After a terrible start to the season, this win is what the RSL fan base needed, and we should all take the time to feel the relief of having 3 points on the board and a team scoring goals. But this is the first step in a long journey to being an elite team and so to pretend like nothing could be cleaned up would be far too complacent for a team that has had real issues over the last few weeks. So I don't want to come over as negative but here are the three things we can still improve on.
I love the statistics of football. The old adage is that the numbers don't lie and when it comes to football, there are a lot of numbers to digest. Real Salt Lake enjoyed 52.3% of the possession against Vancouver with a 77% Passing Accuracy but under those numbers sit a concerning fact. Most of our failed passes were long ball passes; and of the 17 open play crosses we had, only one found an RSL player. I highlighted Yura as the culprit on this and a lot of people disagreed with me on that, which I encourage people to do and get involved, but I will expand a little on things here.
Yura isn't a target man that can sit at the top of a high crossing 4-3-3. He's 5’9”, and his best talents are his finishing on the ground and his movement. Having Yura play aerial crosses won't bring out the best in him regardless of who is on the field around him. He isn't good enough in that way, but if you change the way the team lines up, then you'll get the player we need in the front, which has started to happen. I see this in England all the time as teams take the best players in the world and wonder why they don't perform and usually it's down to them not being in a system that allows them to excel. Footballers are part of a system and the best teams in the world are those who's total is greater than the sum parts.
Low crosses in will work but a high pressure passing game is where he will thrive. Yura managed to remain much higher up the field than against Minnesota and take more touches in the box to boot and he was rewarded with a goal for his effort, breaking the defensive line and beating Kendall Waston to find the bottom corner. So I will add a clarification to my stance on Yura: He is not built to play as a target man in a long ball 4-3-3 but in a high pressure passing 4-3-3 he could easily be looking at 15+ goals this season.
"Ben, how can you say we need to do better at finishing when we scored three goals in blizzard conditions!" I here you say. Well, my answer to that would be to ask if you watched the first half at all? Depending on your take on things, we have 4-6 very clear cut chances with Plata and Yura both missing the target and Rusnák being denied by a very unsure Outsted. There is no denying the difference Petke made on the attack: We were far more aggressive and applied much more pressure to the Vancouver back line but the fact we weren't up by 2 or 3 by half time I'm sure had more than a few fans wondering if we were doomed to never score again. I don't know what the answer here is, however, Lennon has been a revelation on the wing and Rusnák is starting to find his flow. Perhaps it's just time that's needed to have the players gel and the confidence to return to the players.
Danilo Acosta and Chris Wingert came in to the back line last night and did a great job keeping things together, especially Acosta who's flown under so many radars when it comes to assessing the youth talent available to Real Salt Lake. We are a team that is short on numbers however with only 27 slots filled and a number of players now out. The news of Chad Barrett and David Horst both being out was particularly painful because these were veterans brought in to be depth on the bench and leaders in the locker room and with them added to a long of injured players we are in need of some numbers that can contribute, especially if our luck continues to be out with player health.
Truth be told, I wasn't looking forward to writing this because I'm still so pumped from the result and the way we played, especially in the second half. Vancouver were poor for sure but we were ruthless and didn't let our head drop even though we saw chance after chance go astray.
Mike Petke wanted a winning mentality and for players to be accountable for their own performance and I think we saw that but it's one game, one step back to the top of the mountain for Real Salt Lake, so I'll be hoping we can perform in the same way against the team on the other side of that mountain in Colorado on the 16th.