We talk a lot about “biggest games of the season” as Real Salt Lake fans — but it doesn’t get much bigger than this one as far as MLS is concerned.
It’s no CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, but the magnitude of tonight’s match against LA Galaxy should be lost on no-one. It’s a play-in game, so it’s single-elimination. We have one shot here. Let’s not throw it away.
Get the best out of Burrito
Look: We’ve all talked about it. For the most part, we all agree. Everyone knows at this point that Juan Manuel Martinez hasn’t been quite good enough in the last three or four months of MLS play. There’s no real getting around that.
But it’s also worth considering something Jeff Cassar’s said repeatedly when asked about his form: The team needs to get him the ball in advanced positions. We’ve seen that when that happens, he is nearly as dangerous as ever.
We can be certain that we have a motivated Martinez, but we can’t be certain that we can get him the ball in those positions. Regardless, we have to be good enough in the attacking third that we can actually distribute toward him. That’s on Javier Morales as much as it is anyone else, as we’ve seen when the maestro is on his game, he can be as good as any other playmaker in the league. Is it worth considering, perhaps, that he’s less often on his game? Maybe, but again — motivation will play a strong role here.
Don’t cede the midfield
When we’ve been less than our best, we’ve seen a startling pattern on chalkboards, passing charts, and on the field: We’re not pushing the ball through the midfield. While we tend to focus on the wings — that’s fine, if that’s the approach we’ve decided to take — leaving huge gaps in the midfield because we won’t be attacking there will give LA Galaxy opportunities there.
This is especially the case during a turnover. We may have one or two players playing centrally when we lose the ball on the wing, and LA Galaxy could easily sprint a player or two in there and wreak havoc. We’ve seen it too many times. It’s not even a case of being caught on the counter, necessarily — although that’s still playing a role — as much as it’s not having players in defensively sound positions.
If we can stem our desire to stretch play laterally by even a small amount, we’ll be more likely to find success. Let Sunny and Kyle Beckerman patrol the midfield, but perhaps also keep a full back in a position that they can come centrally in a recovery run, and let’s keep the space between the center backs and the midfield small — that way, we’ll be more likely to win the ball back in a good position, increasing our chances to break out ourselves.
Use Yura Movsisyan properly
While we’re talking about attacking soccer, it’s worth paying attention to the usage of Yura Movsisyan. He’s very good chasing down a ball against a defender — but that’s always going to be a low-probability occasion, given we’re playing against quality center backs. This time? Maybe we’ll have opportunities in that way, maybe we won’t. Regardless, we should look to expand the way in which we use Yura Movsisyan to include build-up play.
Too often, he’s left in the middle to disrupt a defense, move players around, and serve as a target option. While he’s good at both, neither is his strength. He’s better with the ball at his feet than he is picking balls out of the air, and too often, it seems we’ve failed to recognize that fact. He will create more scoring opportunities with the ball at his feet, and not just for himself.
Think back to our last match against LA Galaxy — and try not to remember going down 3-1, because that’s depressing right now. But that second goal from Joao Plata came precisely because Tony Beltran made a concerted effort to find Movsisyan’s feet with a pass. Where it might have been simpler to swing in a cross, he slotted a pass perfectly and it made an immense difference. He was able to feed Plata in a great position, and a goal came shortly thereafter.
We need more of that if we want to win.