Real Salt Lake opened Rio Tinto's doors for the first time in 2015 playing host to a hungry Philadelphia Union. These two teams met for the first and only time in the regular season and managed to find the back of the net for a combined total of six times.
The Claret-and-Cobalt now hold a 2-0-6 unbeaten record against the Union across all competitions, and the latest match was just another sparring match between the two clubs.
The fluidity of Major League Soccer
As the most competitive league in the world, it goes without saying that Major League Soccer can change in the blink of an eye. From last week's solid defensive clean sheet at Providence Park to conceding three goals at Rio Tinto, RSL went from the league's standard to leaving much to be desired.
In Portland, the Claret-and-Cobalt's attacking corps struggled to find their feet creating only two shots on target. At Rio Tinto, by contrast, RSL struggled defensively. RSL managed to only block 30 percent of their opponents shots against Philadelphia Union, as opposed to nearly half (44.4 percent) in Portland. Similarly, the RSL back line cleared less than half amount of balls in or near the 18-yard box against Philadelphia (30) as it did in Portland (62). RSL also conceded the second own goal this season, something that is rare for a team with the quality that the Claret-and-Cobalt possess.
Chalk it up to nerves or adjusting to a new formation after seven seasons of sticking with their signature diamond 4-3-3, RSL learned the hard way that things change fast in this league. Going from first to worst in a given aspect of a match is a slippery slope, so RSL will have to adjust quickly if they hope to clinch a playoff spot in an increasingly difficult Western Conference.
Defensive lapses continue to haunt RSL
In 2013 it was set pieces, in 2014 it was conceding late, and in Saturday's match against the Philadelphia Union it seemed to be all the little things. The Claret-and-Cobalt struggled defensively in other words.
The club's defensive struggles were strange to see since RSL brought in (or reacquired, depending on how you look at it) one of the best defenders in the league in Jamison Olave. Last year alone Olave was in the top five best defenders for CBIs (clearances, blocks, and interceptions), set piece defense, and tactical fouls preventing clear scoring chances. Fans witnessed this Olave in Portland but he seemed to have an off-night on his return to Rio Tinto for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Against the Union, the RSL defense looked like a back line pieced together only days before. Exemplifying this, the Claret-and-Cobalt's defense lost possession of the ball more times than either the midfield or forwards - two of these defensive miscues were similar to assists that allowed Fernando Aristeguieta to score twice. Giving away possession in the defensive third is a trait that is rarely associated with winning clubs, especially a Utah side that is hoping to replicate their historical success.
The attacking corps of RSL continue their struggles during the run of play
Yes, RSL scored three goals, but none were from open play. On the season, RSL has only managed to score from set piece plays - two goals from free kicks and one penalty. This record is eerily similar to the RSL team last year that had the second most goals on set pieces and struggled to find the back of the net during the run of play.
Keeping the same core players has been a recipe for success for RSL in the past, but this year it creates a whole new set of challenges. Traditionally, RSL has used their steady, consistent core to permeate the identity of the Salt Lake system, replacing players only when necessary or in case of inevitable losses.
In 2015, however, many of these core players are being repurposed to fit a new formation. This means that not only are players having to learn to make new movements but they are also learning new roles.
Many hoped that by putting three forwards on the field that more goals would be scored but it has yet to come to fruition for the Claret-and-Cobalt. In order to excellence in this new formation, RSL will have to learn how to exploit their opponents' back line while still playing beautiful soccer.
Possession is a big part of Real Salt Lake, but more chances will have to be created if RSL hopes to start scoring from the run of play instead of relying on the foot of Javier Morales — who, by the way, is not getting any younger.
We'd like to know what you think. Is there anything we missed? Are there other aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think that this match foretells about the future of Real Salt Lake? How do you think RSL did in their first match of the 2015 Season?