Last year the Portland Timbers failed to defeat Real Salt Lake in six attempts, including at the semifinal round of both the US Open Cup and the MLS Cup playoffs. This year RSL is off to an undefeated start while the Timbers are winless through the first six games of the season. Meanwhile, big changes have occurred in Utah so we turned to SB Nation's Salt Lake blog, RSL Soapbox, to update us on what's going on at Rio Tinto Stadium. Randal Serr was kind enough to answer a few questions, which you'll find below:
1. Real Salt Lake has a new manager this year in Jeff Cassar. What's the transition been like, even just through the season's first six weeks?
Most notably in my mind, Cassar has provided stability to a club that had a few question marks after Kreis parted ways. Continuity has been key. By not changing the style of play, Cassar has solidified the RSL system and shown that this philosophy of a team-first, "play the right way" mentality is here to stay. Cassar has of course put his own touches on the tactics and has a large say in who to keep with the club and who to bring in, but RSL's identity is healthy and looks to be here for the long term thanks to Cassar wanting to stay the course. In fact, when he was hired part of his argument was "Why would you hire anybody else?" He had been with Kreis for years and understood the club as well as anyone.Besides all of that, RSL has enough core veteran players that they could essentially lead the team themselves in many ways.
2. RSL is the only undefeated club in MLS, though four of the six matches have ended in draws. How does the start compare with offseason expectations?
With the coaching change and a difficult schedule to star the season, I think remaining undefeated and picking up crucial points on the road has exceeded expectations. That said, RSL fans have very high expectations for this club, which is a good thing. If you would have asked virtually anyone in the organization including fans if they thought RSL would go undefeated after six games including two games against the Galaxy, a newly loaded Toronto team, San Jose and Philadelphia on the road, and the defending champions Sporting KC on their field, any of them would have absolutely taken it. I think it is a fantastic start considering the injuries and strength of schedule.
3. Despite never losing to Portland last season and knocking the Timbers out of two competitions at the semifinal round, RSL was left out of the CONCACAF Champions League for 2014/15. Is there an extra level of motivation in this game, or have priorities shifted now that it's a new season?
I don't know that being left out of CONCACAF provides extra motivation for this game as the writing was on the wall that there were going to be changes for CONCACAF qualifying. The organization and the fans that pay close attention saw it coming. That said, the team has made it clear that they want back to CONCACAF and that the tournament remains a top priority.