The team won for the first time on Canadian soil with the 1-0 defeat over Toronto FC. The 4-3-3 formation that was rolled out was an interesting surprise as well, but was effective enough to get the 3 points. Here are some interesting stats coming out of that match.

  • With the shutout, RSL has now giving up a goal every 101.25 minutes. That is a big improvement over the 87.43 rate that the team had last season.
  • RSL is scoring 37.04% of their goals in the first half of matches. Interestingly enough, 37.5% of the goals that have been scored on RSL have also come in the first half of matches.
  • The team has yet to give up a goal between the 15th and 30th minute of any match this season. 
  • RSL has a goal differential of +9 at home and an impressive +2 on the road. The +11 total goal differential ties for the second best in team history.
  • The Nat Borchers/Aaron Maund centerback pairing became the 7th combination of centerbacks to play for RSL this season.
  • The match marked the first time that a goal has been scored with both Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata on the field at the same time. Now the only strike partnership that has not been on the field for a goal is the Garcia/Robbie Findley pairing. Currently they have only played 13 minutes together. 
  • Not only did Yordany Alvarez score his first goal, but he also completed 89% of his pass attempts in the match. He currently leads the team in passing accuracy completing 85.86% of all of his attempted passes.  
It is good to see that the defense continues to be strong. There has been a lot of talk about the improvement this season on the offensive side of the ball, but not much has been mentioned about the defense. The big test will be ahead with the loss of Tony Beltran for Gold Cup duty plus one additional match for this red card. If the US goes to the finals of the Gold Cup, we might not see Tony back until the Houston match on August 10th. Statistically, Beltran has been the team's best defender this year. The rest of the line will have to really step up.

Alvarez appears to be in good form and ready to replace Kyle Beckerman while he is gone. His goal was very impressive but I am almost more impressed with his passing stats. In the past, it had always seemed that he made bad passes. But his stats show what an improvement that he has made this season. 

The other bright spot from this match was the play of Maund. He wasn't perfect but made some really great plays that helped to keep the clean sheet. With the injuries to both Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe, there was big concern about the depth of the team's centerbacks. With Maund showing that he can play, a lot of those concerns have subsided.