Real Salt Lake has won once on the road, but they’ve won four times at home. That’s not exactly great results-getting from the side nestled at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, but it’s clear that they’re a better side at home.
Of course, that’s true of nearly every team in MLS. Only one Western Conference team has more than two wins on the road, and that’s five-road-win LA Galaxy, who have been pretty bad at home, earning only one win there. Two Eastern Conference teams have beat that mark, too: Toronto FC (3) and New York City FC (4). Outside a few teams in the league, the trend is very much lose-more-than-you-draw, too.
But we’re not here to figure out why that’s the case across the league, as interesting as it would be to figure out. There’s a real difficulty in sussing out the root cause here, but honestly, we probably don’t need to. It’s almost certainly parity striking, and we don’t need to dig deep to figure that out.
No, instead, I’m curious what RSL is doing differently on the road. It might not tell us everything, but let’s get started.
What it’s not
It’s not possession
Possession stats both on the road and at home fall at 49 percent.
It’s not passing success
We’re slightly better on the road, actually, with a 75 percent passing success rate not at Rio Tinto, and 72 percent in our hallowed home.
It’s not the type of pass
Roughly 77 percent of our passes at home are short; 5 percent are crosses, and the remainder are long balls. Away from home, we’re at 79 percent short passing, 5 percent crossing, and again, the remainder consists of long balls.
What it might be
Cards & card situations
At home, 9 of the 16 cards we’ve been issued have been categorized by WhoScored as for a foul. That leaves seven cards for ‘other’, which, on the face of it, seems about right.
Away from home, 18 of the 22 cards we’ve been issued are for fouls.
That leaves us with another question: Are we giving up too many cards? Given we’re the team with the third-worst discipline in the league with 36 yellow cards, and one red card. (Somewhere in WhoScored, one of those cards has disappeared. I don’t know to where it’s gone.)
This is only a slight difference, but 33 percent of our touches are in the final third when we’re at home. When we’re away, that’s at 30 percent. Are three percentage points enough to make a significant difference? I’m not really sure.
We also play through the middle slightly more regularly at home, with 26 percent of our touches not coming on the left or right side. Away, that number is 24 percent. Again, these are small differences.
What it almost certainly is
Opponent shot locations
At home, 6 percent of the shots we give up are in the six-yard box. Away from home, 13 percent are. That’s a very high-probability shooting zone, as any xGD expert will tell you. (Does that mean much? I don’t know, I’m just a kid.)
If you reason that expected goals against will tend to be higher when shots are taken from the six-yard box — and that’s definitely statistically the case, with about 31 percent of shots from ‘zone one’ being converted. We concede an average of 13.9 shots per game on the road, which isn’t very good — but it’s also far from the worst, putting us distinctly in the middle of that table.
Opponent finishing percentages
We concede 13.9 shots per game away from home, and we’ve conceded 28 road goals on the season. That’s a 19 percent finishing success rate, with 2.8 goals conceded on the road per game.
Interestingly — and I think this is related — we’re near the bottom on shots blocked per game (2.1) and crosses blocked (1.3) per game.
With our 2.8 goals conceded away, we’re handing opponents at 21.7 percent shot conversion rate. That’s quite easily the worst in the league. Columbus Crew is closest at 19.1 percent. The average team concedes a 13.2 percent conversion rate.
When nearly 22 percent of the shots you concede end up hitting the back of the net, you will more often than not find yourself on the wrong end of a blowout. And given that’s what has happened repeatedly, we need to ask ourselves why that’s the case. That’s a bigger question — one we’re not going to figure out today. But over time, let’s continue to ask that question. If things don’t improve, it’ll help us figure out areas that need improvement.