Stoppage Time: Reflecting on last week’s victories

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake

WE WANT THE CUP!

I’ve been trying really hard not to get my expectations up too high this season. This was, after all, a “rebuilding” year for RSL. Reaching the semifinals in the US Open Cup defied all expectations, but going into the match on Wednesday, I was nervous. I’ll be honest, sitting in the stands Wednesday night, it was really difficult to watch Will Johnson take a corner against Real Salt Lake, and even harder to hear some of the fans boo-ing as he did so (though, to our credit, I was happy to note the applause that greeted him as he walked off the pitch). But now, it’s hard not to get your expectations high going into the Open Cup final in October against the only team in the MLS doing worse than Chivas USA. The Open Cup may be the light at the end of the tunnel for DC United, but, I have to say, by the time October rolls around, even if they do manage to turn their season around, those guys are going to be so battered that it’s hard to imagine they’d put out a good showing against Real Salt Lake, at home. RSL has won two Open Cup matches in extra time — if it’s even close, I’d be surprised if RSL doesn’t walk away with a trophy. The only way DCU could come away with the title is if it’s a blowout.

Orange Crush? Eh, not so much

If you’d have told me when I was figuring out what 2013 matches to get tickets for (sadly, not a season ticket holder…yet) that the 2012 Eastern Conference champions wouldn’t be much of a threat, I would have been surprised. The standings across the board are all really close, but the Dynamo is one of the few teams that, even for a minute, haven’t graced the top of the tables this year. That could mean anything, of course, and so I was reluctant to call a winner for Saturday’s match just because I had no idea what to expect other than some potentially tired players. Nevertheless, but for 2 starters — Plata and Garcia — Saturday’s lineup against the Dynamo was identical to the lineup against Portland, and despite the fact that RSL had a hard time breaking down their defense, they also managed to maintain a shutout.

A team of stars

This quote has been going around today since it was mentioned on mlssoccer.com, that the “the team’s the star” mantra should be replaced by “a team of stars”. I disagree with that fundamentally, but the point stands that we have a number of players getting regular international call-ups, a career year for Grabavoy, and Javi back to his old form. But what stood out to me this week wasn’t any of that — it was Nat Borchers and Carlos m*****f***ing Salcedo. Those two had a lot to do with both victories and the fact that RSL only gave up a single goal across both games. The 4-2-1-3 formation was interesting to watch, but limiting both Portland and Houston’s attacking chances was far more impressive. As McDonald gets more comfortable with RSL’s system and Schuler gets more training time, it will be interesting seeing the competition for the starting centerback position heating up. It will be interesting, in general, to see if McDonald turns out to be a permanent fixture or a temporary measure to deal with this year’s injuries and absences. And how about that Lovel Palmer? Beltran’s an All Star and all, but when he hasn’t been able to play, Lovel has been really stepping up his game.

Neither of this week’s wins were pretty. But they were wins, and that’s all that matters in the end. We’re 10 weeks out from the end of the season, did anyone foresee RSL leading the race for the Supporter’s Shield after losing Espindola, Olave and Will Johnson? (Okay, Jonny Steele, too, and Kyle Reynish, and Paulo Junior, but none of those guys were regular starters, so they don’t count.) I’m going to have to figure out the math pretty soon to when it’s a done deal and no one can catch up to RSL for the Shield race.

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