Real Salt Lake has to turn things around, and relatively quickly at that — with a must-win match on Wednesday, the team is backed into a corner after a squad-rotation gamble didn't come off.
It's the same gamble Real Salt Lake has taken plenty of times before, though. By rotating his squad almost completely, Jeff Cassar did what Jason Kreis did several times. While that worked out well enough, this time, the team succumbed to the pressure and lost 4-0 to Vancouver Whitecaps.
The difference? Well, that's hard to say definitively, but part of it might be that Vancouver Whitecaps are better now than they have ever been, relative to the state of the league.
RSL's defending wasn't good enough, but it wasn't the young or relatively untested players who shoulder much of the blame. Phanuel Kavita was about as good as he could have been in a 4-0 loss, and Sebastian Saucedo and Luis Silva weren't stunning, but they weren't awful. The problems came more from Jeff Attinella, Abdoulie Mansally, and Elias Vasquez, none of whom were on relatively the same page.
And that's not to blame any one of them in particular — Attinella is probably the least blamable of the three, given he can only do so much, but any time two defenders are so spectacularly not on the same page, your goalkeeper has to improve. Not in shot-stopping, of course — he's a good one at that — but at organizing the defense and getting them on the same page.
So how are we going to find a solution? That's a longer term question, and it's one that probably is dependent on experience and building understanding. More important than that is Wednesday's US Open Cup match against Sporting Kansas City, and there will be an almost entirely different team playing.
As a team at this level, we're going to give up possession. The teams around us have adapted, and we've seen that over and over — our old Kreis-possession-game just doesn't fly, and we can see that in New York City FC as well as we can here. The possession game has been slain by better players across the league, which, let's be honest, is a good thing. The league is improving, and Real Salt Lake has to adapt. They haven't yet.
Key to all this is avoiding being punished repeatedly and frequently for major mistakes. By cutting out major mistakes — failing to mark a player in the box, say — we'd probably eliminate at least half of goals scored against us. And if we can avoid giving up free kicks in dangerous positions, we'd probably also eliminate the chance for refereeing decisions to damn us, too.
Real Salt Lake hasn't been good enough, and Wednesday is the perfect time to continue trying to change that. Sporting KC are going to be hungry, excitable, and probably a little bit furious. While improvements aren't going to just come out of thin air, that should provide enough incentive to stay focused for at least one day.