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What we learned from Real Salt Lake's 0-0 draw at Sporting Park

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake remained unbeaten this season after settling for a draw at Sporting Park.  With the defense holding firm, RSL managed to edge out the dominant home side to settle for a single point.

Historically the matches between these two sides have been tight and last night's match was no exception.  The Claret-and-Cobalt have never managed to win at Sporting Park and their last victory in Kansas came over five years ago.  With that in mind this match lived up to many expectations for both sides.  Still, there is a lot to take from this first of  three regular season matches between these growing rivals.

Aerial battles prove once again to be RSL's Achilles Heel.

After a decent match in the air against the San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake's inability to win balls in the air reared its ugly head once again.  Throughout the match, Sporting Kansas City would play long over-head balls to their attacking trio.  Time and time again, the balls would find themselves in SKC's possession.

Whether it was anxiety or just the wrong boots, it seemed that Real Salt Lake players hardly left the ground - for the entire 90 minutes it appeared as if RSL have had weights tied around their ankles.  On the night, RSL won a season low of only 38 percent of aerial duels.  This is a concerning little factoid since the Claret-and-Cobalt (re)acquired the two year reigning champion of aerial duels, Jamison Olave.

Take a look:

Aerial Duels

Green heads are successful and red heads are failed aerial battles. Courtesy of Squawka.

As opposed to the Toronto match, neither the defense nor the midfield could win an aerial duel.  The match looked more like a pin-ball game than a soccer match with the ball bouncing around the pitch.  Albeit Schuler was not on the field to pump up RSL's numbers in the air - which he most certainly would do.  As we discussed in the Toronto article, RSL will have to be better in the air going forward with this new formation.

A more immediate treat will be presented next weekend with the counter-attacking team the Vancouver Whitecaps who also struggled in the air against their latest opponents, the San Jose Earthquakes.  This means that that match has the potential to have many aerial duels.  The Claret-and-Cobalt will have to take better care playing the ball and keeping possession.

If RSL can manage to improve their aerial duels, the club can achieve more than a single point against conference rivals.

Like a rock . . .

For RSL being on the back foot for most of the match, the defensive organization of the Claret-and-Cobalt held firm.  Sporting came out of the gate pressing hard and preventing any RSL movement across the midfield line.  Winning 57 percent of all duels and owning 54 percent of possession, Sporting was unable to turn their 12-4 edge in shots into a tally on the score sheet.  Even so, of their 12 shots, only a single shot by Ike Opara.

RSL's performance therefore must been given credit.  For the 90 onslaught that they endured, the defensive dam held firm - whether it be through veteran organization or sheer luck.  Either case, Jeff Cassar was impressed with the defensive performance and said this after the match: ". . . We weathered the storm and I thought the effort from the guys tonight was fantastic."

Without doubt the defensive performance against Sporting KC deserves note.  Second only to the defensive showing in Portland to start the season, RSL but up record number in defensive terms.  Recording 83 CBIs (Clearances, Blocks, and Interceptions), RSL showed that they have a champion spirit.

Here is a look at the defensive moves that RSL made throughout the match:

Kansas City - Defensive Moves

Tackles - Green, Blocks - Yellow, Interceptions - Blue, Clearances - Purple, Recoveries - Orange. Courtesy of OPTA at MLS Match Center.

How does the old saying go?  It is not offense that wins championships, but defense - or something to that ring.

If RSL can keep up the impeccable defensive showing that they had against Kansas, the club could easily lead the league in the best defensive club category.

Filling the right wing

A pile of articles have been written on RSL's 4-3-3 formation, so we will not rehash that.  Instead, let's look solely at the performance of the right wingers.  Using data from both the San Jose Match and the Kansas City match, let's evaluate what Luis Gil and Jordan Allen bring to that position - to give a more accurate sample size.

First, chance creation is something that is vital in a soccer match and something that RSL has struggled to do in this new formation.  Though 101 minutes that Jordan Allen has played on the right wing, six shots were created.  With Luis Gil occupying the right wing for 79 minutes, on the other hand, the Claret-and-Cobalt created seven shots.  Or in other words, when Allen is on the wing RSL creates five chances per 90 minutes, while with Gil they create eight chances per 90 minutes.

Second, just as important has creating scoring opportunities is preventing opponents from doing so.  During the 101 minutes that Allen was on the pitch, the Claret-and-Cobalt conceded ten shots.  When Gil was on the pitch, the number of shots conceded rose to 12 despite playing 22 less minutes.  Therefore, the stats tell us that when Allen is on the pitch RSL concede nine shots per 90 minutes to 14 when Gil is on the pitch.

While there are other factors that influence these statistics, these numbers show that each play brings something distinctive to their role as a right winger.  When Gil is on the pitch it is safe to assume that RSL is more attack minded - attempting to create a few more chances and control the match through simple possession.  With Allen on the pitch, RSL play a bit more counter-attacking - pressuring their opponents into cheaply giving away the ball and moving it quickly up the pitch.

As it stands, if RSL can utilize each of these pieces - altering their style of play - to fit the player's own personal strengths, then RSL could become an offensive threat in more ways than one.

A few more things to consider . . .

3.  Something that was made almost entirely clear is that Dom Dwyer has a propensity to use his hands/arms on balls.  Something like a total of five handballs were called on the Sporting Kansas City forward.  At least this time the referees got it right despite several other occasions that could have also been called.

With RSL playing SKC a couple more times this year it will be interesting to see how handballs are dealt with in the other matches.

2.  Both SKC and RSL have struggled finding goals from open play early this season and in Saturday's match it showed.  With only one combined shot on goal, the forwards on either side will have to be sharper if they hope to find midseason form.

1.  It is not time to panic!  With this perfectly admirable draw, RSL remains one of the two unbeaten sides in the league - the other are the New York Red Bulls who also drew their opponent this last weekend.

With all the change that happened over the offseason for RSL, it is perfectly acceptable to undergo growing pains.  Hell, change is hard.

We all know the story of the Chicago Fire last year who were notorious for drawing games.  They set a league high drawing 18 matches which ultimately lead to their elimination for the playoffs.  So while it is true that leaving two points on the table can be deadly to post-season hopes, let's remember that the Los Angeles Galaxy started off with a rough time in 2014 but ultimately became champions.

So take heart in knowing that RSL got a point in Kansas City.

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 against SKC?  Share your opinions in the comments section below.