We've talked a lot about Real Salt Lake still not quite getting their shooting in order — and it's easy to gloss over that without seeing raw data.
"It's about shot quality," I can hear — and sure, I can buy that argument, but let's at least get to some numbers first.
But, according to Squawka, RSL is currently taking a mere 12.1 shots per match. It's enough to place RSL in 16th place in MLS in raw shots taken. NYCFC leads the league with 16.8 taken. That's something, right?
That's with a team that's been heralded as having a tremendously talented "front four" — Javier Morales, Burrito Martinez, Joao Plata, and Yura Movsisyan. That's where I start to get worried. If RSL is still struggling to get regular shots away, there's probably some reason to sit up and take notice.
Let's pivot, though. Maybe those numbers mean are saying more about chances created — or maybe there's a contrary position we can examine. Our question should be now if RSL is creating enough chances, which may or may not be reflected in the raw shots taken statistic.
RSL is sitting in 14th place in MLS in chances created with 9.1 — that's about two fewer chances per match than the two league leaders, NYCFC and New York Red Bulls. It's pretty much in-line with shots taken — and that's probably a reasonable position to be in. The real problem, though, is that RSL isn't creating enough. They're scoring at a reasonable clip — 1.4 goals per match, enough to place them firmly in the middle of the table.
Before you start to wonder about away matches and the influence that has, let's look at that.
First, you should know that Squawka is an awful source for home and away numbers. They tend to mangle the data, which seems unusual and unfortunate for a good source. Let's find another way to get this data. WhoScored is actually an excellent resource for that.
They've got us sitting at 11.8 shots taken per away match. That's good enough for 7th in the league. Sure, that number can improve — and maybe it should — but it's not exactly the worst in the league. (Worst in the league, you ask? LA Galaxy. They've taken 8.8 shots per away game.)
If we now turn our attention to home matches, you'll see a surprising story emerging. Why's our overall number a bit on the poor side? Well, we're second-to-last in the league with shots taken in home matches: 12.5.
We've won all four home matches. We have a perfect record at Rio Tinto Stadium.
So, what's the issue? It just comes back to scoring. Real Salt Lake simply isn't scoring enough from the run of play — we've scored 7. We can certainly do better, right? It's hard to imagine we can't. It just turns out that the numbers we sometimes worry about aren't always the numbers we should be worrying about.
Maybe — just maybe — a bigger issue is Real Salt Lake being the team that plays through the middle of the pitch the least. WhoScored places 21 percent of our passes through the middle, and we're equally weighted on the left and the right. Does that play a role? It might when it comes to defending.
And in the end, isn't it all about defending? We'll talk more about that later.