While we've been here hemming and hawing about Real Salt Lake's playoff chances, life has soldiered on in the most spectacular of ways for the club, and tonight, emerging out of our celebrations that have poured from Saturday over to Sunday over, yes, to Monday (away wins are important, alright?), we're back up for CONCACAF Champions League group play, this time against El Salvador's Santa Tecla.
Thankfully, the players are a little bit more focused, and given they just put in a 90-minute masterwork against Houston Dynamo (exaggeration? Maybe. Oh well.), that's particularly important.
Fitness is a tricky thing, and better fitness allows more opportunities to put in complete performances like the one we saw against Houston. But that's not the only thing — it also allows a team to pivot from approach to approach when they find their best-laid plans aren't quite working out.
When players aren't busy thinking about whether they can or can't make a run, but are allowed more to make those decisions rather automatically, they have a better chance to think about more important things — like where the opposition might be, where the openings are, and how they can adjust on-the-go.
Fitness will be difficult to come by with a tight turnaround and an international match, but coming off a bye week helps somewhat — as do absences for Tony Beltran and Luke Mulholland, who will be vital in this matchup as two versatile, adaptive players.
Burrito Martinez has made an immediate impact at Real Salt Lake, showing real quality from his very first appearance, when he won a penalty for RSL, despite said penalty being missed by Javier Morales (a rare thing, if anything ever was). His abilities are about more than just raw skill, though. He hasn't shown any spectacular footwork (some very good footwork, regardless), he hasn't shown an immense bag of tricks.
Instead, what we've seen is a player that's ready to stand up and put every skill he has to good use — that's something that differentiates between good players and great players, and by all early estimation, Martinez is a great one. It's the same thing that separates Javier Morales from the pack, so don't think this is about a lack of skill.
Instead, it's about finesse: taking what skills are available and making them fit the situation at hand. Martinez showed just that. He showed good movement against a defense that wasn't ready to be attacked from a specific angle, he showed good understanding with the players around him, and he simply gave everything he could. For a player coming is a high-paid designated player, it's hard to ask much more than that.