How RSL managed to not only win, but to control in 1-0 win over Portland

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

For roughly 60 minutes, Real Salt Lake was not just the better side when you looked at the scoreline, but it was the better side on the pitch.

At one point in the second half -- and it wasn't an isolated point, but one worth calling out -- Chris Schuler was well within the opposition half, and Nat Borchers was stacked behind him. This was when RSL was in possession -- not on a corner, not on a set piece, but mid-match against a strong attacking team.

It's not really a point that you can derive a lot of tactical value from on its own, but taken as part of the larger whole, it's an illustrative moment. Real Salt Lake was eminently confident in their ability to both retain possession for swathes of the match and to recover when losing it.

But it's not as if RSL completed a high degree of passes. In fact, since 2012, that was the third lowest number of accurate passes from RSL (in MLS) -- 225. But despite that, there was never a sense that RSL was looking to sit back and simply absorb anything. The line of confrontation was drawn high up the pitch, and even out of possession, RSL was unwilling to sit back.

That approach defines Jason Kreis's tactical approach when it is most successful. This has never been a side that's particularly good at surrendering the ball and opting for a hoof-and-hope stance. Instead, Real Salt Lake set the pace, the style, and the tone for the match, and it worked wonders.

Another defining feature, though, and one that defines the team equally as well: Every player on this side will defend when needed. Javier Morales was often back in defensive positions, and that's not exactly an unusual thing for this side. Devon Sandoval was deep within our half when we were pegged back, and several times, he was given an opportunity to pick the ball up and steam forward with it.

It wasn't exactly control in the sense of having more possession, but through the second half, Real Salt Lake never looked like losing — or, indeed, conceding a solitary goal. Nick Rimando made two saves, one catch, and one punch. His minimal involvement is as great an indicator as you need.

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