(Writers note - I wrote most of this content before the Cassar news broke and while I imagine there will be a new tactical approach to come, they don't happen overnight as Jeff 'Dad Jumper' Cassar found out in his first season. I've kept the content mostly unchanged as I expect the team and tactical view won't change too much at this point. I won't go into the Cassar news wither as the wonderful team here has done a great job covering it.)
If we class the Chicago game as 'Awful' then I think it's fair to say that the 2-1 loss to LA Galaxy would be 'Bad'. Still below where we need to be, but certainly not as bad. Last week I said we needed to improve 3 things: Team Selection, Tactical Formation and Attacking Play. Through injury we switched up the team selection, that selection forced us to clean up the formation and the fact we scored a really good goal first would class as an improvement in Attacking Play! Mission Accomplished.
Just as a quick side note, that Yura goal is really good. The ball isn't moving towards him, it's over and away from him forcing him to run onto it. To get that kind of power to direct a ball moving away from you into the top corner? That's neck muscles that a giraffe would be envious of!
3 losses on the bounce is not a good start to the season and we're already languishing in the basement of the Western Conference. It's early in the season so there's no way to draw any conclusions from that yet but the positive from this match is we did improve over the Chicago game. It didn't lead to a win and there is a large and vocal section of the Salt Lake fan base that are making their displeasure with the coaching staff known to all, cries which have been heard as Cassar has been relived of his role already. I understand it, but we did improve against LA. With a trip to New York now on the cards, what can we do to build on that improvement to get our first 3 points of the year.
Attack the wings
When I wrote how to beat LA Galaxy in the days approaching the game I emphasized that wing play would be need to be the focus and that we would need to surrender playing through the middle. RSL did just that and it worked well for them, opening the scoring with a great Yura header after an assist from DP Albert Rusnák. We passed the ball around well out on the wings with a lot of overlapping from the full backs and we did an good job of moving the ball from the middle of the park to the wings when we got the ball back. For reference, here is a passing map from our midfield quintet and the two full backs.
I know these can be a mess to look at but in that final 30 yards of the pitch there's a big gap. Adding Yura in doesn't make much of a difference either which shows that when we focus on wing play we do well. Had Chad Barrett buried his chance or should Brooks Lennon have done a better job with his chance we would have probably been hailing this passing style as the key. Losing the game shouldn't condemn this style to the bin and we need to keep doing this if we're going to make New York Red Bulls pay. Play to our strengths and we will score goals.
Tighten the defense
This has been the key point for most of last season and all through pre-season too. We've got the numbers at CB even with the injuries we have had and to be honest we've got the talent. What we lack now is a leader in the CB position and that's the absolute key for me.
Our leaders at the back are Rimando, who is often so far away from our high lined defense that he can't organise them until the ball is in the danger area, and Tony Beltran, who is playing as an overlapping player and is often up in the attacking third.
While we managed to replace Nat Borchers in terms of talent and ability, we haven't recreated the character and voice he brought into the squad. We've lost a vocal leader at the back and we need somebody to take that role. Schuler or Maund need to take a step further and become that vocal leader and take ownership of keeping the shape and keeping the defense tight and to build on that the rest of the defense need to understand that one of those two are the leader and they follow their instructions. Without that, I'm afraid the defense will stay disjointed and leak goals throughout the season.
Keep the Ffaith
(Writers note - THIS IS NOT A DIG AT JEFF!!! HONEST!!!)
Yura got the only RSL game of 2017 which will hopefully quell calls for him to hit the benches in place of Brooks Lennon. However, the young national team star managed to get a game with Jordan Allen going down and he made good on it. He overlapped well with Tony Beltran (see previous chart) and was instrumental in a 3 key chances for Salt Lake, one of which was his misplaced effort on goal.
Sebastian 'Bofo' Saucedo also put in a good shift, adding some much needed impact on the left wing. I've said it before but Plata is not a winger just because he is fast and if Saucedo makes this spot his own, I would like to see a formation used to allow Plata and Yura to link up as the classing Target Man/Advanced Forward combination once more.
I want to see these guys get another go however as our young players brought a lot of vibrancy and energy to out play, especially in those crucial areas. Any players that can limit the amount of ground the vetran Kyle Beckerman has to cover and leave him in the midfield to do what he does best is going to give us our best chance of winning.