Real Salt Lake came in knowing they had a mountain to climb in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
Always the underdog, RSL put pressure on the defending Liga MX champions and even managed to give the match life with a Joao Plata goal in the 22 minute. Nevertheless, RSL has yet again been left pondering what could have been after their latest CONCACAF exit and we are breaking down some of the tactical aspects of last night’s match.
Look to the future, and focus on the positive.
RSL can take stock knowing that they were the better team in not only this match but for most of the series. The score line doesn’t tell the complete story. Yes it was a cruel result, but RSL did better than any other MLS in the quarterfinals and I will explain how.
The LA Galaxy entered the second leg of their quarterfinal matchup against Santos Laguna on terms but found themselves down 3-0 going into halftime. Not only was the defense stagnant, but the offense none existent demonstrated by the 4-0 aggregate final.
Finishing with the same result on their home soil, the second leg of the DC United, Queretaro series was a very different match than the one at Rio Tinto, however. Queretaro put the nail in the coffin early with a shot from near the spot. By conceding early, DC looked sluggish and played the match to keep face more than secure any kind of result.
Like the night before, the Liga MX side did all the scoring against the Seattle Sounders just before the RSL match. Seattle’s only goal, on a night were it appeared as if the Sounders had left both their defense and offense at CenturyLink field, came through a Club America own goal. The 5-3 aggregate score, similar to RSL’s doesn’t tell the whole story, but it looks better than the club played.
The Claret-and-Cobalt lost this series because a few silly set-piece marking errors in the first leg and their overall inability to put the ball into the back of the net, but I am getting a head of myself.
The missing clinical touch
For how much the more clinical RSL kind of soundbites dominated the airwaves going into the preseason they have yet to show it. For the 24 shots that the squad created, a mere 9 were on target. That means, as a whole, the offense only managed a 37.5 percent shot accuracy. While it is still (technically) preseason, there isn’t too much to be worried about, but RSL will need to find their shooting boots before the Orlando City SC matchup if they hope to kick this season off with a good result.
But for all the pain that caused, RSL did not relent:
When push came to shove, RSL did not just roll over, they continued to possess the ball and create chances. For the last 30 minutes of the match, the ball was for the majority of time in Tigres' half. Taking this kind of initiative to the tournament favorites was no small task and showed that the Claret-and-Cobalt can still dance with the best of them.
Compared to this time last year, RSL is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of competitive nature.
The Beckerman-Sunny Partnership
Fellow RSL Soapbox contributor had this to say about Sunny:
Sunny = physical pressure + technical prowess + intelligent vision. Epitomy of a great player. #RSL #RSLvTIG— Wes Brown (@wesbadia) March 3, 2016
I would take it a step further; the Kyle Beckerman – Sunny partnership has the potential to be the epitome of a central midfield duo.
Both these players are strong on and off the ball and show incredible soccer IQs. Arguably the best players on throughout the series, Beckerman and Sunny did most of the heavily lifting playing simple, solid soccer. They dominated in the midfield in leg two which is the most you could have possibly hoped for:
On the night, the duo managed a 94.2 percent passing accuracy and recorded seven tackles, three clearances, 12 recoveries, and one interception.
Beckerman has always been at the forefront of elite defensive midfielders in the league, but his role has changed. In the 4-3-3 employed by Jeff Cassar, he is still primarily a No. 6 who covers the back line and cycles possession, but he now also has to build an understanding with a No. 8 whom operates between the boxes. And through the two matches against Tigres, the partnership has impressed – to say the least.
On the day that Matt Gaschk reported that Gonzalo Pineda thinks that MLS and Liga MX are evenly matched, American presence in the competition came to an end.
Like the three MLS teams eliminated before them, RSL can find a silver lining in the satire that CONCACAF endorsed during halftime.
On Rio Tinto’s southern video board, a CONCACAF advertisement caught my eye. On a background of gold and just beneath the CONCACAF logo it read, "Embrace Diversity." The irony is that there is no longer any diversity in the competition filled with Mexican sides.
Don’t get me wrong, there is always plenty diversity on the pitch, but Mexico will once again secure the CONCACAF trophy without any opposition other than itself.
While the continental governing body would like you to believe it supports diversity, their actions prove just the opposite. Unwilling to change the schedule or simply move the quarterfinals later into March, MLS teams enter the round in preseason form while Liga MX teams are well into their season. Moving the dates back a month would do little to the tournament but it would allow MLS teams can obtain competitive form.
If CONCACAF really "Embraced Diversity," they would provide a little more tournament flexibility to increase competition, that would undoubtedly increase viewership.