After a solid preseason, Real Salt Lake begun their 2015 in arguably the most hostile environment in Major League Soccer. RSL and the Portland Timbers sparred for the first time in 2015 but neither was able to draw first blood. Changes in formation and personnel for both sides lead to new challenges and attempted to improve on past results.
The Claret-and-Cobalt now hold an 8-2-5 record against the Timbers across all competitions.
With a point in hand, we will look at three noteworthy topics that dominated the discussion about this match.
Defense rules the day
To start off, Nick Rimando has been given the name Wall of the Wasatch, but let's not forget the men in front of him. The RSL defense was the difference between the draw and the loss that RSL would have suffered if it was not for the defense.
Like the last time these two teams met, neither of them could find the back of the net - but it was not from a lack of trying. Portland was especially prone to pulling the trigger, registering twice the amount of shots (18) as the Claret-and-Cobalt (9). Ironically, the number of blocked shots by RSL was the same as their attempts on their opponents' goal.
The RSL defense remained solid throughout the match. The men along the back line remained organized and stayed on the same page for most of the match - with the few exceptions of miscues from Abdoulie Mansally.
Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, and Tony Beltran all recorded several CBIs each. This was huge for the Claret-and-Cobalt in their new formation which is more attack-minded in nature. We saw how quick counter-attacks could lead to silly concessions in the 4-3-3 during the Desert Diamond Final against the Colorado Rapids, so being able to notch the first shutout of the season is a good foundation to build upon.
Referees influence the rhythm of the match
Referees always seem to suffer insult from fans, but sometimes it is easy to see why. This match was a perfect example of how the referees can control the match so tightly that neither team is able to get into a rhythm.
The match was a foul-laden affair with Referee Ismail Elfath blowing for 41 fouls on the night. As a result, as an already chippy match, neither side was able to find any sort of rhythm on the ball. When a few passes were strung together, Elfath would blow his whistle against any sort of physical play.
So instead of getting a tactical chess-match, like we expect from these two sides, fans were subjected to an ugly stoppage-ridden match that led to few creative chances that the beautiful game is known for. RSL will have to be wary of referees in the future, learning just what they can do and when they can do it without getting called for the foul.
The tactical Y
After eight years of playing a diamond midfield 4-4-2, the Claret-and-Cobalt adjusted well to the new attacking 4-3-3 that we expected. In this new formation RSL held true to their possession oriented style while also embracing some new tactics that their formation allows for. Chief among which is what we will refer to as the Y attacking tactic.
Ok, so we all know that Kyle Beckerman is skilled with the accurate long-ball, but the skipper also can perform some pin-point short passes - which is essential when playing in RSL's new formation. Using the Y attacking tactic, a midfield partnership is formed by two players that stack vertically on each other enabling build-up play through the middle of the pitch instead of along the flacks.
We saw, on multiple occasions, Beckerman pick up the ball deep in the midfield only to pass it to Javier Morales who played the more advance midfield role. Morales would then have a choice in offensive outlets as he could play it to either wing, thus resembling a Y. This formation, therefore, allows the number 10 more attacking options and an increased ability to retain possession.
One of the best examples of this play in this match did not involve Beckerman however. In the 81st minute, Portland took a corner kick to only have it fall to Luis Gil who dropped back to play a deeper role in the RSL midfield. Gil, after preforming a neat dribble, checks into space taking Portland midfielder George Fochive out of position and opening a passing lane to Morales in the advanced midfield role - stacking the midfield vertically. When Morales advances into a central position for an easy passing outlet for Gil, the play opens up with the wingers getting a chance to bust forward on either side of the pitch.
By this point, the wingers, Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Jamie, are already sprinting into the attacking third on either side of the maestro. The young, speedy Garcia took his chance especially well, beating Portland's Darlington Nagbe on a recovery run and getting shot from within the 18 yard box.
At his young age, Garcia exploited the Y tactic brilliantly knowing exactly when and where to make the run in order for Morales to find him. By the time the defense realizes the Garcia has the ball at his feet, there is nothing but green acres ahead of him - exactly the place we should find a winger in a 4-3-3.
Understanding how to use the Y tactic will be vital in RSL's extended use of the 4-3-3. The formation may be different, but with continued practice, the Claret-and-Cobalt will remain exactly what the MLS has come to expect from the club in Salt Lake.
Is there anything we missed? Are there other take aways from this preseason that we overlooked? What do you think this preseason foretells about the future of Real Salt Lake? How do you think RSL did in their first match of the 2015 season?