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Goal Breakdown: Naive set-piece defense costs RSL against Tigres

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Some people say that the first goal scored in a match is the most important one. And they're probably right — we saw on Wednesday the effect that one goal scored in the 67th minute had on the remaining 23 minutes.

It becomes more tiresome to keep up, and the goalscoring team becomes a bit more motivated. It simply makes everything considerably harder to deal with. But more important than knowing that a goal was conceded is knowing why it was conceded, and what can be done to solve the problems a team has faced.

As we look at that first goal on Wednesday, it's important to understand what happened and why. This is doubly true because Jamison Olave has been roundly blamed for losing his man in the build-up to a free kick — but I think we'll find it's not so simple.

First, Sunny commits an unnecessary foul. This is in part out of desperation, because he's pushed forward to win the ball, and nobody has collapsed into the space he opened. Whatever the case, he's committed a poor foul, and it puts Real Salt Lake in an even poorer position. Should he have let the player run past him? That's hard to say — that puts the team one pass away from conceding a good chance, and that doesn't sound any more palpable than a free kick from reasonably far out.

But a free kick from far out is still not preferable, and RSL had rather been riding their luck to this point.

Let's move on. Here, we see the run-up to the goal. Real Salt Lake has taken a position of trying to match up with Tigres, and it almost seems like they're trying to spring an offside trap here. There are worse ideas, but a good run and a well-weighted ball will be damning. Do note — if they're trying to play an offside trap, Joao Plata is keeping everybody onside.

Things get hairier from there. See that orange stripe I've hastily put in the screenshot? That's basically an open opportunity for Tigres. Nick Rimando has come off his line before retreating, maybe sensing an opportunity to grab the ball. It's too well-weighted for that, and the best free kicks will fool opposition goalkeepers into coming out. That's mistake one.

Mistake two: Jamison Olave hasn't kept up with his man. This isn't too surprising, given Tigres is at mid-season fitness and Olave isn't. Think, though, about momentum — the Tigres player is hoping to move the ball forward or sideways, and Olave is hoping to move the ball backward. He almost doesn't have a chance here if a player can equal his physical abilities. With the defense starting so far back, he doesn't have an opportunity to play a good role here, and that's even more problematic.

But the most problematic is that of the three RSL players trying to follow the runs here, none of them are able to. Olave is actually the closest to keeping up. The other two Tigres players have already sprinted past Sunny, Demar Phillips, and Aaron Maund.

From there, it's simple for Tigres — they've beat the defense and need only to place a header into the area Nick Rimando has vacated. It's easy, and a tap-in ensues.

This was not a goal conceded by Jamison Olave or any single individual. This is an example of a team who was not properly prepared to defend set pieces in this manner — and maybe this was a manner in which they shouldn't have been attempting to defend one at all. If they were trying for an offside trap, they failed. If they were trying to be physically more robust and more explosive in their sprints, they failed. If they hadn't planned at all and merely adopted a position that suited them at the time, they failed.

It's easy to pin this on coaching, but it's easier still to pin this on on-field coaching. It underscores the importance of having defenders who are capable of filling that role, and of making big calls about defending set pieces.