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RSL’s early goal problems come from scoring deficit, not concessions

Real Salt Lake’s first-half goal differential pinpoints potential issues.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re being totally honest with ourselves, Real Salt Lake’s performances in the first 30 minutes of matches have been lacking at best.

But we need to step back and take a deeper look at this, because while we’ve all been frustrated by it, and our collective nerves are reasonably fraying, sometimes, not everything is as clear cut as we’d like.

First, let’s take a look around the league, especially with respect to when teams concede goals.

In the first 30 minutes of matches this year, we’ve conceded 14 goals. Seems bad, right? Well —

  • Nearly half the teams (8) in the league have conceded at least 14 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches. 12 of 20 have conceded at least 10.
  • In that list? FC Dallas, who have conceded 16 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches, but have somehow managed to be extremely good this year.
  • But at the bottom? Colorado Rapids, who have also been very good this year.

If we stretch this to the first half of matches, we get some interesting results, too.

  • RSL has conceded 22 goals; half the teams in the league have conceded at least 19 in the first 45 minutes of matches.
  • FC Dallas is still just behind us, with 21 goals conceded in the first half.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ve been relatively good in first halves. You simply have to turn to goals scored to start seeing that in action.

  • We’ve scored 12 goals in the first half, giving us a -8 goal differential. That’s particularly poor.
  • Colorado Rapids have also scored very few goals (8), but their goal differential is level.
  • Among the best first-half scorers? FC Dallas, with 20. That’s a -1 goal differential.

What can we start to gather? We’re starting slowly, sure, but we’re also not well-focused in the first half, either. We’ve certainly conceded too many goals, but we’re not in bad company there — but if we’re going to perform poorly in that context, we have to start scoring more goals.

In some ways, it feels a bit like a reaction to a poor 2015 season. We more often came out of the gates raring to go, but we would get caught out after leading the game. Our goal differential after 45 minutes was a respectable -1, which is certainly recoverable.

What, then, of the remaining 45 minutes? Surely, we should look there for insight, too.

  • We’re actually among the teams conceding the least in the second halves of matches: 20. Exactly how many we’ve conceded in the first half; perhaps not coincidentally.
  • We’re tied for first with LA Galaxy and Philadelphia Union for goals scored in the second half, giving credence to the notion that we’re still a very potent team.

We can come away from these numbers with some guidance for the few remaining matches of the season — and there are only four left, so put on your seatbelts.

  • Stop conceding early goals unnecessarily. Seriously — we give up goals we don’t need to by losing the ball in the middle third. We’re attacking as well as any team, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot too frequently. If we’re going to play a less outright aggressive first half, we have to be more cautious.
  • Start scoring early goals with greater frequency. This dovetails well with the point above. If we’re going to play with a bit of reckless abandon and flair — it’s fun, certainly — then we need to score more goals in the first half.