In an interview with local ESPN affiliate ESPN 700, Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel blamed RSL’s recent down-turn on key players going down to injuries in recent weeks.
LISTEN: Craig Waibel on ESPN 700
He suggested that because of the dwindling down of the available roster, Head Coach Jeff Cassar has had to make tough game-day decisions. Now with a week off before the penultimate match of the regular season, Cassar and company will have time to attempt to correct some of those on-field issues, according to an article on RSL.com.
While it is all fine and dandy to heap excuses on questions that are asked, does it really get to the crux of the problem?
As of recent, Cassar has been channeling Jose Mourinho. The coach’s rationale this season as things take a turn for the worse has been that the individual players have been good enough to turn the ship about. By the end of a five match win-less streak, however, Cassar has turned to criticizing those same players only a month ago he was praising.
“No's one stepping up,” Cassar told MLSsoccer.com after the loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.
“In tight games, it’s certain plays. It’s set plays 90 percent of the time and finishing your opportunities, and we didn’t do either,” Cassar said. “We do have to finish our chances, and it doesn’t matter if it’s one or 10. But we have to take those chances. Someone has to step up and finish it out. It’s not enough right now. And that’s concerning, is that no one’s stepping up.”
Pump the brakes, coach, because that is an exaggeration.
For the first half of the season, RSL led the league in goals per chance created. True, the club has slipped some since the mid-season point but the Claret-and-Cobalt are still towards the top of the league in that regard. Not even all clubs that have already claimed a playoff spot have a better record than RSL: the Supporters Shield contending Colorado Rapids sit at the bottom of that particular table.
Even so, while conversion rates are falling, the number of chances that are being created per 90 are on a sharp increase – something that Cassar criticized the players earlier in the year for not creating enough of. In other words, it seems to be a lose-lose for the players at RSL.
Furthermore, blaming this bad run of form on injuries is foolhardy as RSL has been dealing with injuries all year. For example, early in the year RSL lost Sunny, Kyle Beckerman’s midfield partner, to injury and still managed to climb the table. Throughout the year RSL has been without Joao Plata, Javier Morales, Juan Manuel Martinez, and Aaron Maund — all considered key players — but still have managed to come away with 8 wins in those 12 match. The injury argument is overdone and it is almost sad to see the RSL management beat that dead horse.
So what is the problem?
While the problem itself cannot simply be boiled down to one factor, there are several stats that can shed light on issues that are affecting the club from a managerial stand-point.
Real’s substitution pattern is, at best, erratic under Cassar. Since Cassar took the reins, it takes 71.04 minutes on average for RSL to make their first substitution. That means instead of RSL relaying on difference makers to come off the bench, the coaching staff is using subs as more of a time-wasting, batten-down-the-hatches kind of game-management method.
Even worse is that RSL has used all three substitutes only 73 percent of the time since 2014. So instead of putting fresh legs in the match, RSL would rather hold firm to their game plan, even if it is not in their favor.
In addition, there has been rumblings that the locker-room is not a great environment, with players easily falling out with the coaching staff. With the dressing room spirit evaporating, so too is the club mantra, “The Team is the Star.”
At times both players and fans have been shocked by Cassar publicly criticizing the squad for what statistics indicate is fault on the management and not so much the players. It is a sign of a poor manager that, under the pressure and stress of the job, he throws the players under the bus instead of taking at least part, if not all, of the blame.
Gone already are the happy days of post-season runs, when it was all warmth and smiles as RSL looked to be contending for the top spots in the Western Conference and even the ultimate prize, the MLS Cup. They have been replaced by scowls, tempers, and a willingness to blame just about anything while leaving fans and players alike without any answers.
Whether about squad character, the opposition, or the officiating, Cassar’s public image has surprised nearly everyone.
This is new territory for Cassar, who is on the verge of a meltdown so epic it might even rival Mourinho’s 2015 Chelsea exit.
Maybe it is because of his contract decision just around the corner that Cassar has looked so under pressure; there is little doubt that he is feeling it already.
There is likely also frustration on his part feeling that this season has not lived up to expectations despite the club’s huge acquisitions up-front over the past year with the likes of Martinez and Yura Movsisyan.
Even still, Cassar might have edged closer to crossing a dangerous line after last Saturday’s defeat at the hands of the Quakes. A scenario which is not outwardly apparent in his aforementioned comments, one worse than most could imagine is Cassar could fall out with his players and start burning bridges.
Cassar has not always been an obvious player’s coach, but his first year with at the helm of the club was much different than it is now. In 2014 when he took over, the core of RSL had been veteran personalities who had experienced plenty of success with him as an assistant coach, but the situation now is much different. As the Claret-and-Cobalt have turned to their academy pipeline, more and more of the RSL squad is made up of younger player – a makeup that Cassar has not had much success with (see, Luis Gil and Carlos Salcedo).
And yet, there was Cassar, laying into them after a tough-to-swallow loss to San Jose.
RSL could have a problem that has been simmering under the surface until last Saturday but it could be well boiling by now for all to see.
It doesn’t help to think back to former RSL coach Jason Kreis; instead, RSL needs to plow ahead with the post-season within striking distance.
Real could be heading towards a sacking of epic proportion unless this entire soap opera is either a motivation for the squad heading into the playoffs or Cassar is able to repair relationships with those he manages, promptly.
Instead of placing blame on the players — whether it is the result of an injury or a dismal performance — the RSL brass needs to right the ship and shoulder some of the blame if RSL is going to have a successful season — even if silverware is not directly involved.