Real Salt Lake’s loss last night — as painful and predictable as it might have been — isn’t anything new.
It’s instead a culmination of a preseason that didn’t properly prepare a team, a series of matches in which the team didn’t meet expectations, and a rash of injuries that have put the team in a delicate position.
But that culmination is something Real Salt Lake’s management, through owner Dell Loy Hansen and general manager Craig Waibel, have attempted to solve. They’ve ousted Jeff Cassar, for better worse, and appointed Mike Petke in his stead.
When the public reason for Cassar’s firing was that the team simply wasn’t at the point they should have been during the season, we don’t have to just take their word for it. We can look at this match and the matches before as evidence, and one 0-0 draw against New York Red Bulls can’t solve it.
Remember, though: Cassar wasn’t fired for his tactics or his post-match press conferences. And even though those things are gone now, it doesn’t magically mean the team is in a more prepared state. In fact, it probably means that they’re either at exactly the same level, or they’ve diminished somewhat — without a coach, even if said coach isn’t the best out there, they were left stumbling in the dark a little bit.
What of Kyle Beckerman?
The captain’s getting a lot of flak for this match, and maybe that’s fair — although I wouldn’t put him at blame for any of the important goals*, and I would say he kept his head better than he might have two weeks ago.
*By important, I mean goals 1, 2, and 3 scored by Minnesota
Really, we were put in a bad situation when Aaron Maund — one of two available center backs on the roster — succumbed to injury, and we never really recovered from that, despite holding the game at arm’s length for the majority of that time.
But maybe — and this is something I’ve posited for all five games of the season — we’ve been utilizing Beckerman in a way that best shows his weaknesses and best hides his strengths. He’s always been better when getting behind the ball and moving possession around, but more often, we’ve been seeing him darting around the attacking third helping to put pressure on a player. That’s important, I guess, but is it the best we can get out of him?
Obviously enough, Mike Petke’s tenure will see changes at Real Salt Lake. Will he utilize one of RSL’s stalwarts in a better way?
What of injuries?
Injuries are always going to be a part of the game, sure, but the rash of bad ones we’ve had recently, mostly to defenders, gives plenty of room for discouragement. We shouldn’t blame anything there, but imagine that match with Tony Beltran on the field, allowing the midfield to retain its shape instead of shunting Luke Mulholland out wide at right back. It sure seems like it would have been a rosier picture.
And maybe there’s something to be said for injury-proneness among our defenders, although David Horst has been generally reliable through his career since playing matches regularly, Aaron Maund only started experiencing problems late last year, and Justen Glad hasn’t been hit with the injury bug too often. Chris Schuler, sure. Tony Beltran, not really — he’s a near-constant, and this back problem that occasionally flares up is really just a minor annoyance.
What of coaching?
I’d be lying if I told you I thought this match was well-coached. But Daryl Shore, as Jeff Cassar’s assistant, probably had some role in our tactical outlay, and that was certainly one of the things that wasn’t good enough against Minnesota. While we could hem and haw about the state of the club, getting up-in-arms about it now is sort of like shouting at a passing storm for the golf-ball-sized chunks of ice it’s left on your porch. It won’t do any good now, and really, the problem has moved on.
Maybe there are bigger problems — I’d accept that argument, and sure, let’s talk about it more. But if the problem is tactics and the way the team’s prepared, just keep in mind that we haven’t yet introduced our new coach to that part of the team. That happens Monday, and that’ll be big.
So let’s put down our pitchforks — just for one week. Things were bad, and things have been bad in the last three years. They won’t heal overnight, and they certainly won’t have healed before the primary action we’re taking — hiring Petke — has had even an hour to run its course.
Here’s hoping we don’t continue to struggle, but if we do, keep this in mind: We’ve only just begun.