Real Salt Lake has a chance tonight to right the wrongs of yesterweek, facing an oddly familiar Houston Dynamo side only a short two weeks after they last squared off.
With last week's loss to rival Colorado Rapids still burned into memories, we're looking for things RSL can do this time around to ensure the chances of winning are more actual than potential.
Score a goal or five
Everyone in MLS has been on one side or the other of a substantial blowout this season (including RSL, lest we forget). It's about time this team did that very thing — especially against a team like Houston Dynamo, who, on rare occasions, have been extremely goal-dangerous.
But the important part isn't the number (yes, even though I put two of them in the section title) but rather the approach and attitude. In the first half last week, RSL took a grand total of four shots, two of which were on-target. Both on-target shots were reasonably good opportunities, sure, but greater chance creation from the outset is essential.
All this talk about scoring goals is particularly important, given that Houston Dynamo — for all their goal-scoring potential they display — have been a defensive sieve. Watch their midweek highlights against San Jose Earthquakes and you'll start to come to a fuller understanding of why that's the case. They simply looked discombobulated, and that should leave Real Salt Lake aware of the opportunities they'll have.
Start well, finish well
Starting matches well is something I'd argue the team hasn't struggled too much doing under Jeff Cassar. It seems he emphasizes the approach, evidenced by last year's early match dominance. Of course, the late-game collapses made that all moot, but it's still something to call out all the same.
What should Real Salt Lake be doing to accomplish that? It seems simple: Control the ball, create some chances, and be ready to finish those chances. That's often easier said than done, especially on the road.
In some ways, it does come down to finishing. It was one area where the team struggled last weekend, and if there had been a little more sharpness, they wouldn't have had any issue winning that match.
Need an example? Burrito Martinez had one golden opportunity in the first half (around the 37th minute mark) that he should have laid off to a basically unmarked Yura Movsisyan — instead, he put the ball into a dangerous area where he thought Movsisyan might have been making a run. It's not like either player committed some cardinal sin in this case, but it's just an instance of that little bit of sharpness lacking — or maybe it's just two players who haven't yet played 10 matches together still figuring things out. There are certainly worse things.
Keep the midfield moving
I talked about it maybe too much last week, but RSL's midfield didn't live up to their high standards on Saturday. Sure, that basically comes down to one moment, but it emphasizes an issue: No game is safe where your midfield isn't tracking back and closing down the space between them and the defenders behind them. It allows simply too much room for operation.
If Kyle Beckerman and Sunny can get that part right, and if the wingers commit fully to following players when they start to, RSL will find their defense significantly boosted. Until then, it will be difficult to really get things firing as they should.
That sort of commitment is important — it's the heart of a successful team. If RSL gets that right, they will win. I hope.