1) Real Salt Lake, year after year, has been one of the top teams in the very competitive Western Conference - what are some of the factors that have led to that kind of consistent success?
I guess it depends on how you define success. For us, it's been quality but perhaps not successful - having reached semifinals and a CONCACAF Champions League final, we bowed out at the end, display on the way some worrying tendencies and inabilities to really capitalize on our positive qualities. But those qualities are certain some sort of success, and they're owed to our coaching staff. Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey have displayed incredible abilities to build understanding across a team and to bring in players who complement the ones we already have. As a result, we've had a unified locker room for a long time running, and that makes a fair bit of difference. With the salary cap being what it is, there are few ways to gain a true advantage, supposing the players you bring in are of the quality their salary levels would indicate. Obviously enough, that's no easy task. But if we're to point at one thing, it's the dedication to building understand in a squad. It's that "team is the star" mentality.
2) Real Salt Lake's diamond midfield is one of the most formidable midfields in MLS and they'll go against another talented side in Houston. How important will it be to break down RSL's possession game in the middle of the field?
It's an interesting question, because a lot of times, teams try to break it down by simply bypassing it with long balls over the top. That rarely reaps benefits, but there's an element of fortune that plays into that. Other teams try to beat it by going around the outside, as they operate with the mistaken notion that the diamond is an inherently narrow formation. That is true in attack - it is a narrow attacking formation - but less the case in defense. As I discussed in a blog post on the official RSL site today, Real Salt Lake's game has shifted away from a pure possession perspective. I'd argue we're focused more now on doing positive things with that formation and applying high pressure to let teams pass the ball around the back. I mean, that hardly hurts us if we're paying attention. There are clearly flaws in the system, and the big one relies on our attack in numbers. Catching RSL in transition is key. Please don't do it.
3) Real Salt Lake currently occupies the top spot in the league (tied for points with NYRB) - what kind of pressures will threaten RSL's positioning on the league table as the season wears on?
Injuries and fatigue. Those are the big concerns, and we're certainly justified in worrying about them. But the goal isn't necessarily to maintain first place, but to make the playoffs - which, given the incredibly tight top half of the table, is reasonable. We won't purposefully surrender first place, but if we lose it, it's hardly the end of the world.
Lineup and Prediction:
Starting XI: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Wingert; Ned Grabavoy, Sebastian Velasquez, Khari Stephenson, Luis Gil; Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley
Prediction: RSL 3-0 Dynamo. Of course, that's what I always predict.
If you would like to see the questions that Matt Montgomery asked me and see how I answered feel free to visit RSL Soapbox and comment. Keep the Beckerman dread jokes to a 3 per post minimum to be courteous.