Despite falling victim to a chippy first half, the Claret-and-Cobalt excelled in the new 4-3-3 formation. The new formation proved to be just as versatile as the 4-4-2 diamond that Real Salt Lake has used in the past. Throughout both halves we saw RSL execute a game plan which both played into the strengths of the team while also alleviating any outright weaknesses. Three things stuck out during the first competitive preseason match, and they all pertained to the new formation.
Seamless midfield interplay
Ok, so we witnessed a first half in which RSL struggled to maintain possession, but we saw some amazing off the ball plays. Most notably we saw the Claret-and-Cobalt's dominate midfield contribute time and time again. The midfield stayed to their zones and seldom found themselves chasing the ball or leaving holes on the pitch. Like the diamond before, player movement in the midfield was remained seamless.
After what seemed like only a short preseason, the three players in the midfield knew their duties and preformed them well. With the attacking midfield having freedom to roam, the defensive midfield held the fort as the box-to-box midfielder contributed on both sides of the pitch. For example, John Stertzer filled the number eight role well. His composure on and off the ball oiled the engine of the team leading to precise team movements. The new 4-3-3 formation also allowed from familiar exploits of other midfielders such as Kyle Beckerman's cutting passes and Javier Morales intricate passing play.
The midfield of RSL has been arguably the strongest in the league for the last half-decade, a tradition that appears to be continuing. Whether RSL fields a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 formation, the midfield finds ways to produce in the heat of a match. With the MLS regular season a few weeks away, RSL fans should take pride in knowing that the club's midfield will remain one of the best in the league.
Improved RSL defense
After the debacle of last year's MLS Cup semifinal exit to the LA Galaxy and losing a veteran defender in Nat Borchers, many questioned how the Claret-and-Cobalt's defense would measure up. Mid-way through the preseason, we are happy to report that the RSL defense looks as strong as ever.
At center back, new acquisition Elias Vasquez showed very well. He was good at defending in 1v1 situations and his verbal communication kept the backline organized. He continuously closed down empty space and moved in sync with the rest of the defense. Even called into the sweeper role on occasion, Vasquez cleaned up several important plays.
The outside backs for RSL played well, especially Demar Philips. The agile nature of Philips made him a perfect match for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Also having good ball handing skills, he was continuously seen getting into dangerous positions in the attack and even nearly scoring from outside the 18-yard box after he won a fifty-fifty challenge. After overlapping runs on more than one occasion, Philips would then track back to defend after possession changed feet. Philips looks to be a vital member of the supporting cast on both ends of the pitch in 2015.
Let's not forget the presence of "the Verb," Jamison Olave, who used his veteran instincts to prevent what would otherwise be dangerous New England offenses.
On the whole, RSL found itself in a great defensive position to start the 2015 campaign. With chemistry building on and off the pitch, RSL could possibly relive the days of the defensive fortress that was the Borchers-Olave partnership.
RSL's young attacking threats
The attacking trio is very important for the 4-3-3 soccer formation to win matches. In this match the youth talent of Real Salt Lake showed the coaches and the fans alike that they are more than capable being attacking threats on the pitch for the club.
While Devon Sandoval looked great in the center forward role holding up the play and scoring the penalty that ultimately won the match, it was the wide players that stole the spotlight in this match. No matter which player was employed in the wide position, the wingers wreaked havoc on the New England defense.
Jordan Allen was particularly lethal with his one-on-one play in the first half. Darting up the sidelines, Allen flaunted his attacking abilities before his replace Sebastian Jaime did much of the same.
The Claret-and-Cobalt's wingers opened up space on countless occasions allowing the midfielders to preform cutting runs into the Rev's defense. The wingers also showed chemistry with the outside backs creating spaces for them to maneuver down the sides of the pitch.
If the youth and veteran attacking prowess in this match represent a prelude to the 2015 regular season, RSL finds itself in a great position. With a little more sharpness and clinical nature that will come with time, expect the Claret-and-Cobalt's attacking corps to put up numbers to keep RSL at the top of an ever more competitive Western Conference.
Bonus: Goalkeeping situation
After having a breakout season with RSL last year, Jeff Attinella looks set to have yet another standout year with the Claret-and-Cobalt. During the New England match, Attinella demonstrated his amazing talent between the posts coming up with several crucial saves. His distribution also remained first-class and he set up some great offensive plays after quick restarts.
With Nick Rimando taking up a larger role with the U.S. Men's National Team, how do you think Attinella will fare? Will we see him surpass last year's stats or has he reached his peak? Will Attinella continue to push Rimando? How do you see RSL's goalkeeping situation unfolding in 2015?
At RSL Soapbox we care about our fans and would like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there other take aways from this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match foretells about the future of Real Salt Lake? Are preseason matches a good evaluation point for the MLS regular season? Share your opinions in the comments section below.