But this is a team RSL is facing that's both very good and in very good form. It's a Bruce Arena classic — start out slow, build through the season, and come rip-roaring into the playoffs. It's an art, really, and one that Arena himself has mastered.
(It's sort of the opposite of the Caleb Porter classic, in which a team might sometimes look strong, but then fails to make the playoffs for yet another year, despite all the hype splashed on them midseason.)
And while we could hem and haw about the reasons we're in this position, there's really no point in that now. It's not particularly interesting, it's not particularly productive, and it's not going to change a thing right now. All we can do is to aim for constant improvement, no matter what part of the season we're at. And if we've failed to do that earlier, it doesn't rule out the impetus and potential of doing it now.
Whatever the case, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about what's coming for RSL on Saturday.
Juan Manuel Martinez
As the whole of MLS circles around Gio dos Santos excitedly, we're sitting here with our very own exciting winger, and while he didn't "prove himself" in Europe, he offers similarly exciting wide play, and he could help cauterize a team that needs some excitement.
Of course, LA Galaxy were in good form when he showed up, and Real Salt Lake weren't exactly tearing things up, but that's a different story.
So as everyone focuses on one exciting winger, just know that we have our own exciting winger — and Joao Plata, who has slowly rounded into very good form, even if he's not scoring at quite the same clip as last year.
After missing the last two matches after the birth of his child, Jaime is due to return to the lineup, and his influence is unmistakeable. If he can continue the connection he's had with Plata and develop one with Martinez and Javier Morales, there's a very good chance for success. It becomes a 'front four' situation for RSL, and one that suits the team well. This is a 4-3-3 that's working.
It's particularly interesting because Jaime started out on the right flank, where he was better than anyone's really given him credit. That's not to say that he was a world-beater there, but he was efficient and effective. Of course, the fact that he always was more productive in the center certainly raised blood pressure for some fans, especially when they felt grief about the central striker.
Now, Jaime's got his chance in the middle, and so far, he's taken it well. But let's see him develop that formation before we start our heralding cries.
Sometimes, I worry that we don't talk about the captain enough. There were accusations that he had dipped in quality or form earlier in the year, but as he's finally had a reliable partner in more defensive midfield areas, he's suddenly started looking a lot better.
That's not a coincidence. We were playing a hyper-aggressive midfield but couldn't control the ball properly because we couldn't advance play that far — it was often left for an over-the-top approach where we'd simply try to win the ball back further up. And sure, it worked sometimes, but it wasn't sustainable, and good sides never gave us a chance.
Beckerman alongside Luke Mulholland has allowed the captain to get back to his best. It's not that he was ever particularly poor — but more that the system wasn't affording him the proper support. Going from the diamond, with two midfielders dropping to help out in defensive spots, to our early 4-3-3, with no midfielders reliably dropping to help out, didn't help show his best.