If there’s one thing that’s been a particularly poor mark on Real Salt Lake’s last four months of play, it’s that some key players have seemed to disappear.
Since July 9, Martinez has scored exactly one goal and made one assist. In the games before that, he had six and two, respectively. That sort of precipitous drop-off doesn’t just happen magically, but it’s also not something we can easily get a handle on.
But one thing we can assert is that while Martinez was scoring goals, there was plenty of praise coming his way during post-game press conferences. From July 9 forward, that praise has dried up. It’s obviously never easy to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes, but there’s no harm in at least looking at some quotes from RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
April 16, 2016 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — Burrito Martines scores in 1-0 win
On the creativity of the attacking three:
"I wish I knew what he was going to do every time because he does some really special things. He (Martinez) got out of some really tricky situations. All of our attacking players are extremely talented and when they're playing with each other you can do special things you can do some things that you don't necessarily think are going to happen because you trust the player that is giving the ball to you. I think that we can still get even better. That is what is exciting."
July 1, 2016 vs. D.C. United — Burrito Martinez scores a goal, RSL drops points late
On a veteran team making mistakes of that nature:
"I don't know if every position is a veteran position. But, I do think we have very aggressive personalities and make an impact. There are other times when you just have do something a little less attractive to get the result that you want. That is the most important thing. We have to make sure that we are closing games, finishing out the game. We didn't do that."
This marks the start of Martinez’s dry spell — and it’s also one of a rare few times that Jeff Cassar has publicly called out an individual player in a post-match conference. It’s unusual, but it’s still pretty tame.
July 9, 2016 vs. Montreal Impact — 1-1 draw
On subbing Juan Martinez:
"I just didn't think it was Juan's night, to be honest. I thought it started slow and typically Juan finds another gear, another lift. I tell him often that when he's able to pull off his plays, they're wonderful. But if they don't get pulled off, they put us in a very bad position. It just wasn't his night. It wasn't a lot of ours night. I said I could have made 11 substitutions, but I just thought that we needed change."
From here forward, Cassar rarely mentioned Martinez, outside of one specific praising moment — and it wasn’t that he mentioned him all the time before, but he did seem to go quiet.
What follows is context and not necessarily required reading. It attempts to put into context some of Cassar’s press conferences with wins and losses to see how he talks about the team. There is a certain tendency after the middle of the year where Cassar more publicly blames players on the field.
Certainly, that’s what many wanted: Cassar’s tendencies before that point were to focus on the positive and very intensely downplay the negative. There was a lot of talk about pride, and often, that didn’t carry over well after a loss or a draw. There was plenty of that in 2015, certainly.
But now, we’re given a Cassar press conference and he’ll make public statements about the team not performing.
None of this is to say it’s a bad thing or particularly a good thing, but to highlight some of the key differences that came before a good run and a bad run. One thing’s relatively certain in all this: Something isn’t quite right, and it’s probably not something that can be pointed at quite so easily as a coach, a player, or a game.
August 3, 2016 vs. Toronto FC — 1-0 loss
On moving on to Saturday against Chicago:
“We have to score! We have to defend very well at home but we have to put the ball in the back of the net. I think this game would have been different if we had scored our earlier chances in the game. Goals changed teams' games plans and both teams were quite even until the end there. Both teams had game plans that were working but we had created more chances, more chances on goal and more possession, more dangerous play. We just unfortunately gave up a goal. The final product has to be there and I firmly believe if we put ourselves in these situations the players will come through. I love our attacking players and the way they play, the chances that were created and from several different ways which is why teams fear us.”
August 6, 2016 vs. Chicago — 3-1 win
Thoughts on what went well tonight to get 3 points:
“As a coach, as a staff we try to put these guys in as many situations as possible for them to be successful. Something's it happens, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes I make some bad choices, sometimes they miss the frame, or a goalkeeper makes a good save, but you have to keep believing. The stats don't lie that we're doing a ton of things right. We're creating more chances than we ever have, we're denying less opportunities than we ever have. It's continuing to try and get better at the little things and keep believing and putting our players, our special, special players into situations for them to succeed, and I told the guys the other day that I believe in every single one of them that they will.”
August 14, 2016 vs. Seattle — 2-1 loss
On his team's attacking performance:
"Seattle has a lot of dangerous players in their attack and they make you defend. We didn't win the battle of making them defend as much as we wanted to. Again, you have to have the ball to do that. I didn't think we changed the point of attack nearly enough as we wanted to. Every time that we did, we were able to do a lot more things that we wanted to do. I would say we need to improve."
August 26, 2016 vs. Colorado Rapids — 2-1 win
On the team's increased intensity:
"I think the players and everyone, the staff, recognized that it's getting close to that time. I'd like to think that we'd been playing like that for awhile, but at this time we recognized that we had an opportunity to win a trophy in front of our fans and this is about the third time I've done this, but I go back to something that Juan Martinez said, is that we have to play each of these games like they're finals. And when you do that, you see that type of passion, that type of commitment from our team. With that being said, I still think the first half needed to be better, but the response and the character of our team is really starting to shine. It's not a time to rest on that, it's a time to look to keep improving. But if we have that kind of heart, that kind of character, we're going to go really far."
September 7, 2016 vs. LA Galaxy — 3-3 draw
Takeaways from the game:
“I think we dominated in every step, we were definitely the more aggressive team, and at the end of the day we have to give credit to LA. They played a very solid defensive game tonight and they were tough to break down, so how can we improve the sharpness in the first half, attacking and recognizing the dangers before they happen? That's something we preach all day and that's something we are going to have to get better at, but we are striving to get better at it at all time.”
September 17, 2016 vs. Houston Dynamo — 1-0 loss
On being down early:
"Well I think Houston made it difficult you know they have eleven players behind the ball, you know we were playing a lot of stuff underneath them, poor turnovers, we just didn't have any real quality about the game. I think we dominated in possession, shots and had really good chances, but the quality wasn't there. You need someone to step up in that game, you can't have anyone be average someone needs to step up and take that game by the scruff and make a play. We had a few opportunities and we didn't do it, but really disappointed with our performance at home. We really didn't give our fans that came out tonight anything to cheer about. It was slow, Houston slowed it down, what was a very good plan for them, but we have to figure out how to beat teams like that at home, especially going into the playoffs and we've still got to get there, so really just disappointed."