Real Salt Lake faces San Jose Earthquakes tomorrow, a side that has often proved difficult to play against, and at times, been a real thorn in our side.
But now we face them when they've been in particularly bad form, and that's a little terrifying. Their last four matches have included two losses, and they conceded 10 goals across those four. They've looked miserable at times. But at other times, still also recently, they've actually looked good — like in that 5-1 win over Chicago Fire a month ago.
It obviously won't be so easy as just maintaining a positive approach, really. San Jose have shown us time and time again that they're a team that can beat anybody — even when they're doing poorly, we've managed to screw it up. Which isn't really to blame us for that, because everyone's done that against San Jose once or twice. It's just been part of MLS.
But now San Jose is looking to change their approach and style — I mean, they traded away Alan Gordon, who was a hallmark of their "Bash Bros." playing style. (Disappointed? Probably not.) They even signed an Argentine playmaker, Matias Perez Garcia, as they played catchup with the rest of MLS, but he was unfortunately injured early on. (We can sympathize with this plight, though his is unexpected meniscus damage.)
So as we look to this match, we might be wondering what to expect. I think the real answer is that we don't really have anything to expect at this point from San Jose — only things to expect from ourselves. Which is well enough, really, because the whole message from Jeff Casar after our loss to FC Dallas was about being proactive, being the side that defined the play.
I don't think anybody has a problem with that thought. But how do we accomplish it? A couple thoughts follow.
Continue with smart midfield movement, even if the opposing defenders are static or compact
We struggle against teams that play stricter defensive marking systems, and there shouldn't be anything particularly surprising there. By staying compact, FC Dallas was able to keep their defenders in tight positions without too much movement, and that meant we increasingly dropped deeper in possession until we were simply not threatening routinely. We had little choice but to pass it around the box with that approach.
Important, then, is to just get in there and move around. It sounds routine or simplistic, but maintaining our approach even when the opposition is dedicated to not allowing us opportunities to do that is important. We can't create passing lanes if we don't open the space for them in the first place, and last Saturday saw us largely abandon that approach.
It's not easy, of course, and passes will go astray with greater frequency. That's where patience kicks in.
Continue to score early
It's something we've actually been doing well at this season — before last week's set of matches, we led the league in goals scored in the first 15 minutes. It's part of what's defined Jeff Cassar's approach to the game, and it's actually the best way to break down resolute teams early. Catch them when they're not ready, when they're sussing out the game, and we are given opportunities to hold a lead rather than chase one.