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Has RSL become a counterattacking team?

More importantly, is this the style we’ve been waiting for?

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

For many years, Real Salt Lake fans of various sorts have decried the team’s lack of counterattacking capabilities.

Under Jason Kreis, the cry was sometimes that we were too slow to properly counter, or that Alvaro Saborio simply wasn’t the right guy for it, or some other set of reasons. To an extent, there was truth there. We were set up for long periods as a team that aimed to create through possession, and it really did work most of the time.

Frankly, I’d love if we just got back to that — but the specter of great, counterattacking soccer would likely haunt us for a long time if that’s where we ended up. The best sides can hit you in multiple ways, and while our current regime hasn’t quite got all of that down (although we’re really much further along than even a month ago), we’re on the right track.

Take, for instance, our goal against Sporting Kansas City. That was as true a counterattacking goal as you can get. Watch the way we win back possession and set out toward creation immediately. We don’t have every player streaming forward, and we don’t need to. Three players getting forward was all it really took, and that’s because Danilo Acosta picked his head up immediately and looked for an opportunity. It’s not the sort of pass you’d expect from a full back — he looked like a central midfielder there. But before we move on, you should also look back at the pressure from Sunny to win possession — that’s going to be important with the next goal we highlight.

Next, let’s talk about RSL’s final goal against Portland Timbers — goal four. It starts in a very similar way: Sunny wins possession, Acosta plays a brilliant ball. Obviously, this wasn’t the most meaningful goal in the match, but the way it came about underscores some of RSL coach Mike Petke’s goals.

You can also take RSL’s third goal in that match for a spin with this principle, but the highlight video doesn’t really show quite enough. The important thing is that we’ve gained possession from an attack (this time from a Nick Rimando save) and have set out to push forward.

Petke has talked a lot about wanting to win the ball in the right areas, but really, I think it might actually be about winning the ball during the right phase of play. In all of these instances, we’ve won the ball back when players have committed to the play at hand, and we’ve set out to attack straight away.

The important thing about a counter attack is that it’s not just a speedy transition play — instead, it’s an attack in response to an attack. I think we’ve done legitimately well at bringing that into our game. Of course, we’ve scored plenty of other goals in recent weeks, not always by these means — but it is starting to look like we’re getting a good balance set, and that will serve us as we look

Obviously enough, RSL’s tactical evolution shouldn’t be done yet. If we stagnate having just found some moderate success, we’ll end up just where we were last year at this point in the season. We have to continue to refine our balance between concerted possession play and counterattacking play. The balance can’t simply swing to one side or the other, simply because that makes for an extremely predictable team.