Wednesday night's epic match against LA Galaxy demonstrated improvement across the board. Although Real Salt Lake only managed to get a point at home, it was a hard fought and well-deserved point against the defending champions. In other words, it is this type of performance fans and coaches expect to see game in and game out from the Claret-and-Cobalt.
If you are persistent you will get it; If you are consistent you will keep it.
RSL fielded a squad that included four under-24 year old players. At this time in a young professional's career two conditions are vital. The first is development through earning match minutes and staying on the pitch. The second is remaining consistence through the aforementioned appearances. And if Wednesday is any indication, the RSL youth corps is excelling in both of these contingencies.
Along the backline the young Guatemalan Elias Vasquez earned his second shutout in his fifth appearance for the club. He also completed 86 percent of his passes and won half of his duels - which in itself is a Herculean task given the opposition. A complete ninety minutes is becoming a given for Vasquez who will easily give the starting center back pairing of Chris Schuler and Jamison Olave a run for their money.
Up top Devon Sandoval patrolled the opponent's 18 yard box. Not only did the young attacker manage to keep all his shots on target, but he also created a fourth of RSL's chances through high percentage passing. The former Lobo really did everything his side needed of him short of scoring the game winning goal.
In midfield or on the flanks, depending on the given formation at that moment, both Jordan Allen and Luis Gil performed admirably for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Allen too kept all his shots on target - well shot on target to be precise - and was great in his offensive awareness. Placing the ball exactly where he wanted it and stringing together some quality plays, Allen looked more like a veteran than the sophomore player that he is.
Similarly, Gil was an absolute beast! Jeff Cassar was recently talking about how Gil needed to be consistent with Javier Morales injured on ESPN 700 and boy did he deliver. With yet another Morales-esque showing, Gil completed 86 percent of his passes and created some nearly perfect scoring opportunities - like this one:
You just witnessed Gil's third nutmeg of the night, followed by an incredible pass with vision that nearly had LA go home empty handed.
On the same note, youth substitute Sebastian Saucedo nearly got the match winning assist after playing the ball to the feet of a wide-open Olave in the opponent's 18 yard box with a clear shot on goal that he pushed wide.
It was the Claret-and-Cobalt's youth contingent that stole the night. With more performances like this one the picture of Craig Waibel's vision would come into focus. The youth are the future for RSL and they continue to earn their keep.
When a fundamental problem exists a system loses credibility and is open for exploitation.
After Chris Wondolowski was able to get a goal being in an offsides position on Friday, RSL hoped to capitalize on similar refereeing mistakes. Attempting to catch their opponents "opening their hips," RSL was whistled for five different offsides in a matter of thirty or so minutes.
While getting caught with your hands inside the cookie jar is not necessary worth of applauds, what is promising is that RSL was looking for any advantage to use against the Galaxy. They were in effect playing the game within the game. RSL's attack looked crisp as they took it to LA. Knocking on the door throughout the entire match, the Claret-and-Cobalt looked destined to score but alas it was not in the cards for RSL. With more play like that in the future, however, RSL could finally get their struggling offense going.
Every minute of possession implies opportunity; Every opportunity, an obligation.
The squad on the pitch for RSL performed much more like the Claret-and-Cobalt of old. Neat clean movement on and off the ball, RSL maintained more possession than their opponent - and more importantly, maintained it with a purpose.
Twice now RSL has been unable to get a shot on goal during a match. This match, however, was an entirely different story. RSL mustered eight shots and 75 percent of them were on target. Real also strung together eight scoring opportunities - well above the season average of 5.75 - both out-shooting and retaining better accuracy than the Galaxy.
RSL looked like a club to be reckoned with, something that had been missing from earlier matches. But if Wednesday's match is any indication of improvement, RSL are on the up-swing.
Just one more thought:
A couple a weeks ago against New England we wrote about whether or not the diamond midfield had lost its potency in Major League Soccer. Our conclusion was that fewer teams seem to use it on a consistent basis and more teams are better at counteracting it.
Despite this, RSL fielded a diamond against LA. But this was different than previous incarnations of the diamond. The formation switched between the diamond 4-4-2 and the more recent 4-3-3 depending on the situation. We saw the diamond clog up the midfield when LA had possession but then we witnessed greater wing play when RSL has control of the stone. The tactics, assumingly drew up by head coach Jeff Cassar were very effective when it came to both attacking and defending. The only question that remains is if this will be a tactic that we see RSL use more frequently and to more success.
As always 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 against the defending Champs? Share your opinions in the comments section below.