Yes those are all questions and comments heard via social media and other rumblings and mumblings over the last few weeks as Real Salt Lake has come un-hinged on the pitch and the results have simply been unacceptable for many fans, just as I am sure many players and staff members find the recent results them.
Now I find myself stuck in the middle, I see RSL able to manhandle Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers, but getting manhandled by San Jose and the LA Galaxy, and I am left to wonder what in the world is going on. A couple of things just up to grab my attention when I think about this, so let's take a look at them.
First, lack of consistency, something that has plagued not only RSL this year but if we look at the last 5 results of all the teams in the league, only one has put together a 3 match winning streak. Do you know who it is? The Philadelphia Union, yeah them. The only other thing close to consistency is the 3 match losing streak that the Colorado Rapids are on, in fact only 5 teams have two match streaks going right now, Toronto FC and LA Galaxy have two match win steaks going, and Portland, Vancouver, and Columbus all have two match losing streaks. There simply is no consistency anywhere in Major League Soccer right now, and there are a number of reasons for that; small rosters, low salary cap, injury issues, questionable officiating, and I am sure each of you probably has a few more ideas as well. I would say that the major cause of this level of inconsistency is my second area of concern.
more after the jump:
Second, all things parity, if you haven't read Long-Range Goals: the Success Story of Major League Soccer by Beau Dure (@duresport on twitter), you should. He makes a great quote early in the book as he discusses the formation of the league "The centralized structure would contain costs - at a cost. Parity also means it's tough to build strong teams that build fan loyalty - or compete in soccer's international competitions".
The players union challenged the very nature of the league's structure in 2002 (and lost) the court decision by an appellate court that said "MLS has, to say the least, a unique structure, even for a sports league. MLS retains significant centralized control over both league and individual team operations. MLS owns all of the teams that play in the league... as well as all intellectual property rights, tickets, supplied equipment, and broadcast rights. MLS sets the teams' schedules, negotiates all stadium leases and assumes all related liabilities; pays the salaries of referees and other league personnel: and supplies certain equipment" Fraser V. Major League Soccer, LLC.
Those are both league issues that impact every team, but there are some specific issues that I think impact RSL so let's take a look at those issues:
First, injuries and lineup changes. It is something that every team has to deal with, but for RSL the reality is that their first choice lineup have had very few minutes on the pitch together this year. That however isn't the problem, I believe that the issue over the last 6 matches is the fact of the each these matches has featured a different lineup. In fact only two players have started each of these matches, Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio, some have missed due to injuries, others dealing with suspensions, and some simply others have been tactical choices. When you add in the fact that two recent signings have been pushed into action more quickly than would normally be the case with RSL, I think both Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Kenny Mansally have exceeded expectations of players still adjusting to their new teams. Still we know that all these changes have an impact on how the team works together, and for RSL I think a big part is the fact that we brought in 8 new players in the off season, and 3 more already this year. For a team used to just a few small moves that fact that there has been that much turnover has clearly played a role.
Second, team defense hasn't been up to par. Now while we know that RSL is tied for the league lead in shutouts with 8, we have also given up multiple goals in 8 matches already this year so as good as our defense can be we have seen them also exposed. More worrying for me is the fact that when you add in the 4 goals scored after the 60th minute on Saturday, RSL has now given up 16 goals in the last 30 minutes of matches. Counter that with San Jose who have given up just 6, and you can see the difference in the standings. I know the injuries have really hit our defense hard this year, Nat Borchers missed matches at the start of the season and again recently, Jamison Olave has dealt with some recent injury issues as is Tony Beltran, in fact only Chris Wingert has really stayed healthy for most of the season on defense.
Some of our defense woes have come from the midfield as well, new players, different responsibilities, injuries have hit the midfield as well. We have missed Will Johnson with injuries and national team call ups, Ned Grabavoy has battled a number of injuries, as has Javier Morales and Luis Gil. Kyle Beckerman has had to deal with national team call ups and suspensions, and that has forced guys to play different positions, and for newcomers like Jonny Steele and Sebastian Velasquez to be tossed into the lineup.
Overall 22 RSL players have already logged over 100 minutes of MLS action this year, that is equal to the number from all of last year. When you look at guys new to RSL this year, we already see that Emiliano Bonfigli, Kenny Mansally, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Terakasu Tanaka, Sebastian Velasquez and Jonny Steel all are included in players with over 100 minutes this year. Last year new guys got very few minutes, Artur Aghasyan got 98 minutes, Cody Arnoux got 69, Blake Wagner got 63 and Chris Agorsor got 10, a total of 2 starts went to those players. This year our new players already have 19 total starts and we are just 21 matches into the season.
So what does it all mean? Easy, there is no need to panic, the league is built around parity and with low salary caps and limited rosters when teams are suffering from injuries it will have a huge impact, plus parity leads to almost every team having rough patches for various reasons. That also leads to a high level of inconsistency and I think that RSL has suffered from both of those in this recent streak of less than thrilling results.
The number of new players indicates that RSL actually has been changing all season and continue to, all three players brought in over the last couple months have more experience than the younger, developing players that RSL has let go. That doesn't indicate chaos but it does show that while many people may not be seeing it, things are changing within the team and while the jury is clearly out on the most recent batch of changes.
I believe that the form in the next 6 matches will be more important than the form in the last 6, that will include both MLS matches and the start of Champions League, but should RSL repeat their 1-4-1 form over the next 6 matches, while you can be sure that I will have a lot more to say about things.
How about you? What are your thoughts? Are you panicking? Or just waiting for things to settle down a bit?
OFF MY SOAPBOX