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How hard-working Tony Beltran ushered in an RSL win

A little elbow grease went a long way as RSL beat Philadelphia.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of things you can pick to talk about from Saturday’s win over Philadelphia Union.

Maybe it’s that Joao Plata looked like a renewed force on the left wing. Maybe it’s that Jefferson Savarino was really, really good. But if we’re talking tactics — and we are — then I’m going to be focused on Tony Beltran’s influence on the team with his return.

I’m not going to say that he’s single-handedly revitalized the team, because that would be an inane argument. I’m not going to say he’s been missed more than any other player this season. But after Saturday, we can definitively say that he makes a difference. (This should not be a surprise to anyone.)

Why did he make that difference? Let’s start at the back.

One-on-one defending

via WhoScored

We talk about it a lot, but you know, it stands up every time you repeat it: Tony Beltran is an excellent one-on-one defender. Plenty of times, we saw Beltran block a cross or force a poor one, and while we can’t force him into too many of those situations — it provokes too many corners, and that’s hardly ideal — knowing we can rely on him to be right there with good left backs and wingers provides some relief.

That chart you’re looking at, by the way: Those are blocks from Tony Beltran. Four blocked crosses, as you see here, is outstanding.

Attacking presence

It’s just working hard. I didn’t do anything else. Joao and Jefferson were phenomenal in that play. That goal is phenomenal. That’s maybe a Goal of the Year candidate. Their movement, their combination — me, I just chased down the ball and that’s that.

That’s from Beltran himself after the match. I know he’s being humble here, but his involvement on that goal is important.

It starts all the way just past the defensive touchline as he keeps a ball from rolling out for a throw-in, and that seems simple, but it’s not just about simplicity here. It’s about the hard work. He could easily have just let the ball run out for a throw-in, but he’s taken a game-changing action here.

While it’s certainly easy to overlook, when a player runs down a ball like that, he can help spring a counterattack. The extra seconds it would have taken for a throw-in would likely have been just enough time for Philadelphia to reset. Let’s watch the goal again.

There’s also that second pass he has in the build-up, and while that’s important, too, it’s a bit more straightforward. Really, the lesson here is that no player should ever be content to let a ball roll out for a throw-in when they’re not trying to waste time.

What others said

Mike Petke

With Tony coming in now, with the leadership he brings and the experience he has, I thought today, his impact on the game, not so much in the playing, but just his presence definitely calmed things down.

Albert Rusnák

Tony Beltran, today, big help for us at right back. The shift he put in and his defense was outstanding.

What he said

That is the most satisfying scoreline. Schuler and I were talking about that the other day. I’d rather win 1-0 than 5-0. In soccer you have to suffer and in a 1-0 win you have suffer in the game and fight. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I love playing defense. The commitment from the boys exemplified that.

via RSL Communications

Moving forward

We know exactly what we get from Tony Beltran. He’ll never be the player that sends in brilliantly whipped crosses, but he will be the player that does a few things particularly well:

  • He’ll work extremely hard. This has two main effects: First, it puts the opponent in a more difficult position; second, it has an infectious quality on his teammates.
  • He’ll find an opportunity for a simple pass, then he’ll move into a position to receive, whether that’s forward, backward or sideways. It’s a great quality he has.
  • He’ll communicate defensive needs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jefferson Savarino looked at his most defensively able. Beltran has a big effect.