Real Salt Lake’s loss against LA Galaxy last night — a resounding 3-1 defeat — was bad, but two substitutions made the game worse.
The substitutions of Javier Morales and Burrito Martinez — two of the most creative players on the team — had resounding effects on the game state. One gutted the midfield; the other gutted the spirit.
Removing Javier Morales for Luke Mulholland
Yes, Javier Morales is aging; yes, he’s not nearly the player he was three years ago. But he was the fulcrum of our team, and he was one of the only things keeping the team from collapsing. Was it really a coincidence that RSL couldn’t find a pass in central areas of the attacking half once Morales left?
The causal mechanism is clear: You take off your playmaker, you can’t really make ... plays. If you want to start with someone like Luke Mulholland, sure — that can work. It gives the team a chance to adjust leading into the game and really gain a good understanding of how things should work. Instead, Mulholland was thrust in and the midfield lost its shape. Sunny started dropping very deep, Kyle Beckerman started pushing high (he was probably our best attacking player in the second half), and everyone just sort of ... started sprinting.
I know there’s not much room for sentimentality in sport, especially when you’re losing, but the prospect of this potentially being Javier Morales’s last outing — it certainly felt like an undignified way to go.
Removing Burrito Martinez and losing the team
Look — a coach should be able to substitute a player without losing the team. But that’s exactly what happened when Burrito Martinez was unceremoniously substituted in the 58th minute. He went to the bench, and, if commentators are to be believed (and they typically are), avoided any sort of contact with RSL coach Jeff Cassar in a purposeful, obvious way. In fact, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Chris Kamrani’s take is particularly stinging:
The frustrations of a season lost boiled over in the second half. Forward Burrito Martinez refused to shake the hand of Cassar when he was substituted off in the 58th minute, animatedly showing he disagreed with the move.
"It was a game of transitions and I just felt that if we were getting back into shape, we weren't getting forward enough, if we were staying high enough, we weren't getting back to defend the right way, so I thought we weren't extremely great in transition," Cassar said when explaining his substitution of Martinez. "And to be fair, that could've been multiple people, right?"
While we didn’t get to see this, it wouldn’t be the first time it happened. It’s been the case in recent weeks. After that point, heads dropped — and while they eventually picked back up again, it was clearly an “every man for himself” scenario. It didn’t work particularly well, but at least there was plenty of passion. There wasn’t a raw capitulation that we saw two years ago.
Whatever the case, when you have players actively disagreeing with the coach on the sideline in full view of the team, you know something’s gone wrong, and it will affect things. It did.