For Real Salt Lake there is perhaps no better way to sum up their current state of things than what head coach Jason Kreis offered up in the post match press conference:
"For me it's two games in a row. Honest to god, we didn't lose the game, we gave the game away, twice in a row, so if someone comes in here and beats us from end line to end line for 90 minutes then I will have a different answer for you but right now we are beating ourselves."
It is that level of frustration that has crept into the minds of all parts of the RSL family, the staff, the players, and the fans the result of an unprecedented 3 straight losses at Rio Tinto Stadium (MN Stars, LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquake) and their 3rd loss in league play so far this year. RSL lost 3 matches at home in 2011, after just a single combined loss at home between 2009 and 2010. The sting is as Jason says is that in each of our losses at home it wasn't as if a team came in and outplayed RSL, it is the reality that RSL failed to take advantage of their opportunities in each of those matches, while opponents did just the opposite and made RSL pay for each mistake, or each chance they they gave up.
Now I know a lot of RSL fans out there will want to again blame the officials for the loss, and while we know that MLS officials are anything but perfect, the reality is that blown calls have gone both ways and I don't see where a blown call has lead to an opposition goal in any of our losses at home. Now one can question if the non-call on the play that say Javier Morales taken down inside the area in the first half, or several plays in which Alvaro Saborio was pulled, pushed and held while in the area should have been called, and that is a fair debate to have. Yet I go back to the fact that RSL had the ball inside the San Jose area so many times on Saturday night but they failed often to get anything close to a quality shot, if any shot at all off that there is plenty of blame to go around.
more thoughts after the jump:
So I am going to offer up some rather negative thoughts about RSL, something I don't often do but some things that I have noticed as the season has gone along. I am sure that some of you will agree with me, while others will disagree and I welcome your thoughts on what you believe might be behind some of the issues that seem to be haunting RSL over the last month or so.
1. I think it is clear that while 2 years ago that Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers were the two top defenders in MLS and they dominated the RSL area, neither player is playing at that level this year. I am not sure of the root cause, be it injuries or something else but it is clear that something simply isn't right and like each of the thing I mention it impacts the rest of the team in a huge way. For years Tony Beltran, Robbie Russell, Chris Wingert, and now Terakazu Tanaka have been able to push forward in support of the offense knowing they had the speed and skill guys behind them to cover any gaps or lapses. Now I see our guys getting forward which is part of our game plan but I see those gaps and lapses are being taken advantage of by opponents.
2. Everyone plays defense, one of the mantras of Real Salt Lake seems to have lost it's bite. I think some of the highlights of the year for me have been when you see a guy like Fabian Espindola, or Alvaro Saborio sprint back to assist the defense by breaking up a play. We saw that a lot early this year, but I don't think we have seen it nearly as much over the last month or so, but don't think that I am putting blame on them, they are forwards and their jobs are to create chances and disrupt those offense breaks of opponents when they get a chance. The work rate of our forwards is incredible but it is just one aspect of their game that I think seems to be missing over the last month or so. It goes further than just our forwards though.
3. Defensive bite in the midfield, where has it gone? I think one of the best measures of this is the Duels measurement, who wins the 50-50 balls and for the last several matches RSL's numbers have been less than stellar (41% to 58%-San Jose, 47% to 52% - LA, 45%-54% -Dallas, 48% to 51%-New England). Now in each of those matches RSL dominates possession with their passing game, but the toughness and fight for the ball seems to be less than impressive. So what gives? I think we see some players who are stuck with a split playing style disorder, with RSL we know that Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson play both sides of the ball but normally with the defense first mentality, but with the national team Kyle and the USMNT D-mids are asked to be a bit more creative and offensive minded, for Will with the CMNT, he plays as a third forward or offensive minded midfielder. Even with Ned Grabavoy we have seen a guy who has been asked over recent months to be a bit more offensive in his mindset due to injuries and tactical changes to the lineups. In the past I think those guys have had a bit more of that defensive bite that made our midfield such a huge part of the overall defensive effort, and I think that it has been lacking a bit lately.
4. Focus and expectations have impacted both the players on the pitch and I think the fans as well. Over the last 3 seasons RSL has played at a very top level week in and week out, with few exceptions and I think that as fans we might be a bit spoiled by that, we expect that our team will win each match, we expect that if down they will pull off a Portland style miracle, because well we pulled it off in Portland. I think that the expectations at home are even higher, with the reality of losing just 4 MLS matches in the past 3 seasons at Rio Tinto, everyone expects us to win there. When we don't the loss is examined in high detail as it should be, but often we look for an easy excuse and in MLS that is to blame the officials, which in a lot of cases holds merit. I think the lack of focus is what is hurting us, we set a standard so high and for so long things have gone so well for RSL that we believe we will win because we deserve to win, because we play better than our opponents. The harsh reality is that in soccer often the better team doesn't win, is one that I think both our players and fans may have lost sight of, I mean our reality is that we have made the playoffs each of the last 4 seasons, we have played in Conference finals 3 of the last 4 seasons, and of course we have had success in both MLS Cup and come within inches of hoisting the Champions League Cup.
For me it isn't time to panic, it is however time to be a bit concerned, how will everyone react to this disappointing last month? Will it serve as motivation? Will it serve to fuel frustrations? I mean we are at the halfway point of our season, 17 matches played with 17 to go. We are currently 10-5-2 with 32 points, 1 point out of first place in the Western Conference and 1 point away from the top spot in the MLS table. We are 3-2-0 in our last 5 matches, and in July we have 3 of 4 matches at home, and we will start our run in Champions League. This isn't a time to panic, it is a time to regroup, dust off, re-establish our focus and remember that every match is a playoff match, every match is a must win, every match is worth every bit of effort that can be given, not just for the players but for us as fans.
These last couple of matches should become motivation, rekindle a fire deep inside of each of us, a chance to remember that none of us is perfect, but if we are there for each other, if each of us give our all, then we combined put together one hell of a great organization on and off the pitch, let's hold each other to a higher standard, let's do whatever we can to help each other achieve what we know we are capable of.
OFF MY SOAPBOX