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Where is RSL tactically?

Thoughts on tactics and players and formations, oh my!

MLS: Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Something is off with RSL’s tactics, especially in attack. Most of us can agree that RSL has a stellar roster full of talent, both experienced and raw. All of the pieces are here to make things happen. To win matches. To score goals and wow fans.

I’m no master tactician, but it’s obvious that something is missing—out of place, wrong—on the field tactically for RSL.

I can’t either. I don’t know what it is. Do the players know? We drive to the wings, but when that doesn’t work we often resort to Route 1. Bang the ball down field and hope, then count on our defense to stymie the counter after we lose the second ball. This can sometimes, I guess, lead to a few goals, but not consistently. Not often. And it’s not pretty or worthwhile. I’m not against a well-played long ball, but it has to have purpose. It has to mean something tactically.

So where is our disconnect? Weston Jensen does a great job digging into tactics; give his stuff a read. In his RSL vs RBNY Tactical Preview, he talked a lot about tactical versatility. Where is our tactical versatility? What are our tactics? Who should we be playing and where should they play? What is the issue? Is it formation, tactics, discipline, motivation, personnel?

Matt Montgomery wrote about five stats from the match against RBNY, one stat being pass completion. As a team we averaged 51% passing accuracy overall. Ouch. Games aren’t often won with stats like that. I’ve written a lot about the strength of Yura’s holdup play. It’s a distinct strength. But if his passing accuracy is only 45.5%, that play is wasted in final execution.

My thoughts come down to a few things. What are our players’ strengths? Are we tactically aligned to play to those strengths? Are individuals playing in the positions that best exemplify their strengths?

A quick look at our Designated Players

MLS: Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Yura Movsisyan—He’s our big target striker. His job is to go toe-to-toe with opposing teams’ center backs and score goals. A tactical shift that could play to his strength would be to give him the chance and time to showcase his holdup play, allow him to reposition inside the box, and feed the ball to his feet with supporting runs from our wide forwards and midfielders. I’m guessing that’s what’s supposed to be happening, but it’s not.

MLS: Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Joao Plata—It’s been said that the 4-3-3 (now 4-2-3-1) was built around Plata, designed to highlight his skills. However, his best season for RSL was in 2014 playing as a second striker with Álvaro Saborío in the 4-4-2 diamond. He had thirteen goals and six assists that season over twenty-six games. Since the formation shift, he’s scored thirteen goals over fifty matches. That stat does come with a respectable sixteen assists. Perhaps, then, it might be his best spot.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Albert Rusnák—Rusnák is our new attacking midfielder. Our fulcrum and playmaker. Our attack should be running through him. I’ll never be able to call him—or any other RSL player—maestro, that’s Javi, but I would really like to see him earn some baton-related metaphoric sobriquet in the future. Do our current tactics play to his strengths? Is our formation ideal for a player of his talent? I don’t know yet. He’s shown promise, but talent can be easily squandered in the wrong system, with the wrong leadership, under the wrong guidance.

So what?

Which leads us here, to my point. Waibel has done some spectacular things with RSL’s roster, but those pieces that he’s fit into place need a keystone in the form of a coach that can work wonders with this team. This coaching hire could possibly be the most important decision that Waibel makes for RSL. We need more than a leader and motivator. We need a strategist who can instill tactical versatility in the squad. A student of the game who can make the best decisions going forward, who can keep up with the changing culture of soccer, especially as it booms in the US. Mostly, I’ll argue, we need a coach who is a capable teacher. A coach who can educate our players, teach tactics and skills, prepare the youth for future careers, instill an identity that Real Monarchs and the RSL Academy can emulate. A leader who can adapt and teach adaptability to our players. I would love for our weekly arguments as a community to be guessing what strategy will be employed by the team because we have a coach who is such a tactician that he develops destructive plans for each team and situation, with multiple contingencies and tactical variations. Ah, a perfect world.

There’s a lot more that could be said, but I want to know what the community thinks. Where are our tactics off? What are your thoughts on personnel? Formation? Individual player strengths?