A lot of time is spent on Real Salt Lake's problems in recent memory. After losing out on a playoff spot for the first time in eight years, the club's problems have been reiterated countless times. But after their fifth win of 2016, it is time to focus on what the club is doing right.
To often have the Claret-and-Cobalt been refused the national spotlight because of the club's small origins. Sitting 34th in the U.S. media market rankings, all of the other clubs in the league come from larger markets and presumably draw larger crowds. But this might be a misnomer because once again RSL snatched three points from an opponent and is getting much deserved recognition from the 'Powers that Be' in Major League Soccer.
For a second consecutive week, the Claret-and-Cobalt were without the services of Joao Plata. The diminutive Ecuadorian has become a huge personality on and off the pitch for the club. Starting and appearing in RSL's first six matches, Plata was directly involved in eight of the club's ten goals. As a result, he earned the title of Etihad Airways MLS Player of the Month for March. He came out of the gates swinging and had a red-hot start to this season, but now with two matches under their belt without him, Real has had to adapt without him.
Plata was responsible for creating 19 of the club's 46 chances while he was on the pitch. Roughly accounting for 41 percent, Plata earned the keys to the RSL attack. Now don't mistake this as being the club's way of pushing Javier Morales out of the starting XI, instead it was been a way to lessen his load. At 36, Morales has been pulling the strings of the RSL attack for nearly ten years now, but Plata's emergence has only exaggerated Real's attack.
In the matches preceding Plata's absence, Morales only created one goal scoring opportunity - or two percent of the club's total chances. Since Plata's absence, however, Morales has shown that he still has the ability to be the playmaker for the Claret-and-Cobalt accruing 14 of the club's 28 chances (50 percent).
In essence, the RSL attack has pushed on in light of Plata's absence - even excelled in some aspects. In the first six matches of the season, RSL only managed to created, on average, 7.6 chances per 90 minutes, while in the last two matches the club has averaged 14 chances - nearly double.
But once again for the Claret-and-Cobalt, it was not a single player that stole the highlight reel for the club who's mantra is "The Team is the Star." Against the Houston Dynamo, as an example, eleven opportunities were created:
Six of which were through the efforts of Javier Morales alone, but the other five came from contributors throughout the squad. Yura Movsisyan, Juan Martinez, Jamison Olave, Justen Glad, and Demar Phillips all added in this endeavor resulting in the largest key pass contributor list of any match thus far in 2016.
In Plata's absence, the entire squad has be stepping up to contribute in the offensive side of the game. With the squad playing as a team, instead of a group of individuals, RSL has managed to nearly double the amount of chances created in a single match. Able to put their opposition under pressure from all part of the pitch, RSL is looking like one of the stronger offensive squads in the league.
Speaking of putting the opposition under pressure, the club was also without the presence of Chris Wingert against the Dynamo. The veteran defender always seems to be in the right place at the right time, contributing to 11 percent of Real's defensive actions per match. In fact, playing only 467 minutes out of a possible 720 minutes in 2016, Wingert is once again one of the top defensive performers in the squad.
Even without his presence, RSL was able to force the opposition into turning over possession. On the night, there were 59 turnovers in total - 30 from RSL and 29 from Houston. Despite the overall totals being nearly identical, the importance of this stat is found in location of the turnover.
As said before, Real lost possession 30 times against the Dynamo but only six of these came in their defensive half. The Dynamo, on the other hand, lost possession of the ball 14 times in their defensive half, accounting for nearly half of their total turnovers. This means that RSL was actively taking the game to the opposition and not sitting back defending.
Take for instance Burrito's assault on the Dynamo goal in the 16th minute:
On a bad give away by former RSL-man Collen Warner, RSL's proactive stance allowed Martinez, whose own work-rate was incredible, to get two good shots on goal.
Without Wingert, one might have surmised that Claret-and-Cobalt would be weaker defensively but as the age old adage goes, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
This RSL squad has become the poster child for referee disciplinary action. Real leads the league - along with the Vancouver Whitecaps - in red cards shown in 2016 (3). In addition, the club has also accumulated 14 yellow cards. Therefore, on average, Jeff Cassar's men are handed 2.1 cards per match - in the top 25 percent of the league. Basically, RSL is one of the most referee punished squads in the league.
Against Houston, however, Real achieved their first unpunished match of 2016. In total, there were 24 fouls committed during the match - 17 by the Dynamo and seven by RSL. Of those 24 fouls, only two were deemed card-able offenses which were handed out to Houston players.
For once, RSL was not at the mercy of a referee judgement call and able to play their game.
Other tidbits for your perusal:
3. RSL dominated possession. Achieving a season high of 59 percent, the club resembled more of the Claret-and-Cobalt under the tutelage of Jason Kreis. Averaging 50 percent possession over the first eight matches of 2016, RSL has average 54 percent on home turf and 46.5 percent away from the RioT.
2. The Claret-and-Cobalt tied their season best for pass accuracy. Completing 79 percent of their 414 passes, RSL dominated the match. In fact, below is all the areas where an RSL player touched the ball:
The club's contributions were felt all-over the pitch but none more than from the back. RSL's defensive corps contributed just over 50 percent of the passes (208 of the 414 successful passes).
1. Nick Rimando is the real Scott Sterling! "Will the real Scott Sterling please stand up?"
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.