This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Sandy • The heat. The humidity.
Fabian Castillo. Tesho Akindele.
Luis Gil. Sebastian Jaime.
The story lines have been covered this week as Real Salt Lake is off to Frisco, Texas, to face FC Dallas, a club that hasn't lost in its last nine league outings. FC Dallas sits three points behind RSL in the Western Conference table as we enter Week 25 of RSL's 2014 campaign. Last Saturday's 2-1 win over Seattle thrusted RSL into first place and despite the Sounders' 1-1 home draw with San Jose Wednesday, RSL remains atop the West tied with Seattle at 42 points apiece.
After Friday night's FC Dallas match, nine outings remain to solidify hopes of a Supporters' Shield title and/or a first-place finish in the Western Conference.
"A lot of soccer to be played," defender Nat Borchers said. "We're not going to celebrate anything until we have a tangible Cup in our hands."
Borchers mentioned how the club has been in these positions before, at or near the top of the table, but added that RSL needs to sustain this strong late-summer run and build toward closing out the season.
"I don't think we've handled it as well as we would have liked to be on top and we just have to put as many points between us and everybody else in the Western Conference right now," he said.
Dousing FC Dallas' fire • Castillo, Akindele, Blas Perez, Mauro Diaz, Michel. Those are Dallas' five top scorers and have a combined 31 goals between them. Dallas leads MLS with 43 goals in 24 matches.
The key to dealing with the 97-degree weather and plus-50 percent humidity is simple: RSL coach Jeff Cassar said avoid giving the ball away to one of the fastest, most-athletic teams in the league.
"I think our chances are definitely going to show themselves," Cassar said, "but we don't necessarily have to chase it and go looking for it early and exposing ourselves."
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy said RSL must be wary as the pace and aggressiveness of FC Dallas' style could become an early imprint on the match Friday night.
"We try to play the same way most of the time, but in saying that, we have to understand as well some teams are going to play a little bit different on their home field than when they're away," he said. "Teams are probably going to take more risk and push the issue, where maybe they come into our place, they're not doing that as much. I think you end up seeing sometimes, the first 15 or 20 minutes, just like how it is at our place it's really, really important how we start the game and weather the storm a little bit for a team coming out emotional for a home game for themselves.
"I think the start of a game is very, very important. How we keep the ball, the decisions that we make, not giving away anything. All those things pay huge dividends for the whole game."
Borchers said the mix of Akindele and Castillo is proving to be a formidable one.
"It's a good combination: Speed mixed with a bruiser in Akindele, who's also a pretty good finisher," he said. "I think he's done very well for himself, and Castillo obviously is just always trying to get behind."
Is FC Dallas' all-out style of attack, spearheaded by Akindele and Castillo, more difficult to track than other offenses in MLS?
"Yes and no," Borchers said. "It really just depends on our shape and our ability to track them on the field. We have to watch out for their midfielders going forward. If we just have to worry about those two guys? Fair enough, but we'll have plenty of other things to worry about, I'm sure."
Grabavoy said marking a player that is performing at Castillo's dominant level takes more than just one side of the field and defense.
"It's easy to say these two guys on this side are responsible for this player," he said. "But it has to be a total team effort, because there's going to be times when a player who's that fast and that technically gifted, realistically, is going to get that half step on someone or he's going to beat a guy and it's a question of, 'Where's the next guy?'
"You don't want the game to be completely wide open for a player like that to just pick and choose to run at two or three players at a time."
Gil's found a groove • Talked to assistant coach Andy Williams about Luis Gil and the often-frustrating season the 20-year-old young star has been dealing with. Williams, who knows RSL's diamond midfield formation better than most, echoed what Cassar has said in recent weeks: Gil's dedication to defense has helped revitalize his offensive game.
"I think that the hardest thing is getting the defensive part down," Williams said. "The offensive stuff is just natural to him and it was the same thing with myself and Ned [Grabavoy], we're all offensive-minded players, but once we put in the work and get that defensive job done to help our team, then we'll get opportunities to go forward and enjoy it. That's just something he needs to grasp more and I think he's doing a good job so far."
Cassar said of Gil Tuesday: "I think what I really like is he's contributing for 90 minutes. I feel like earlier in the year, he was kind of falling off around the 50th, 60th minute and we were having to get him out or things like that, but I think that game against Colorado really helped him out, going the full 90 in really tough conditions. Putting [in the work] on the defensive side and now the defensive side, you can go forward and enjoy the ball. He's really starting to come along."
When Gil and I spoke this week, he talked about the difficulties of dealing with his lingering hamstring injury and working his way back into the starting XI fold, as well as the game-day 18.
"I feel like it's just one of those things where you've just got to show it during trainings," he said. "At the same time, when you do get your chances on the field, you have to show it as well. There was a couple times where I did go into the game … eh, showed it here and there, but it wasn't like, 'OK, he's ready,' it was more he's just getting back into it. I feel like now I feel ready and hopefully I've been showing it."
The Third Sebastian • New Designated Player Sebastian Jaime is set to arrive in Salt Lake City Friday and begin acclimatizing himself to his new home and club. The Visa process for Jaime and his family members were completed and delivered Wednesday.
"It's going to be a nice time for the weekend for him to get his feet on the ground here and get adjusted and where he's living and everything," Cassar said. "We'll hit the ground running next week with him."
Cassar said he expects the 27-year-old Argentinian forward to participate in his first training session with RSL on Monday at American First Field in Sandy. Reporters asked RSL's coach this week how long he anticipates Jaime will take to pick things up in training. On Tuesday, Cassar said there's no rush to get him into the fold and push the envelope: "We don't want to put him in a position for failure to start."
"In the interviewing process, he's an extremely intelligent person and player. He's got a very high work rate, so from that we can build," Cassar said Thursday. "I don't expect the transition to be rough at all. Obviously the team's playing well right now, so there's no rush, there's no pressure and we can bring him along as time tells."
I spoke to Argentinian midfielder Javier Morales Thursday and the RSL veteran said he'd never heard of Jaime before RSL announced the signing on Aug. 8. Morales did presumably what most did and went to the Internet to read about Jaime and watch highlight clips on YouTube.
"What I saw, he looks pretty good. I think he can fit good on the team," Morales said. "I wish him all the best. He's from my country, but that doesn't change anything. A new player coming in where we obviously try to give the best [help] to him, so I hope he shows it."
The 34-year-old attacker said he expects to play an integral role in helping Jaime who doesn't speak English study and learn RSL's approach and style to the game, especially offensively.
Morales' hip injury • Sometime during the D.C. United game on Aug. 9, a tackle on Javier Morales sent him to the turf at Rio Tinto Stadium where he landed square on his hip. It was, as he explained, "a really good tackle," but said he felt some discomfort upon getting back on his feet. When he took an ensuing corner kick later in the game and put much of his body's weight on leg, the pain level hiked.
He'll miss his second-consecutive match due to the hip injury, which he describes as located in a "tough area" where a lack of blood-flow doesn't exactly speed the healing process along. Morales said initially, the training staff thought a maximum of 7-to-10 days before possible return. It's been 12 days since Aug. 9.
"We're pretty close," he said. "I think next week if I'm in full training, I'll be ready for the next game."
Cassar said Morales went through technical work with RSL Thursday and did fitness rehab with the training staff. "I would anticipate he's in the fold for San Jose if everything goes well," he said.
I won't be in Frisco Friday night, but will be trying my best to follow another high-stakes Western Conference match.