Eighty Six Forever (86F): Real Salt Lake is the only undefeated club left in the Western Conference, where they currently sit fourth in the standings. What have you learned about this 2015 edition of the Claret and Cobalt through the first month and half of the season?
RSL Soapbox (RSLSB): Real Salt Lake has not conquered the 4-3-3. They have played in the diamond formation since a couple years after the club's inception so that change will take some time to master. What we do know is that even though they have not played beautiful soccer so far, they are getting results, which tells me two things: one, even though there were a decent amount of changes over the off season, the core of RSL is still very much intact, and this team has some veterans that know how to get results As long as Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are here at the very least they will push their teammates to get results. Secondly, even though the offense has not been pretty by any means the defense has been solid and RSL has yet to concede a goal on the road, which I attribute that to a more athletic back line. Between the return of Jamison Olave and the outside back rotation of Abdoulie Mansally and Demar Phillips, RSL has an ability to recover that I haven't seen in years. That is good because the offense of other teams are only getting stronger and faster.
86F: Who are the players in form at the moment for RSL?
RSLSB: Javier Morales has been incredible so far this season. That is saying something since he just turned 35. Every year you would expect him to lose a step, but he only seems to get better. That's not to say that he is faster, but he seems to be playing sharper and smarter. He leads the team in goals and assists thus far and this new formation seems to suit him well at the very least. There are a handful of others that have done good things, but Morales has carried RSL so far.
86F: Jeff Cassar is now in his second season as head coach at RSL. Has he continued the philosophies and tactics of his predecessor, Jason Kreis, or has he been able to implement his own style on the team?
RSLSB: Most of what Jeff Cassar has done is to continue the culture of the club from top to bottom generally speaking. The team is still the star and everyone on the pitch is expected to defend. However, with the switch to the 4-3-3, my sense early on is that the focus is shifting slightly to more of top-heavy approach and a bit less of a possession-oriented approach. I think RSL's possession will get better once they really figure out the new formation, but if the first six games of this season have been any indication, the possession battle seems to matter a little less than in years past. That said, the formation change is due to personnel strengths and Cassar has said the diamond is still a weapon they have up their sleeve. Who knows when he will use it again?
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RSLSB: Octavio Rivero is young, talented, and taking MLS by storm. Was this success expected by the Vancouver Whitecaps coaching staff and fans and will it be sustained long-term?
86F: I wouldn't say that Rivero's early success was necessarily expected, but certainly it was hoped that he would live up to the expectations that we had when he joined the team last Christmas. Rivero is smart and reads the game very well. In addition, he is very quick across short distances and that can force unsuspecting ‘keepers and defenders to cough up the ball. As long as Octavio gets decent and regular service then he will have plenty of chances in front of goal, and no doubt he will add to his account over the course of the season.
RSLSB: Has Darren Mattocks matured over the past couple years and how long do you expect him to be in Vancouver?
86F: The biggest issue we have with Mattocks is consistency. We've seen over the years that he will have a run of good form, earn a starting spot in the XI and then after a few matches he will cool off, and then go back to the bench. I'd love to say that this time it's a different story, but he's only had a couple of good matches in the last week or so. If he can keep this good run of form going then would be very positive, but realistically we'll have to check back in a month or two and see where he's at.
To answer your second question I really don't know what to say. We've heard trade rumors at different times, but I think that at the moment there aren't many interested parties that want a player who is inconsistent at the best of times, and who commands a fairly hefty salary. Carl Robinson has been working more with Darren recently to help him reach his potential, but do I think that for whatever reason Mattocks is here for at least the short- or medium-term.
RSLSB: The last time the Whitecaps met RSL in Salt Lake, there was a bit of a dust-up in the middle of the field. What do you think led to the scuffle? Do you think this match up has become a rivalry?
86F: Honestly, I only vaguely remember the incident, but other than Javier Morales being involved I don't recall too many of the specifics! I do think that there is definitely more of a rivalry now between the Whitecaps and RSL, and the matches from last season have only added to it. The way MLS is structured for the playoff race you could argue that points against other Western Conference teams are more "important" than those won in the east. The Whitecaps have never had good results at the RioT, so I expect they will be eager to take the game to RSL to try and bounce back from last weekend's loss and make up for the points they dropped against the Crew SC and the ‘Quakes last week.