Real Salt Lake is the only team in Major League Soccer to make the playoffs in each year since 2008 and much of that success can be credited to their midfield. Playing in a diamond formation, RSL has capitalized on the combination of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales while head coach Jason Kreis has molded veteran players into the outside midfield role to fit the formation.
Beckerman has earned the All-Star nod in each of the last five seasons while Morales made the team in 2009 and 2010 before an ankle injury slowed his production in the last two seasons. Even still, Morales has three goals and a team-high nine assists this season while Beckerman has four goals and four assists. On the outside, Will Johnson is a regular with the Canadian National Team and Ned Grabavoy is a solid veteran.
In the second part of our “Know Your Enemy” series, we talk with RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth about the midfield construction and how Real Salt Lake has used it to become one of the top teams in MLS over the last four years.
Question: What is RSL able to do in the diamond that other teams in MLS haven’t been successful doing in that formation?
Dunseth: “You have to buy into it and you have to have some special players. When you have a guy like Javier, you want to give him a free role, but at the same time, you want to make sure you’re pretty compact centrally. I think for Jason, what he realized is that he has two midfielders in Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy and previously with Andy Williams that he can essentially teach to be box-to-box midfielders, two-way players. Kyle is going to sit in that defensive hole, but at the same time look to pop through quite a bit. So it’s a weird balance and a teeter-totter effect. For Real Salt Lake, one of the reasons they are capable of playing this way is because the outside backs Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert both completely understand that they’re going to be responsible for individual flank defending while at the same time stepping up offensively to counterbalance the midfield.”
Q: Kyle Beckerman has gotten a lot of attention with his national team duties lately. How have his national team absences affected the depth of the team in terms of getting other players into those roles?
Dunseth: “I don’t know that it really has. Yordany Alvarez is the guy who is going to slot in every time Kyle is missing. That’s why they brought him in. He was named player of the year last year in the USL with Orlando City and he’s been the only one to fill that role and you really haven’t missed a beat. He’s never going to be the same as Kyle – there are few players in the league who are like Kyle. But Yordany’s proved more than capable of sitting in and playing that role without any problems whatsoever.”
Q: The midfield looks like one of the deepest groups RSL has. How have they been able to use different guys within those unique roles?
Dunseth: “It’s difficult to find those guys because you have to play a certain style. Losing Andy Williams hurt their depth, but Sebastian Velasquez came completely off the radar in the beginning of the year to be a very valuable asset. He hit, like every young player goes through, a bump, but worked his way back in where in the last ten games he’s been really valuable to this team and very important. Luis Gil’s been incredibly solid all year long in terms of being available and ready to play when the opportunity presents itself. He hasn’t been flawless by any means, but at the same time has given Jason a very good option on the right side of the midfield and has stepped in when Javier is injured or needs a rest. Then Jonny Steele has stepped in and in his first opportunity in Major League Soccer has grabbed the opportunity with both hands and learned how to play both sides of the ball, just like Andy Williams and Ned Grabavoy had to learn.”
Tomorrow, we look at the defense for Real Salt Lake as we build toward the Western Conference semifinal series beginning on Friday at CenturyLink Field.