Real Salt Lake begun their two match away trip with a victory in the Windy City - the Claret-and-Cobalt are now unbeaten at Toyota Park since 2008. In the only meeting between these two sides this season, RSL started off right where the club left off against LA. RSL's offense looked dominate as they took it to Chicago for a large portion of the match.
To score is to lay the foundation for future offense.
For the second time in as many matches, RSL rolled out its new 4-1-3-2 formation - for a lack of better terminology. While not the typical diamond of the Claret-and-Cobalt of old, this formation appears to be a hybrid as it takes the appearance of the 4-4-2 in defense and the 4-3-3 when attacking. This rather unorthodox tactic has allowed RSL to get four points in two games whist dealing with an injury depleted roster.
Continuing the success they had against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday, RSL came out swinging in this match. Controlling close to 75 percent of possession, RSL dominated the opening minutes of the match through stringing together some fantastic offensive runs and dribbles. It was in the thirteenth minute that Jamison Olave found himself with the ball at his feet and this is what happened:
Jordan Allen did make the half-field run and presented the ball to the feet of Alvaro Saborio through a perfect pass, this is true, but let's not forget about the excellent run of Luis Gil. Gil's darting run through the center of the Chicago defense splits the defensive line and opens up a clear lane for Saborio to work through.
Gil's movement in the last clip is similar to what the diamond provided. Players would make delayed runs and find themselves at the top of the box which in turn would overload the opposing defense. So while the formation is definitely not a diamond and it is most certain not the 4-3-3, it does combine principles from both systems and it has worked fantastically for the RSL offense.
Since implementing this system, RSL has maintained a 73 percent shot accuracy - 67 percent against Chicago alone. Both of those numbers are a fair bit higher than the 46 percent average shooting accuracy suffered this season. While RSL held steady at creating five chances this match, it is fair to surmise that Claret-and-Cobalt players were creating better scoring opportunities for their teammates.
Furthermore, RSL returned to the simple one-two passing that made them historically successful. Similar to the sequence before the first goal, RSL strung together some nice run of play preceding their second goal - take a look:
Devon Sandoval lays the ball off for Aboudlie Mansally, who passes it to Gil. Keeping the play alive - i.e., avoiding passing back to the central defense down the pitch - Gil plays the ball to Kyle Beckerman who passes it to Saborio. Saborio then lays the ball off to Allen under immediate pressure. Seeing Sandoval making a cutting run into the box, Allen sends a similarly cutting pass to the Ignacio Montoya look-alike. Sandoval is then able to cross the ball on the feet of Luke Mulholland with nothing but open net in front of him. (On a side note, notice another delayed midfield run helping RSL find the back of the net.)
In both of the aforementioned goals, RSL has been able to utilize the center of the pitch. Earlier this season, RSL was plagued with finding the ball wide of the 18 yard box. In this position the wide RSL players would constantly thump the ball into the box and hope for the best. This created a ton of low percentage scoring chances that target-man Alvaro Saborio was unable to finish. Through returning to former tactics, while not relying on the old movements of the diamond 4-4-2, RSL has finally (re)learned how to create high probability scoring opportunities.
In simplest terms, Saborio is not a poacher and using him as such as not paid dividends for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Instead, using buildup play has allowed the RSL attackers to find their feet and, consequently, the back of the net.
RSL has suffered in getting away from the style of play that made them successful. Not the diamond per se, but the passing and delayed midfield runs that the 4-4-2 allowed for. Too often in the 4-3-3 have we seen RSL keeping possession in the defensive half of the pitch waiting for those midfield runs that never come, only to thud the ball way up field. Getting numbers up the pitch and pressing the opponents in their own half has reaffirmed the missing tactical identity of the Claret-and-Cobalt. Lest we forget, the 554 minute scoreless streak from open play that has ailed RSL of late will serve as a reminder.
If RSL is to avoid yet another offensive drought, the Claret-and-Cobalt will have to rely on the central midfield play to create more high percentage opportunities - at least until Joao Plata and Javier Morales return.
What do you think? What do you think finally broke the dam for RSL? How did the formation influence RSL's offense? How can the RSL attack improve? What forebodes for the future of Real Salt Lake's attacking corps? Do you think the offense is improving? Share your opinions in the comments section below.