Real Salt Lake's conceded goal against Colorado Rapids should be a case study in midfield movement. It contains both the good kind (exhibited here by Jermaine Jones and Luis Solignac) and the bad kind (exhibited by some surprising culprits in RSL shirts.)
Let's take a look.
46:03 — MacMath has the ball in the box
We're disadvantaged slightly be the broadcast as we try to get to the bottom of this, because the Colorado Rapids broadcast takes fully seven seconds away from the game to show close-up shots of players' faces.
46:08–15 — An unnecessary shot of Nick Rimando watching play
This is actually interesting because it ends with Rimando shouting at somebody (or the whole team). We can assume that Real Salt Lake had the ball at one point in this play, mostly because it seems the only reasonable conclusion for our shape immediately after we get back to the action.
46:16 — RSL loses the ball?
Jermaine Jones is about to receive the ball in the midfield from — I believe — Michael Azira. It does look like RSL is coming from an attacking position, mostly because our spacing is excellent only if we have the ball. Let's take a look.
Look at those triangles! That's incredible. You can also see that Kyle Beckerman and Stephen Sunday are also in the process of moving forward — or at least, they were and are trying to pivot back. But you can also see that Marc Burch is in a very good position here — he's arrived in a good position to win the ball, and nobody's pressing forward on him.
At the very least, I'm hopeful after seeing this screenshot that there was an untimely turnover. But it's also hard to see how it could have been that Azira has won the ball and made a clean pass. Perhaps it was a misplaced pass toward Javier Morales, or maybe it was a long ball the Rapids won without too much trouble?
While we could endlessly evaluate defensive positions from this shot, it's probably not particularly worthwhile because all evidence points to RSL having just been attacking. From here-on out, we can evaluate the midfield more closely.
46:17 — Jones to Burch
We won't focus on the open passing lane, as we described above. But the approach of the team is important to pay attention to here — Burrito Martinez has recognized the problem and is sprinting back to try to win the ball. Good. He's even going to follow the player back. Watch.
46:20 — Burrito follows Burch
Here, we can see who players are watching. Sunny is eyeing Jermaine Jones and is going to try to intercept a pass played to him. This is necessary because he's moved back with the team instead of staying with Jones — and that's probably the right decision, because you don't want to be drawn too far out of position.
But notice Luis Solignac in this shot? This is important. He's dropped off the back line into a channel — Tony Beltran isn't following him, because that opens up a huge gap of space for him to run into from a potential Marc Burch pass. Burrito Martinez has rightly blocked off the space from Burch to Solignac, so full credit to him for this play.
But what's Kyle Beckerman doing here? In wholly four seconds, he's stayed in the same place — is he waiting for a run from the defensive half? We can't really see in this shot.
You should also note the spacing of the two center backs. Neither of them have really committed to Kevin Doyle in the middle, and certainly neither of them have committed to Solignac. (If this sounds familiar, it's because our very own Weston Jenson wrote about that on Monday.)
Here we go. Solignac has made his home in a nice little spot between the defense and where the defensive midfield should be, and Jermaine Jones is about to receive the ball. We'll have to go to another screenshot quickly, though. Just watch.
46:21 — A little lofted pass from Jones to Solignac
This is ugly. It is also beautiful.
Jermaine Jones, who has received the ball, just lofts a pass on the far side of Sunny to Luis Solignac, who has retreated even farther. Again, nobody has followed him, and we're still wondering what Beckerman's doing in the midfield. He's starting to come back, but Solignac is completely free here. This is not a good look. Again, Doyle is splitting Jamison Olave and Justen Glad — that's problematic. Tony Beltran has rightly stuck to his right-sided post to follow the run of March Burch.
46:23–24 — Solignac tears the defense apart
Kyle Beckerman has slightly retreated toward Solignac, but he's not in a position to do anything about this pass. Nobody has followed Solignac from the defense, and at this point, nobody's really following Jermaine Jones, either. Jamison Olave is aware of the pass coming in, as is Justen Glad. Further, Tony Beltran is imminently aware, as he's moving over to try to get in the way — and that's a good run, because he's spotted the most pressing issue.
But Sunny isn't in a good position here — he's switched off of Jermaine Jones. Burrito Martinez is no longer marking anybody, and Jones is just sprinting past him. Kyle Beckerman's too far up-field to do anything, too. He's not in the way of Solignac, and he's certainly not sprinting back to get involved.
Finally, note that Doyle isn't quite offside — he's kept on by Tony Beltran. He's getting close, though. RSL's back line hasn't committed at all to an offside trap, so this isn't surprising.
This is bad. Kevin Doyle is making a good run, sure. He's at a great angle to get the ball. Not unusual — if you're not going to play an offside trap, you'll be open to problems like that.
Solignac's pass is absolutely perfectly weighted, though. It's not too hard as to reach a Nick Rimando run, and it's not too soft as to be intercepted. That's Javier Morales-quality stuff.
You'll note the three red Xs here, too. Burrito Martinez has now stopped running. Sunny has stopped running. Beckerman looks as if he's about to hit a light jog. This is inexcusable.
You do see, however, that each of the four defenders is aware of what's going on. They're sprinting to follow the ball. Still, nobody's watching Jermaine Jones, and the three players who are in a position to be doing that aren't.
46:26 — A quick backheel
I wouldn't have expected this right here. While receiving the ball, Kevin Doyle issues a quick flick to the side. Jamison Olave certainly shouldn't be in a position to intercept that right here — otherwise, he would no longer be goal-side of Doyle, and that would be insane.
Justen Glad has continued a sane defensive run, but he's spotted Jones and is going to try to turn to face him. What happens next? Well...
Justen Glad slipped — ever-so-slightly — as he tried to turn. This is not what you blame a goal on; rather, it's the reason he wasn't able to prevent a good opportunity for Jermaine Jones. The blame for the goal, I'd argue, comes much, much earlier than this.
Even Demar Phillips is going to try to get involved, as he's noting the problem, too.
46:28 — Shots fired
But here, Jones is about to take his shot. It's a quick shot to his right side — a good one, too. Nick Rimando can't get a hand on that. Nobody's able to really get in the way.
If you follow this all the way through, you'll see that I've formed a distinct argument here. The midfield shape, I'd argue, was horrid in the build-up to this. Luis Solignac was allowed to make an untracked run back to the middle third from the attacking third, and he was able to make an excellent pass from the back. Jermaine Jones makes a run from the middle third to the attacking third, and the midfielders who were around him have inexplicably not followed him.
This is the very definition of a midfield turning off. Burrito Martinez, Sunny, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Jordan Allen should be involved in this play far more than they are. It was a simple case of a player making a run from zone to zone and being left to his own devices instead of being tracked.
In fact, I'd even argue that, for the most part, the defense can hold their head high on this goal. Some greater communication between Jamison Olave and Justen Glad could have prevented a smart diagonal run from Kevin Doyle, but it was the passing ability of Solignac that made it possible.