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Talking Tactics: The Rocky Mountain conclusion

Real Salt Lake’s win over Colorado Rapids saw creativity hit a peak.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

A turbulent weekend saw Real Salt Lake move closer to the coveted 52-point mark that would almost certainly secure them a spot in the 2016 MLS post-season. In addition, RSL (re)captured their first silverware of the 2016 season in a Rocky Mountain Cup series that has been revived as one of the best rivalries in the league. All the macros aside, there was a lot of micros that can be gleaned from this match, so let’s jump on in.

As one door closes, another opens

For how clinical the Claret-and-Cobalt have been in front of goal this year, Friday’s match against the Colorado Rapids stood in stark contrast with that trend. RSL squandered three scoring opportunities, tying the season record, against a Rapids’ side that conceded much more space than MLS fans have become accustom to in 2016. Still, the home side was able to raise their mere 8.9 chances created per match season average through fantastic squad creativity that produced 12 opportunities on the night.

Chances created by RSL v. Colorado
Courtesy of FourFourTwo’s Stats Zone.

Starting off the season so hot it was inevitable that RSL would digress to the mean but few could predict that it would happen over the course of one match. Sure that might be a teensy bit hyperbolic but it sure didn’t feel that way as a fan watching the match. RSL had three chances to go up by two (if not more) but they were not able to which set up a hell of stoppage time battle.

Interestingly enough, the Claret-and-Cobalt has found a way to get their wings more involved. Over the course of the last few matches Juan Manuel Martinez has almost been a footnote, disappearing into the background, but not this time. El Burrito completed 76 percent of his passes and won more duels than any other attacker on the pitch (62 percent). He was dangerous once again picking apart defenses and even getting a much deserved secondary assist on Yura Movsisyan’s second goal. In all Martinez looked to be rounding back into form just when the playoff and, possibly, a Supporter’s Shield push are eminent.

Dominating the Danger Zone

Real’s defense was the real key to winning back the Rocky Mountain Cup. Over the series RSL’s backline shutout Colorado once and then held the Rapid’s potent attack to only two goals.

Key among the contributors were Demar Phillips and Justen Glad. Both of these players were very clean in defense. Not only did the two of them combine for just under half of all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s defensive actions (13), but they played well through the high pressure of Colorado’s attackers.

Phillips and Glad’s defensive contribution against Colorado
Courtesy of and Opta.

These players also contributed to preventing any and all Colorado’s crosses from becoming dangerous in or around the box. On the night Colorado attempted nine crosses, all of which were won by RSL players in the air. In short, RSL made their 18-yard box a “no fly zone” for any ball played by the Rapids.

A few more things to sink your teeth into:

3. Yura moved closer to the double digit goals mark.

After finding the back of the net twice against Colorado, Yura has now scored 9 goals in 23 appearances this season. While that is a fair deal off of my original 20 goals predicted mark, Movsisyan appears to be looking his best since missing nearly a month to injury. Yura’s work-rate provided the spark that RSL needed to produce only their third multiple goal match in two months.

2. Kyle Beckerman and Luke Mulholland dominated the center pitch.

RSL midfield duo v. Colorado midfield duo Heatmap
Courtesy of Who Scored.

The midfield duo out did their opposition by leaps and bounds on Friday. Winning and keeping the ball for their side, Luke and Kyle were able to keep RSL on the offensive – so much in fact that 81 percent of the match was played in the middle or attacking third. With Sunny on the mend, it will be interesting to see if Mulholland’s previous excellence on the pitch will be able to keep his spot next to KB5.

1. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s playing style looked at times like the RSL of old.

Pass types RSL v. Colorado
Courtesy of Who Scored.

Not only did RSL dominate possession (59 percent) but the club heavily favored short passes to long-balls. Early in the season RSL relied on over 20 percent of passes being long-balls but that number has dropped to only 14 percent. Furthermore, players are getting more touches as RSL completed almost a hundred more passes than the season average.