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Cassar's gamble: RSL left needing USOC semifinal win against Sporting KC

Gary Rohman/Sporting KC-USA TODAY Sports

There's been a lot of talk about Real Salt Lake's coaching staff for months on end, and it's not a coincidence that it's coming when the team has struggled significantly.

And while RSL coach Jeff Cassar has said himself that there are things he can improve on, those sorts of admissions hardly sate the fervor that sometimes builds.

Cassar's decision to rest every basically every potential starter against Vancouver Whitecaps came with a raised eyebrow or two — changes were expected, but maybe not wholesale ones. The result certainly didn't help ease any pressure on Cassar — it was a 4-0 smash-and-grab by the Whitecaps, and Cassar himself was sent off early on.

Cassar's gamble

Cassar took a gamble when he fielded a tremendously weakened lineup against Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the hottest teams in MLS, and it's a gamble that he's far from the first one to have taken.

After a road sequence what most described as grueling, Cassar had little option but to rotate his line — that's hard to dispute. That's doubly the case with a match today against Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup peeking over the horizon.

I don't think there's any question that the gamble was the right one to take, but we're going to wonder for the next 12 hours: Will that gamble pay off? Real Salt Lake was decidedly poor, but none of those players are likely to start tonight against Sporting KC — does any of that match carry over?

It's easy to assume it doesn't, and that's probably the case. The group that will play tonight is motivated, hungry, and eager for a chance to once again prove their worth in the league. With acquisitions flying from all directions to all teams (and Real Salt Lake might not be far off that themselves), one would imagine everyone's ready to show what it is they bring to the table.

The blame game

The big question: If the gamble doesn't pay off as we're hoping it will, does that then make the initial gamble a blameworthy act? Certainly some will be quick to blame him if something goes wrong, and that's just sort of the story of the season. For better or worse, Jeff Cassar has been the target of rampant criticism, some of it justified and more of it not.

Here's hoping it's all a consideration we don't need to make, this whole matter of blame. But its a broader point: When do you blame the gambler, and when do you blame the house? Where does player responsibility start, and is it where coaching responsibility ends? What's the overlap look like?

Real Salt Lake's playoff position

Sacrificing three points when reaching the playoffs could depend on bridging a three-point gap with a team ahead of us — that seems like something hard to stomach. But while playoffs are still presumably one of the goals of the 2015 season, they're a lesser goal at this point.

RSL's inability to win — or even draw most of the time — on the road has put the team in a position in which they may have to choose between non-MLS competition and the prospect of playoffs. Saturday wasn't a full statement in that effect, but it's a start.