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Breaking down the breakdown: New England's second goal emphasizes RSL's transition breakdown

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake struggled in some significant ways against New England Revolution on Saturday, and despite a return to the vaunted diamond of old, they were plagued by some tactical missteps that had big consequences.

As we look at the second goal, we see a problem in the defending of the Revolution's build-up play.

rsl-ne 01

RSL's defending was skewed unnecessarily.

The biggest problem we immediately see is that Luke Mulholland, Kyle Beckerman, and Demar Phillips are all wide left. John Stertzer is coming back well enough, and Tony Beltran is man-marking Juan Agudelo.

The replay isn't clear where New England Revolution got the ball, so we have to go to the chalkboards to really get a sense of it. At 41:58, there was apparently a clearance by Elias Vasquez (the TV broadcast was busy showing a replay of the first goal at that point), but it's not totally clear what state the game was in before that.

So let's get a quick timeframe, keeping in mind that we're relying on Opta. Their stats and data-keeping is very good, but we can't really do an eye check on this one — and when the broadcast doesn't show something, Opta doesn't tend to be able to track a statistic. (New England events in italics)

  1. 41:45 Gil pass backward to Phillips
  2. 41:47 Phillips pass into final third, from midfield line cut out
  3. 41:49 Jones interception
  4. 41:51 Recovery from Caldwell
  5. 41:53 Nguyen successful pass
  6. 41:55 Misplaced pass from Jones
  7. 41:58 Vasquez clearance
  8. 42:12 Nguyen has ball, pass to Bunbury (on broadcast)
  9. 42:17-42:19 Bunbury has ball (on broadcast)
  10. 42:21 Bunbury key pass
  11. 42:22 Charlie Davies shot
  12. 42:22 Attinella save
  13. 42:26 Agudelo goal

And that's where we start to get at what's distressing about the above image. Real Salt Lake is not set up for defending in the transition, and although we don't have the 14 seconds between the Vasquez clearance and Lee Nguyen having the ball, it's a safe assumption that the ball was in New England's possession.

What goes wrong? Well, let's break that down, too.

  • Luke Mulholland is wide left, and when the play starts visibly at 42:12, he's not defending anybody in particular. Maybe he was trying to get involved as an attacking option or trying to press against the Revs' defense, but it looks more like he's very out of position.
  • Kyle Beckerman tries to defend against the Nguyen pass, but some simple movement from Teal Bunbury inside gives Nguyen an open passing option. Demar Phillips is pressed up against Bunbury, but when he cuts inside, he's retreated to follow an option on the flank.
  • Aaron Maund and Tony Beltran are both marking the same player (more or less), with Beltran further out wide and more directly pressed against Juan Agudelo. Elias Vasquez is up against Charlie Davies, but he instructs Maund to step to Davies so that he can approach the unmarked Bunbury and cut out a pass. Maund is too slow to react, so he's not close enough to prevent a clever run from Davies.

There was more, too — but piling on doesn't feel productive. Maybe Luis Gil should have been in a better defensive position than being around the midfield line, but that's splitting hairs.

Regardless, it took only 15 to 20 seconds for Real Salt Lake to be caught in an awful transition moment. It's one of several things they have to improve if they want to do better this year.