On Tuesday Real Salt Lake took on the USL Pro Champions, Sacramento Republic, who in their first year managed to claim silverware. With RSL's reserves taking on Sacramento, this could prove to be a glimpse into the future with the Real Monarchs joining the USL Pro league next year.
The Reserves need to focus on pressuring their opponent.
Just as the first team struggled with in the past, the reserves need to focus on pressuring their opponent. While Real Salt Lake is known for its possession tactics, the system can sometimes lack the high pressure when the opponent has possession; known colloquially around Major League Soccer as Porter Ball - after Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers. This has come back and hurt RSL in the past as late goals have resulted in lessening pressure on their opponents with possession in the final third.
During the first half Sacramento put a great deal of pressure on Real Salt Lake's defenders often stretching the back line, especially the fullbacks. Rich Balchan worked like an engine covering a lot of ground but was tripped up a few times - both literally and figuratively. Similarly, Abdoulie Mansally had some killer instincts in the final third causing chaos but left something to be wanting in defense.
Sacramento's greatest chances came in the first half as the team looked a bit disjointed - possibly due to the uncharacteristic 4-2-3-1 formation that was used. Edging RSL's defense over and over, Sacramento was able to win a string of corners around the 30th minute. In the 34th minute Sacramento earned a corner kick that was drifted into the far end of the box where former Chivas and RSL man Justin Braun nodded toward the center of the box and Sacramento defender Mickey Daly. From the top of the six-yard box, Daly attempted a volley just skimming top of the crossbar.
After these close attempts RSL was finally able to shut down the Sacramento attack, but the first half stands as a future warning for the Real Monarchs of 2015.
Leaving attacking threats like Braun and Daly to occasionally receive the ball in the box can be deadly, despite avoiding this fate during this match. Defenders need to close down these attacking runs and attempts quicker out of the gates. RSL was better able to control the rhythm of play after players stepped up and pressured the opposition. Leaving gaps in the defense and midfield can lead to goals that would otherwise not be conceded - just as the RSL first team of 2013.
With more emphasis on applying pressure to the opposition under the direction of Coach Jeff Cassar, it seems only nature for reserve players to acquire and implement this traits early in matches.
Lack of the killer instinct
On Tuesday, Real Salt Lake fielded a lineup consisting largely of reserves and players looking to gain some extra minutes going into the playoff run. This was evident in the lack of killer instinct during the first half of play.
Although RSL maintained prolonged spells of possession throughout the first half, they were unable to produce. This was not from a lack of trying as Devon Sandoval, Robbie Findley, and Sebastian Jaime created some chaotic sequences in or near the opposing box. Still, try after try came up empty.
A sequence the comes to mind is when, towards the middle of the first half, Sacramento goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek spilled the ball after a reactionary save on a Jaime attempt that fell to Sandoval in the six. As Sandoval looked to put the ball into the open net, Sacramento was able to clear the ball of the line.
A positive that can be taken from these sequences of dry attempts is that RSL did not lose heart. While some strikers might start making bad decisions after a series of failed attempts on goal, RSL's Sandoval, Findley, and Jaime keep pressing for the go-ahead goal.
After half time, however, RSL came out and made smarter decisions going forward. Still they were unable to score until the 59th minute when RSL was awarded a penalty which Findley converted. RSL's attack still came up dry during the run of play until Sebastian Velasquez curled a beautiful shot into the top left corner in the 90th minute.
While defense is vital to any win - something I prize as a defender - it also takes goals to win. Although a 2-0 score line looks to prove that RSL accomplished both during this match, it can be deceiving as RSL could have won by a much larger margin if they were able to produce during chaotic situations they were able to create in their opponent's box.
The Real Monarchs and other MLS reserve teams are going to prove vital in player development.
Since 2013, the MLS - USL Pro partnership has grown to a point where MLS teams are now creating and implementing reserve clubs in the USL Pro league. While it seems like a natural progression through this partnership, it will also prove vital in player development in this country.
In the past reserve teams played other reserve teams. Although this can be a key in any player's development, playing "real" matches with adult professionals trumps the previous.
What the development of reserve teams in the USL Pro is doing is giving developing stars a change to gain minutes in meaningful matches against professionals playing for their livelihood.
Look at Los Dos, the USL Pro reserve team for the LA Galaxy. What LA has been able to do here is give developing stars like Charlie Rugg and Jack McBean meaningful playing experience in a professional environment. No longer are these kids playing reserve games on training fields against other academy products, but playing against real professionals and veterans of soccer in real stadiums with fans cheering them on.
So what does this mean for player development for RSL? As many, if not all, of you know, Real Salt Lake is founding the Real Monarchs to play as a reserve team in 2015 within the USL Pro structure. The purpose of this club will be supplementing the development of academy players and other developing stars in an environment suitable to budding professionalism. No longer will academy products like Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo, and Jordan Allen leave the Casa Grande academy as stars and struggle to find minutes with the first team. Instead, this young talent will be loaned to the USL Pro affiliate as an intermediary between the academy and MLS first-team action.
This match served as a glimpse into the future as the Monarchs will play against teams like Sacramento Republic. As the structure of the MLS - USL Pro partnership suggests, I expect many future stars to first make a name for themselves in USL Pro before blowing the minds of MLS fans. With more matches like this one ahead for Glad, Saucedo, and Allen, I believe that the future is bright for these players and Real Salt Lake alike.
Discussion Topic: Budding Stars
As mentioned in the article Three RSL players we wish we could have seen against Sacramento Republic by Matt Montgomery posted on RSL Soapbox on Wednesday, several players were absent from this match despite having professional contracts with Real Salt Lake.
The article mentions Sebastian Saucedo, Jordan Allen, and John Stertzer as players that could have changed the dynamics of the team and match.
Personally, I think Sebastian Saucedo shows the brightest with his top skills as a number 10 at the Casa Grande academy. His name is even known to the MLS brass with them blushing over his skills and fantasying about what he could do in MLS. This young playmaker seems to hold the world as his oyster.
As such, of the academy players that are currently in Casa Grande - Jose Hernandez, Brooks Lennon, etc. - and those who have went through the system and are currently with the first team - Carlos Salcedo, Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, and Sebastian Saucedo (more or less) - which would you like to see in the ranks of the Real Monarchs next year? And what formation suits the development of these players the best?