Two facts. The first is that, statistically speaking, you are not a Real Salt Lake fan. Second; RSL has yet to lose this season. We can conclude, from this that your team is not as good as the Utah club, and that such a statement angers you. After all, they haven’t blown anyone out so far and tried as hard as they could to lose to Orlando (two goals conceded in stoppage time) and Portland (ended the game with nine men on the field). This is not a dominant team.
And yet here they stand. Heading into Los Angeles on Saturday (10:30 ET, Ch. 85, Internet 85), Real Salt Lake will either prove themselves an equal to the cream of the MLS crop, or they’ll whimper back to Utah. The Galaxy have the highest goal differential of any team so far and were absolutely terrifying against a Houston side that looked like they were sipping jet fuel just a few weeks ago. And what’s worse, Gio Dos Santos has begun to care about bending the United States to his will.
But this week’s column isn’t about fifth-in-the-West LA, it’s about Real Salt Lake. And the Jorah Mormont reference wasn’t accidental. There’s been something surly about this team, recovering from an embarrassing 2015 campaign.
Kyle Beckerman is still there, a few steps slow by now but still willing to ruin the day of any midfielder in his path. But by now he’s joined by Burrito Martinez, a very lumpy but very technical player who is fully in form embarrassing his earnest MLS counterparts. Yura Movsisyan, last seen lifting the 2009 MLS Cup, is back at chomping through centerbacks like a hungry lion. Joao Plata is rounding into one of the league’s great oddities, a tiny little cannonball of attacking anger. And Nick Rimando is old, but still the Phife Dawg of the league and a Five Foot Assassin.
But the real difference this year is in Real Salt Lake’s centerbacks. Jeff Cassar’s team had long been reliant on the self-aware and angry monolith known as Jamison Olave to anchor their defense, but youngsters Aaron Maund and Justen Glad have been much more nimble and much more clever in front of Rimando. They’ve only allowed six goals in six games, learning from the veterans that surround them while simply being more mobile than any other pair in the league.
Glad in particular has been a revelation. The teenager could work his way into the US Men’s National Team picture sooner rather than later. He could follow in the footsteps of Matt Miazga and Geoff Cameron before him, athletic specimens who unlike most American defenders do not constantly act like Wile E. Coyote, holding a bomb with the fuse quickly shrinking.
Now I know what you’re thinking. The points leader in MLS so far is FC Dallas, and Montreal Impact have been fearsome even without Didier Drogba.
But Dallas has holes. Their defense has been a sieve so far and will continue to be so even when magical little unicorn Mauro Diaz comes back to form. This summer’s Copa America could lose them up to seven players.
As for Montreal, well, they still have to prove that they’re greater than the sum of their parts. Even if the sum of their parts will be enough to crush most Eastern Conference teams.
Who else, Colorado? They’ll have to prove they can win outside of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – in whose mile-high atmosphere they are 3-0-0 – before they can be taken seriously as a contender.
Which leaves us with Real Salt Lake, the unexpected class of MLS. At least, if they can get past Los Angeles on Saturday. In a weekend featuring old-school rivalries like New England-DC and Montreal-Toronto, who’d have thunk that Real Salt Lake would steal all the headlines?
Either Jeff Cassar has no idea what he’s doing, or North America’s greatest band of castaways has washed ashore along the Great Salt Lake. It’s too soon to tell, but one thing is certain at this point in April: your favorite team is looking up at a side led by 5’2” Joao Plata.
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