There's been a lot of talk in the last two weeks about Jamison Olave, decrying him as too old, slow, or somehow not needed at Real Salt Lake.
But if the last three matches are anything to go by, those claims aren't necessarily the most accurate. Indeed, Olave's been one of the better defenders in each match, and the primary things he's taken flak for are the two stoppage time goals RSL conceded.
Of course, he wasn't blameless in those, but blaming Olave ignores some important factors that led to both goals — and it's something we can see corrected by Real Salt Lake against Seattle.
Against Orlando, the team dropped into a hyper-defensive shell toward the end of the match, and the desire to win the ball was basically absent. We'll let Jeff Cassar talk about that one with post-game quotes from an RSL Communications release.
The last six minutes we became fatigued on discipline, not recognizing the dangers and we paid the price. Things happen fast and this is a coaching point for us and you have to finish out the game, finish out every play all the way to the end. Crazy things happen and that was pretty crazy.
This one we unraveled at a poor time and give credit to Orlando City, to be putting the ball in dangerous areas and over the top and sometimes the dam breaks, but we shouldn't let it happen.
The premise here is that Jamison Olave and Aaron Maund are symptoms of a tactical misstep. We can illustrate that misstep, so let's go ahead and do that — we'll get more out of our argument that way.
Here we have Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman both playing as defensive midfielders, and Luke Mulholland is off in a near-winger position. You have three players watching the Orlando player with the ball, and nobody's really approaching him. He has all the time in the world to find a pass, and that's exactly what he does. RSL was fortunate here not to concede a goal, because the defense was beat by a very good pass. Here's a shot of the ball bouncing and an attacker getting past Wingert.
Let's have another illustration of the problems.
Here, Luke Mulholland is stabbing at the ball and basically letting the player he's marking roam free. That's a bad individual mistake, but it leads to a worse team one. We'll illustrate that, too.
Here we go. Luke Mulholland has followed Brek Shea all the way back after losing the ball. Great! That's exactly what we'd want him to do. The big issue, though, is that he inexplicably stops following him.
Notice that Jamison Olave's in a good position here for actual team defense, but that's unraveled by Shea unexpectedly getting free. Once an individual mistake that severe takes place, defense plans are undone. And if you're wondering what Olave's doing further up and not chasing Larin, the answer is two-fold. First, he's forced to account for Shea; second, he's attempting to play an offside trap. There's a communication problem here, and yes, Olave should shoulder part of the blame — but he's not the sole actor in this one that's caused the problem. Again, an illustration.
Is Brek Shea offside? It sure looks like he's close, with his back foot well behind where Chris Wingert (the furthest player back) is standing. We're a little lucky here, because we have the lines of the turf to read. Maybe it's less of a communicative error here — but we won't dwell on refereeing issues, because that seems a little useless. You have to sort of roll with those punches. Regardless, Olave's not to blame here.
The second goal is also interesting but for different reasons.
This is a tremendously long pass from just outside Orlando's penalty box. It's also a free pass, which is also a problem — RSL is very collapsed at this point. But let's rewind slightly — we don't get a clear view of how this happened, but it looks like RSL has attempted to play directly to the corner in a moment of panic. Here's the first frame directly after the graphic fades (part of it is still visible, but it's not blocking anything.)
That's simply an unacceptable way to play that kick-off. Stoppage time was very nearly up, and instead of playing in a way that conserves possession or wastes time, they're instead trying to play some misguided route-one soccer. This is not team defense — it's team collapse. Let's move on.
Here's an illustration of when the ball hits the turf after that long pass.
RSL is not set to defend this sort of long pass, and it's a little remarkable just how long it was. In fact, this was an excellent pass — it lands feet behind the defenders, and when you have an attacking group that's as speedy as Orlando's, that's an incredibly dangerous play.
From here, sure, there are issues with the defending, but it's not a systemic lack of quality in Jamison Olave that's caused this issue. Yes, he's not quite as fast as he once was — maybe five years ago, he'd muscle off Larin, win a header, and stop the play — but the issue simply isn't a case of one or two defenders getting caught out. This is a decimation of everything RSL tried to do well in the game.
So let's go back to a quote from Cassar after the win over Seattle. This is the one that's got people a little riled up — he's saying Olave did well against Orlando.
I thought - and you guys can disagree - but I thought that he did fantastic in the game against Orlando. What we needed to do was figure out ways that our backline wasn't constantly having to deal with balls over the top.
From these illustrations, it's hard to disagree with Cassar's second assertion — that RSL had to figure out the route one game. There are issues here, and there are certainly things that can be coached better. But Cassar's absolutely right, Olave's contribution to these two goals being conceded was minimal largely because other failures in the team put him and Aaron Maund in the worst possible situation to be in — on the back foot. Even the best center backs in the world are vulnerable to concede goals in these situations.
Defending is as much a team effort as it anything else, and Jamison Olave clearly isn't going to be able to do all that on his own. Even in the glory days alongside Nat Borchers in 2009 and 2010, Olave made mistakes and failed to secure the backline at times. He sometimes stabbed unnecessarily, made a poorly timed tackle, or received a red card at the worst possible time.
But those problems aren't cropping up here. If they were, we would throw our hands up and accept them. Instead, we're dealing with systemic team issues. We did see considerable improvements against Seattle, and we can illustrate those with opponent passing charts.
Here are the last four minutes (plus stoppage) against Orlando City. 24 of Orlando's 29 passes were successful. Blue arrows are complete passes, red arrows are incomplete, and yellow arrows are assists. This is simply too open a game for RSL to be playing — and we saw that play out above.
Here are the last four-plus against Seattle. Notice that there aren't groups of blue? That's because RSL had prevented them from passing it around too frequently in dangerous areas. Additionally, RSL was able to force play wide instead of allowing play in the center.
That's just one look at how RSL improved against Seattle, and why Jamison Olave is probably shouldering too much of the blame.