Coming off a rough loss at the hands of Liga MX's Tigres UANL, Real Salt Lake found itself again in possession of the short straw. RSL was able to lead most of the match thanks to a Joao Plata brace even after being a victim of an early red card. The lead, however would be erased in the waning minutes in Orlando as Cyle Larin and then Adrian Winter scored, both in stoppage time. It was a hard match to swallow for fans and players alike as the club continued its trend of conceding goals in the final fifteen minutes of matches (14 goals conceded in 2015).
Cards and Inconsistency
The referee union came out before the start of the season saying that they expect more red cards to be handed out this season then in previous iterations, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that two red cards were handed out in the very physical match-up between RSL and Orlando City SC. Disciplinary action in any form can alter the match and the red card is one of the most predominant. With that in mind, here are some ways that these cards influenced the RSL v. Orlando match:
RSL came into this match in competitive form while Orlando was still in preseason form. Early in the match the Claret-and-Cobalt seized the initiative and took it to the hosts. In the first 20 minutes, RSL retained 63.25 percent of possession and Burrito Martinez had one of the best scoring chances of the match in the 15 minute. The Claret-and-Cobalt looked sharper, more clinical than their opposition until referee Chris Penso pulled out a second yellow card for Demar Phillips which sent him walking. The call was debatable and the referee inconsistent but its effect on the match is undeniable.
After Phillip's red card, RSL's domination evaporated faster than water droplets on turf. Their 63.25 percent possession quickly became 44.43 percent by the end of the first half.
Despite Darwin Cerén finally being handed a red in first half stoppage time, there were plenty of chances to hand out other cards. For example, Seb Hines, who was finally awarded a yellow card in the 76 minute had the case for several persistent infringement calls as well as the reckless tackle in the box that led to RSL's penalty in the 26 minute. The later of the two aforementioned disciplinary actions was not punished with a card despite it being eerily similar to Phillip's first carded challenge.
In short, everyone knows that cards chance the atmosphere of the match and with more cards anticipated to be handed out this year, players and refs will have to monitor their own actions to avoid incident. The problem arises when inconsistency rules like it did in the RSL, Orlando match were no one was quite sure what a card worthy challenge was.
RSL continues to build through the middle
Since the introduction of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales to the squad, RSL has created a system that relies on play created through the center of the pitch. Building through the middle of the play provides more options than play build closer to the touchline.
For example, if the wings are always relied on to push play into their opponent's half then it is easy for a winger or fullback to get isolated on the touchlines or in the corner with no passing options. In other words, this can created stranded or isolated plays. Building through the middle, on the other hand, allows passing triangles to be created between central and wing players creating space in the defense which can then be exploited.
Just as in architecture, geometry, physics or any other field heavily based in mathematics, the triangle is also the strongest shape in soccer. The triangle passing shape opens up movements to the sides, back, and most importantly forward. It is this principle that any young soccer player learns within the first year of training. And after a rough 2015 campaign, RSL looks to be utilizing this concept adequately.
The above graphic is a player influence chart. The larger the name the more influence they had on the match. Their position on the pitch is the median location they held throughout the match.
As depicted, most of the central players were the most influential on the match. To further this conclusion take a look at the following table:
As aforementioned, RSL is getting the hang of passing triangles in the 4-3-3. The most influential passing triangle was between Morales-Plata-Beckerman with 65 completed passes, while the Morales-Burrito-Beckerman triangle was next with 49. Both of these triangles played an important role in the RSL attack.
All together the attacking quartet of Morales, Plata, Burrito, and Yura Movsisyan maintained a 76.8 percent passing accuracy with both Plata and Morales leading the group with 86.5 percent. When evalatued on the whole, the RSL attack looks much more potent when compared to last year but if this match teaching us anything it is that offense doesn't win them all.
RSL continues to struggle defensively
As I have said before, and I am forced to say again is RSL's defense is lackluster so far in 2016. In the three competitive matches the club has played this year, the defense has conceded 37 shots. Of those 13 were on target which resulted in five goals. Another way to look at it is that the club's defense is allowing an average of 12.3 shots on goal per 90 minutes and conceding 1.67 goals. This is not a statistic of a winning squad.
Even with the Aaron Maund and Jamison Olave partnership looking better - Maund more conservative and Olave being more liberal - the trend of a leaking backline will suffocate any hopes of making it into the 2016 postseason. But let's lay all the cards on the table really quick: In regards to the first goal there was not a whole lot that could have been done. Larin got off a good shot finally, and with all the shots he took, one was bound to be a good one. The second goal tough was a complete breakdown. The defense did not cover itself and left Nick Rimando in an awkward situation like on Wednesday's stoppage time concession to Tigres.
If anything can be said is one mistake doesn't cancel out another and a quality defender could be the difference between this squad being in postseason contention and finding themselves again on the outside looking in.
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.