Breaking down the absence of goalscoring threats: Defense, midfield, attack, or all three?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If there's one thing we've lacked at Real Salt Lake this season, it's been consistent goalscoring threats.

With the absence of Alvaro Saborio still looming large, the heat on each other forward is amplified — maybe to an unrealistic extent. But it's not totally dissimilar to the struggles we faced last season with Saborio out for large swathes, which perhaps lends an interesting look to proceedings.

Positively, Joao Plata has started scoring at a more consistent clip. Another goal and he'll have doubled last season's goal contribution (he's trailing in assists, but more on that soon) — that's a good measure, and maybe he can become that consistent goalscorer we need.

Our midfield has chipped in well with goals, with Javier Morales at the top of the pack with five goals and five assists. Luke Mulholland sits slightly behind with four goals, Kyle Beckerman and Luis Gil both have two goals, and Ned Grabavoy has one.

But this is where the magnification gets intense: We have no defenders with a goal. Chris Wingert and Abdoulie Mansally both have an assist, which is the most any defender at RSL can say. But if we look back to last year, when we had fewer struggles scoring generally, we had only one defender score through the regular season — Nat Borchers. Between all of our defenders, we've had only five shots on goal across 18 games.

It's hard to argue that's good enough, but it's woefully consistent with our post-Jamison Olave defender-goal rate. In 2011, our last season with Olave out there, we had seven goals from central defenders — two from Olave himself, three from Borchers, and two from a young, raw Chris Schuler.

There are some clear tactical reasons why that could be the case. Olave was a strong attacking force in those moments, and that forced the opposition to alter their marking on set pieces — he was an excellent player in that regard, for all the problems he may have had.

It's not like that gives us an easy solution, though. It's not just "trade a defender" — the ones we have do have some goalscoring history behind them. Borchers has been great in those moments before, and Schuler showed during last season's playoffs what he can bring there.

This is as tough a nut to crack as any. If we had a consistent attacking threat, we might be in a stronger position. But we had that in Alvaro Saborio, and his absence has hurt us a great deal. It's difficult, too, because he has multiple aspects to his play that make him difficult to replace — his goalscoring is one, but his hold-up play is another.

We need something, but it's hard to really say what's realistic without really big changes to our squad makeup. Blowing up the squad for one piece seems a non-starter, because we really do have a great group. We have veterans, we have youngsters, and we have some very promising players who are really coming into their own.

If the answer is patience, it might be too difficult for some. Olmes Garcia has cut a frustrated figure, Devon Sandoval just hasn't provided a threat in front of goal with only three shots on target, and Robbie Findley hasn't been able to secure consistent minutes with injuries taking hold of his time.

But maybe patience is exactly what's needed. It won't breed results in the short-term — though they're certainly out there for the taking — but it could lead to greater long-term gains.

The only problem? It's a substantial one — we'll have to wait and see. And not just we, the fans — everyone, from Jeff Cassar, Garth Lagerwey and Dell Loy Hansen on down might have to play the odds a bit and hope that Garcia and Sandoval come good, or that an immense option for a cut rate becomes available.

Until then, it'll be a fun few weeks. Let's be glad we have some home matches ahead of us.

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