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Talking Tactics: More reds and road points for RSL, No. 9s leave mark

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake continued their unbeaten run in 2016 with a 2-2 draw at Providence Park. Sitting above the thin red line, RSL is now in possession of five points in three matches (1.67 points per match). That means RSL sits above the 1.5 points per match assumed threshold of achieving a post-season appearance. Being able to maintain a draw after being down two men is a significant achievement. If RSL is able to continue their current trend of achieving a draw from every away match, that is 17 total points that RSL can add to their final tally, but until then, here are some of the statistics that dominated the weekend:

Are officials having a larger impact on the match?

If you have visited the PRO Referee website lately, you might have noticed the increased focus on harsher punishments for the 2016 season. According to PRO, the organization believed its referees were not as stringent with calls in years past as they would have liked. The interpretation of the organization’s focus really depends solely on the individual referees but does it actually translate on the pitch?

It was more of the same of the Claret-and-Cobalt Saturday night as the squad once again clashed with the officiating. In the 2-2 draw in Portland, RSL was handed the club’s third red card in as many weeks. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s Jamison Olave and Captain Kyle Beckerman were the latest victims of the more stringent refereeing. Olave now leads the league with ten career red cards, and both he and Beckerman will miss RSL’s upcoming match against Sporting Kansas City.

Whether you agree with the calls or not, in refereeing circles and beyond, the importance of player management – i.e., influencing player behavior through verbal and non-verbal interactions, in addition to misconduct appropriation – is an art within itself. Although there is a time and place for it, not every infringement needs to be carded. If the referees model the behavior they expect from the players good results are sure to follow.

The calls themselves, in my opinion, are another example of player embellishment and not inconsistent refereeing. When Adi, who was the "victim" of both RSL red cards, took contact it was obvious he had his acting cap on as he embellished actions to get some calls. With the scrutiny of refereeing as high as it has ever been, thanks to the 24 hour sports news cycle, the internet, or even the general cynicism of many sports fans, we can now follow the referees’ and their organization’s calls made on the pitch.

Looking at red cards handed out this year, the numbers don’t appear too alarming compared to last year, but on closer analysis there are some significant differences. As of Sunday, 110 yellow cards and ten red cards have been handed out in 60 total matches in 2016 – and RSL accounts for 4.5 percent of the yellows and 30 percent of the reds – meaning that 1.833 yellows and 0.167 reds per match. In the entire 2015 season, 1202 yellows and 90 reds in 680 total matches, corresponding to 1.768 yellows and 0.132 reds per match. In other words, 79 percent more red cards have already been handed out per match than in 2015.

Portland and Vancouver currently lead the league in yellow cards with nine, averaging three per match, while RSL are the trailblazers of red cards already with three. Despite Orlando City SC finishing top of the league in reds last year with ten, RSL was not far behind (8) and they are currently on pace to have the highest red card total in league history.

The officiating will continue to be a point of contention throughout a season that is expected to have the highest occurrence of referee punishable acts since the inception of the league. Despite the previous seasons of referee "consistency," in increase of numbers in both punishable fouls committed are something the league and PRO should take note of.

Impact of the No. 9

The center forward has but one focus: goals. They play close to the opponent’s goal, looking to score themselves or at least create chances for others around him to score. The player must also win long balls and retain possession as the rest of the squad advances. The center forward will also look to provide a through ball into the box in order to help teammates score.

Both the Portland Timbers and RSL employ No. 9s in their formations – Fanendo Adi for PTFC and Yura Movsisyan for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Both played a traditional role in Saturday’s match but there were major differences.

After the 30 minute red card to Beckerman, RSL began to relay on long-balls much more – evident of Beltran to Movsisyan being tied, with Javier Morales and Juan Martinez, for RSL’s leading pass combinations. It was also Movsisyan himself that created and converted his first goal of the season in this match.

Adi, on the other hand, played a bit of a different role with the full-squad Timbers. Not only did he score once from open play and once from a penalty, but he also drew both of the red cards handed out to RSL and created chances. Of the Timbers 14 chances created from open play, Adi produced 4 of them, or 28.6 percent. While Adi’s debatable embellishment is the exception, expect Movsisyan to look much more like Adi after squad chemistry continues to improve for RSL.

Adi and Movsisyan are both top quality No. 9s in the league, evident of both their skill and DP salary, and watch as they end up close to each other in total goals scored with the continued progression of the season.

What do you think? Is there any trend that you would like to mention? Is there a specific set of tactics that you felt dominated the match? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.