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How RSL conceded opener against Columbus Crew

Individual mistakes and indecision cost RSL points at home again.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive errors marred Real Salt Lake’s performance against Columbus Crew, with RSL conceding points at home for the second consecutive week.

The worst part of that draw? There was no reason for RSL to concede twice, especially given they also only conceded two shots on goal. Not great stuff, really.

There’s plenty to talk about that went well, and there’s plenty to talk about what we need to fix, but I’d like to narrow my focus for a few minutes here on what exactly went wrong on those two plays, because frankly, aside from that, I think we did a lot of things right.

Sure, we could have been more incisive in the first half, where we looked essentially dead to the world. That’s not a tactical thing I can talk about here, though — aside from the whole ‘get out of your own half’ thing. But in the second half, we were very sharp in the attack, and even if we could have finished with two more goals than we did, it’s hard to find too much fault with the way we approached the game going forward. (Yes, Yura Movsisyan should have finished, as should Albert Rusnak, Luis Silva and Joao Plata. Let’s move on.)

I’d like to take a look at the first goal. Here we are just a few seconds before the goal, and we actually look like we’re set up pretty well.

That blue line I’ve squiggled onto the page, though, is where I think things first broke down. We have eight players visible in frame, and Tony Beltran is just outside the frame in a defensive position. Let me scribble again on a shot three seconds after this one.

Whoa, RSL. Not a great look. We’ve completely lost track of a winger from a defensive play that was already inside our own half. What should we see differently? Where do we start?

First, you have to expect commitment from Joao Plata and Albert Rusnak to drop into defensive positions during moments like this. (I know I’ve knocked Plata for this before, but I think this isn’t a laziness issue — he looks prepared to make a run for a counterattack, so there’s certainly some positive reason he’s not paying attention.) Second, I have to wonder what Danilo Acosta is doing there. He’s on the outside of the man he’s marking, who Justen Glad also seems to be marking. Certainly, you don’t want to leave yourself too exposed through the middle, but it feels like a small adjustment might have been helpful.

Whatever the root cause, the Crew player is free. Danilo Acosta comes to him, which is probably as expected when a player like Justin Meram finds a good diagonal option to disrupt play. Fair enough, I guess. We actually recover OK, but what comes next was troubling in its own way. Let’s zoom in.

Here, we see Sunny and Acosta have failed to prevent a quick break down the flank by Ethan Finlay, with Acosta being beaten particularly bad on a run to the end line.

Here we go. Look at those lines. Kyle Beckerman at the top of the box? Alright. Jefferson Savarino in a position to drop back? Good! We might just be OK. Of course, we weren’t, and you know that. We see a small individual mistake when Justen Glad reaches for the low cross and misses, but Silva was there to clear things away.

Or... well, the ball doesn’t go nearly as far as he would have wanted, Justen Glad gets nutmegged, Danilo Acosta doesn’t get back in play fast enough, and for some unimaginable reason, nobody — nobody! — has followed Ola Kamara into the box. Beckerman is nowhere to be seen. Savarino hasn’t followed the play back. The defenders are alive, but barely. In essence, a play that could easily have been five-on-eight turned into four-on-four, and RSL was never likely to come out of that equation with a non-negative result.

We could talk about the second goal we conceded, and maybe we should at a later date, but it feels like there’s not much to say. We could probably sum it up in a few bullet points:

  • Jefferson Savarino simply cannot lose the ball where he did. His backpass to Marcelo Silva was poorly thought out. I can fault him for that, but I cannot fault him for his effort in getting back.
  • Nick Rimando gets caught in a difficult position, and he’s certainly had better moments.

Again, the second goal was the result of a couple individual mistakes strung together in a way that just killed our chances, and that hurts probably more than the first goal we conceded — but, again, it didn’t feel like we got beat tactically on that one, it felt like we were hoist on our own petard.