Real Salt Lake lost 2-1 to FC Dallas last Friday, but the magnitude of the defeat seemed a bit stronger, with Dallas drawing even on points (and ahead on wins), and Seattle Sounders pulling away from the pack again yesterday in the Supporters' Shield race.
We can learn a lot from that game, but here are three things we can all notice.
It's not always easy to play a man up
There was a lot of talk around the match that Real Salt Lake dropped the metaphorical ball (and maybe the literal one) in Friday's loss after Blas Perez was sent off. Playing up a man seems like the clearest of advantages, and it would naturally seem like RSL should have been able to capitalize on that.
But what seems easy is so often not the case. Perez's sending off forced FC Dallas further into their defensive shell, and they were very committed to maintaining that. It read a little bit like, well, RSL's win over Colorado Rapids just a few weeks ago, when the eventual victors were a man down.
Playing any side committed to defending with nine men — one or two players were always left out for the counter attack — made the match difficult for us to break into. We had that eventual bicycle kick, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Three at the back doesn't always work
We can argue about the personnel all we want, but in the end, this wasn't one of those instances where going to three defenders paid off. Perhaps because it's worked regularly before, Jeff Cassar thought it would be worth a go, but it tilted the match in Dallas's favor.
We threw caution to the wind early, and that gave Fabian Castillo the opening he needed to score that second — the game-killer — goal. Nat Borchers could maybe have done better defending that one, but he was doing the work of two defenders. Without Chris Wingert at left back to cut in and push Castillo toward the byline early, Borchers was left trying to defend the angle.
In essence, though, this ended up more as two at the back, because Tony Beltran continued pushing into attacking positions. This seemed purposeful and not an accident of Beltran's play.
Young players are often inconsistent
Luis Gil didn't have a completely awful game on Friday, but he looked a shadow of the player he proved to be only a week before. Now, playing at home instead of away does factor in here, but it's also one of those cases where young players are just inconsistent. Experience is the great steadier of form, and it certainly would have been helpful.
There's no sense in blaming Gil for the loss. He wasn't at fault more than any other player. But on another night without Javier Morales, and with an incredibly well-structured defense in front of him, we really could have used a bit more magic. It's something he'll learn, and it's something that always takes time to reach.