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Early-scoring RSL should adapt to maintain leads

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In two consecutive matches, Real Salt Lake scored early, giving themselves a leg up inside the first few minutes of action.

Against D.C. United, this didn't end up having the desired result; against Municipal last night, it came out a little closer to what was desired — but still didn't necessarily make things easier for RSL.

First, let's just watch the goal and enjoy it, because, well, why not?

Alright. So now that you've hit play on that video about 500 times (and who could blame you?), let's talk.

It seems unintuitive, but scoring early doesn't actually make a match easier. You'd think — "oh, scoring is always going to improve your chances at a win," and you're probably right. But the path to that win isn't rendered easier by an early goal. Maybe if you can demoralize your opponent early, that solves it, but that's just not what we've seen.

When we scored early in both matches, the opponent had more time to get their bearings straight and to adapt their approach. D.C. United was clearly better at this than Municipal, but we did see that same basic effect in CCL last night.

Now, I'm not suggesting Real Salt Lake shouldn't try to score early. In fact, I'd suggest the opposite. Scoring early is important, and it does help a team control its result. But after scoring early, the goal should be to hit the opponent again with a goal in relatively short order, and that's where things didn't really flow against Municipal. It did against D.C., but other problems got in the way.

None of this should imply that RSL should not focus on scoring early goals. They just need to continue improving their approach after that, because it sometimes doesn't have a net positive effect.

One way to fix that? Tighten down the defense and become more competent in counter attacking play. This would provide enough danger that teams couldn't just push everyone forward in a desperate measure; instead, they'd have to remain cognizant of our attacking prowess. And in that way, the team can get right back to building through good possession — it's a win-win.