Real Salt Lake gutted out a draw on the road in CONCACAF Champions League action last night, which, all told, is a positive thing.
Even when you're not playing a particularly difficult team — which Santa Tecla was not, particularly — the odds aren't really in your favor. In the group stage, you're often playing a team you can't watch tape on in an unfamiliar place, and you're almost never the underdog.
We saw all of that and a lot more against Santa Tecla — and, as always, we can learn a bit from the match and the ensuing result.
It doesn't matter how easy the match is supposed to be — it's never that easy
Real Salt Lake, in the first half, looked a little stunned that the match wasn't going entirely their way. Judging from the high rate of clearances, they probably weren't prepared for a team that would actively attack them.
Now, part of that's down to not seeing how the team plays — there was a surprising amount of pressure sometimes — but it also says something about this young group. There was no great calming influence, and you saw that once the lineup changed a bit, it all became a bit easier.
Need an example? Here's a good one. This is Luis Gil's passing chart for the whole match.
There are two major issues here: First, Gil isn't getting the ball frequently from his teammates, and second, Gil isn't in positions to receive the ball from them. The first, we can see here, the second takes watching the match. Of course, he also had two key passes — passes leading to shots — and they were quite good themselves. Clearly, there's talent and ability, but it just has to be unlocked.
But it wasn't all high-pressure stuff that caused trouble. No, it was more significant than that.
Passing lanes in the midfield weren't opening
With any difficult game, the midfield's going to have to be at their best. Against a team that clogged things up, it becomes even more important for midfielders to move around and free up space. For whatever reason, that just didn't happen with a midfield of John Stertzer, Luke Mulholland, and Luis Gil.
But once Javier Morales came on, it all smoothed out — but he also popped up in places outside of the usual areas, and that caused some significant disruption to Santa Tecla's significant midfield obstructions.
RSL needs their young players to step into more significant roles, but that can't happen if they can't adapt to difficult situations. It can't continue to be a "let the big guns take care of it" situation — and if it is, there are issues.
It's not even that all of the young players can't do that, but more that a few specific players could have performed better. Fewer clearances out of the defense would be a good place to start, but everyone completing their passes would be helpful, too. Here's the incomplete passes chart. It's not fun.