Jordan Allen's first start was something we couldn't stop talking about — and quite frankly, we've spent the last week talking almost exclusively about the excitement the youngster has caused.
I think we're justified in that, and we think Allen has given us something to look back at and judge. Not as an adjudication on his role as a player, or his future with the club, but just an assessment of his first match for the club.
The least surprising thing about Allen's first start is that he didn't look nervous or particularly phased by the occasion. He's shown himself to be a level-headed person, and that translated. His play was sane and safe, and perhaps less exhilarating than his last appearance. (That's no surprise — he scored a fantastic goal that day.)
If we take a look at some top-layer statistical work for the game, we can pick out his two chances created as indicative of a creative aspect to his play. Now, if we take a closer look at those chances, the first one is just a good read of the game state followed by a somewhat hasty shot, but the second is actually very good build-up play.
It's difficult to quantify what Allen brought to the game. He didn't seem out of his depth, but it wasn't a full display of his skill set — we didn't really see him dribbling around anybody, we didn't see too much creativity, and we didn't really get a chance to see another goal. Still, there's nothing wrong with any of that.
What comes next is a pretty important question: What is the role of the right-sided player in this formation in attack? With the differences between full backs on either side being not just something we can dig in to find but actually readily apparent, there's always going to be a difference in the shape and approach of the forward on that side. Tony Beltran's play is more conservative by nature and design, while Abdoulie Mansally's is more attacking — and that'll be the case with the backups, too, with Boyd Okwuonu — a defensive player first and foremost — on the right side, and Demar Phillips — a goalscoring, swashbuckling left back — on the left side, it's not something that's likely to change.
So, in effect, Real Salt Lake had two very similar players tactically on that right side, and it made for a reasonably safe match. The midfielders were able to tuck in and cover the channels a bit more, while the wide areas were kept safe from danger.
Additionally, the knock-on effect of having two similar players on the right side was that it was easier to get possession in the attacking half. With two safe (but maybe not quite conservative) players, the passing was reasonable and sane.
While we don't have an answer to that question, it does put us in a good position to understand Allen's play, and maybe to look at Sebastian Jaime and see what he's been bringing to the side, too. Is it tactical, or is it a side-effect of the available personnel?
Whatever the case, we can positively assert that Jordan Allen had a good first start for Real Salt Lake. When he gets his next start is hard to say, with Luis Gil looking a very good attacking player on the left side of the forward line. It could be as soon as next week, but it's something we'll have to wait to find out.