OK, after 4 different attempts to get this written and published (don't ask):
Well Real Salt Lake started their Friday night match with the Philadelphia Union much the way the team had played most of their midweek CCL match against Tauro FC, high energy and pressure on the ball all over the pitch and it created a couple of chances but like the first half against Tauro FC the team was unable to finish those chances. Perhaps it was the new formation a 4-5-1 that allowed RSL early to look like a very dangerous team, but after the first 15 minutes it started to look more like RSL was either out of gas or falling back into the form that had failed them in their last 4 road matches. It was one of the first matches that I can remember where RSL was dominated in possession, shots, shots on goal and had we been playing a team more proficient at finishing we might not have been able to keep the clean sheet. Don't get me wrong the Union are improving over their slow start of the season but still are one of the weakest teams in MLS and one that RSL should have been able to capture all the 3 points from at home or away.
Now one can wonder why the team featured a lot less rotation than some expected with many of the starting XI playing in their 3rd match in 7 days, but Jason has been very up front about depending on the players to tell him if they are able to go or not. I think he might have to become a bit more skeptical about that policy in the future.
While it is easy for me and others to offer our thoughts and opinions about what has been going wrong or right with RSL this season there is a reality that something has been going very wrong over the last couple of months. On June 16th RSL beat Chivas USA 3-0 and had a 10-3-2 record, since then RSL has played 12 matches are are 13-10-4, or 3-7-2 over those last 12 matches. Had it not been for the hot start this season, people would be talking about a coaching change and probably about rebuilding the team. The reality is that despite our struggles nobody has really made us pay for the pitful form of late, and until last weekend we had secure hold of one of the top two places in the Western Conference since the start of the seson (minus one week). Now we have been bounced to third place by the Sounders, the gap with San Jose is now 7 points and we have dropped to 5th place overall in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
more after the jump:
Perhaps the most alarming thing abour RSL's recent form is that we have now have just an 11 point gap between us and the team in 6th place in the Western Conference (FC Dallas) and while Dallas has just 6 matches left this season and RSL has 7. RSL has just 9 points in our last 7 matches, FC Dallas has 13 in their last 7 and if nothing else changes it is likely RSL will drop to 4th or even 5th place in the Western Conference and have to play via the "wildcard" as both LA and Vancouver have had better form than us recently. LA has 14 points in their last 7 MLS matches and now trail RSL by just 3 points.
Last year RSL struggled down the stretch with just 1 win in our last 7 matches, we saw mental and physical breakdowns from our players and unfortunately it looked a lot like the last couple of months. Now last year we blamed it on our short off season and the extra matches of Champions League at the start of the year, but this year there simply are no excuses. We made some big changes in the off season, losing 9 players from last year's team and bringing in some new talent, early in the season those changes looked really good but over the last couple months we have seen very little of the those guys who helped us out a lot early in the year as we have moved to playing the same guys match in and match out, with little to show for it.
I love our team but clearly something has happened and we simply have looked very flat for the last two months, was it a case of guys knowing it was a long summer and resting up a bit for Champions League? Was it a case of the oldest team in MLS struggling to keep up with younger and hungrier teams? I am not sure, when I talk to our guys I know they are still hungry, they are still passionate, they want to win. So can they turn it around? I simply don't know. In 2011 we had 13 players score goals for RSL, so far this year we have had 10, this year just 7 guys have multiple goals and last year that number was 11.
On Friday night in front of our first national TV audience of the year, I found myself being thankful that we weren't on more because what we showed in that match simply isn't the RSL that we find ourselves often bragging on and wondering why ESPN and NBC Sports don't jump on the bandwagon. Well if we don't show better than that or show better when facing the top teams (San Jose, Sporting KC) or in big matches not only won't we find ourselves on national TV more, we might not find ourselves on it when the playoffs roll around.
Now that all that negative is out of the way, there are a couple of positives for me. First, Chris Schuler made his first 18 man roster in some time and is nearly match fit. Second, with World Cup qualifying about to kick off again, we have two matches in the next 10 days against tough Eastern Conference opponents who are fighting for their own playoff lives ( Sept, 1st - DC United, Sept, 6th at Houston), I have to hope that we might finally be forced to give some fresh legs a chance to play a bit. Finally, the importance of hitting form the right time of year is something this team knows and with this perhaps being the last run for some guys at trophies (MLS and CCL) I expect that it is time to dig deep.
OFF MY SOAPBOX