On Sunday, Real Salt Lake secured their second win in as many weeks to move to third place in the Western Conference. A rough and tumble match against the San Jose Earthquakes saw the ball only find the back of the net once.
Historically the matches between these two sides have been tight and last night's match was no exception. The Claret-and-Cobalt now hold a 9-7-7 record over the Quakes across all competitions, and there is a lot to glean from the first of three regular season matches between the two sides.
IT LIVES! . . . The RSL experiment continues.
Back in 2013, Jason Kries began experimenting with the Claret-and-Cobalt. Every so often moving to the attack minded 4-3-3 formation to supplement the diamond 4-4-2, Kries utilized the versatility of RSL. He found that, with the pieces that the club possessed, RSL could continue their identity in new forms.
The experiment continued with now head coach Jeff Cassar almost exclusively using some variation of the 4-3-3. Cassar, like Kries before him, recognizes the potential the squad has. Moving players around instead of relying on the same old thing week in and week out, Cassar has found ways to get the most out of his players in the new formation.
Cassar gave Jordan Allen the nod to start on the right wing at Avaya Stadium. After coming off an emotional week — scoring his first career goal and all — the 19-year-old put in a solid 76 minutes. RSL technical director Craig Waibel has raved about Allen's skill and versatility, and quite frankly, it showed through in this match. Allen, however, did not demonstrate the skills that RSL needs for a creative player on the wing.
In the 77th minute, Luis Gil made his appearance for the Claret-and-Cobalt and changed the outlook of the match. Prior to Gil making his appearance on the field, Allen successfully completed only 66 percent of forward passes and registered no shots. In his fifteen minute cameo, on the other hand, Gil successfully completed 83 percent of forward passes and registered a rocket that barely went over the crossbar. In Allen's defense, however, he was more successful in the RSL half.
While there is not quantifiable data to damn any right wing experimentation at the moment, Gil has stood out (statistically) to be the frontrunner among players that have played there this season - i.e., Sebastian Jamie and Jordan Allen.
Could we see Gil more on the right wing with Luke Mulholland taking up position in the midfield? It is something that could bode well for the RSL stats books.
Luke Mulholland is a beast in the midfield.
Jeff Cassar has said it before and we are just repeating it, Luke Mulholland - in the simplest terms - is a beast!
The English midfielder put in more than his fair share of defensive work on the pitch. Mulholland finished the evening with six interceptions and four clearances. Moreover, he managed nine recoveries against the Quakes. Simply put, Mulholland could not be undone defensively this match.
Mulholland was key in stopping the Quakes' run-of-play through the midfield. Winning three tackles allowed RSL to keep position at pivotal moments in the match. The age old saying in soccer goes, if you can use the ball to kill off matches, then you want have to defend in your own defensive third as much. Mulholland was the key to RSL's success in this aspect of the match allowing RSL to retain a smidgen more position then the opposition in the dying embers of the match.
Mulholland never seemed rushed on the ball and remained one of the calming forces in midfield for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
If RSL is to find success could the answer be as simple as finding room for both Mulholland and Gil on the pitch? If Sunday's match against San Jose is any indication then the answer is yes.
Finding the summer difference makers.
Injuries are notorious for rearing their ugly head in the midseason, then stretching into the postseason - basically becoming a pain in the rear to everyone and everything they come across. If there has been one deflating facet of RSL so far this season it has been injuries.
Since losing Joao Plata on the first day of preseason, injuries have continued to stack up in the ranks of RSL. First choice left-back Demar Phillips has missed three of the four matches this season and Sebastian Jaime is the latest to suffer lost minutes on the pitch.
The depth of RSL has already been tested — something which never gets enough credit for how inventive the squad takes shape — and it has bent but not yet broke. Despite a series of injuries to three (27 percent) of their anticipated starting XI players, RSL has managed to find results, making them one of the last two undefeated clubs in Major League Soccer - the other being the New York Red Bulls. Cassar is going to have to work with his squad and coaching staff to pinpoint players with match changing qualities if he hopes to continue the club's unbeaten streak.
Just like last year, the Claret-and-Cobalt have already shown that they are not to be written off. Having already picked up a couple of surprising results this season, Cassar will be looking to field a final product as soon as the players are fit. In the meantime, RSL will have to continue to improve on the pitch through the work of reserve and second-tier squad members.
The disconnect between players has proven to be nearly fatal on several occasions this year. For the second week in row, however, RSL has proven that they can grind out results missing key members of the squad - relying on veteran presences and youth technique, both.
Cassar and his staff should already applaud the results that the club have managed but will eventually have to improve on this in the coming months.
If RSL is continue to rely on young players to be difference makers, how valuable will Craig Waibel's experience with the Claret-and-Cobalt's youth prove to be? Can RSL find success waving the youth flag?
A few more things to consider . . .
2. Olmes Garcia has shown a ton of initiative this early in the season. He seemed to be popping up all over the pitch against San Jose and his work ethic was incredible. And the engine on this kid, wow!
Garcia impressed most in a sequence in the 28th minute when he received the ball near the touch line. Under instant pressure from Cordell Cato, Garcia managed to retain possession and keep the ball in play to beat the defender with a clever flick. The towering Victor Bernardez then stepped up to pressure Garcia but he played the ball over his head. Nearly to the ball, Garcia was milliseconds away from beating Clearance Goodson who finally cleared the ball. Right now, Garcia is a bright-light in the RSL attack and will continue to be relied upon until, at least, the return of Plata.
1. Being a goalkeeper for his career, seldom - well, actually never - have we seen goal celebrations from Jeff Cassar. But now as a head coach, Cassar's celebrations have caught our eye.
@chriskamrani pic.twitter.com/ybKWuy3NTp— Jason (@phaserstopun) April 5, 2015
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 second victory of the 2015 season? Share your opinions in the comments section below.