Matt and I were talking at the beginning of the mach about some thoughts I shared on the podcast recently. I said that I didn’t expect RSL to really hit their stride (not in those exact words) until July.
Going into this one I had one expectation for the team as the Mike Petke era really began, incremental improvement. For me, even with what Petke had said in all his press conferences about it being little things that needed changing, there was still a feeling that it was more than little things, or that the little things that he wanted to implement may not be that easy to implement. It was a fear anchored to the loss in Minnesota and backed by our impressive inability to finish over the past 11-12 matches. I have preached that those things should be forgotten, but they haunted me for some reason coming into this match.
Within the first 5 min of this match, however, I was on cloud nine — while at the same time I was flabbergasted a bit at just how much different the team looked with only a few changes. Little things really stood out to me, like that we were playing most goal kicks in the first half short. Though something so seemingly insignificant, it caused a noticeable change in the shape of the attack from goal kicks and drew Vancouver out of position (which in turn opens up space) on every single goal kick. There were several times in the first half that the possession was fluid, purposeful, and even exciting. Combination play involving multiple players and spanning 20-40 yards in quick bursts. There were overlapping runs, cheeky back heels, and buckets of quality scoring opportunities.
Now, many might say that we should have put 1-2 away in the first half, and you would be right if you were to say that. However, I think that in future games we will score some of those after finding the back of the net a bit in the second half. I really think that confidence gained from a match like that, which became so messy, could be extremely valuable. Scoring in soccer is so often about having the right mindset. It’s very possible that the coaching change combined with putting a few away in this match and a win to boot could lead to buckets of goals in the coming games (especially against Colorado).
Defensively I was horrified when I first saw the line up. Let’s just say that I am eating crow and I love how it tastes. Hot take here might be that if we can get healthy on that line we will be incredibly stingy in the back.
Everything is good then, right? We’re sorted and RSL has done a 180, is on track, and will win MLS Cup now?
Well, no. While I am thoroughly impressed with the grit and determination this team showed tonight, there is still so much work to do. I don’t want carried away by how excited I am by the things I saw tonight and forget about how important consistently playing with this energy and commitment will be going forward. I still stand by my July statement. I think that this team is good enough for Petke to get it to really hit its stride by July. There may yet be some ups and downs for us between now and then, and that’s understandable and will be part of the process. That said, tonight was amazing and I’m all sorts of twitter-pated at what Petke’s impact has been and could be. It’s a great time to be an RSL fan.