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Goal Breakdown: Luis Silva’s winner comes from well-designed free kick

Luis Silva finished perfectly, but his role was bigger than just that.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at D.C. United Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Silva has slowly started escalating himself into a starting position at Real Salt Lake as a striker. I know we’ve talked about this a lot, so we’re not going to dive too much into what he brings.

Instead, let’s focus on his goal against D.C. United, because that was a pretty fine goal in its own right — and it’s not at all just about the finish. There’s been a lot of talk about the finish, and sure, it was a good one. But this wasn’t merely a lucky bounce, because Silva was involved from the very beginning.

First up, here’s the free kick RSL is about to take. Albert Rusnak is standing over the ball, and you actually cannot see Joao Plata here, but look out for him. You’ll also see an awfully drawn blue arrow. That’s Luis Silva’s pending run. It is, I think, the single-most important run in the whole play.

It’s a very smart bit of business from Silva to get open on the play, and he jockeys and fights to keep possession before laying it off for a run. Watch that part again. Notice how Silva has started in an offside position? He’s being marked by D.C.’s Patrick Mullins (no. 16), who is actually more concerned, I think, with ensuring Silva is offside than he is with ensuring the player is properly attended to. Here’s another shot.

See, Silva’s ahead of the line, Mullins is helping to keep it. This puts him at a disadvantage once Silva is making his run, because he’s now playing catch-up. Silva’s going to make a darting run away from goal, then toward goal, and his new position gives him the opportunity he needed to win the ball.

By taking this free kick short, Albert Rusnak has essentially upset D.C.’s expectations, as you can see they’re still very much combatting against a headed cross. They’re caught off-guard by this play, and that’s the ingenuity of it. Was it drawn up this way? I don’t know, but it worked very well.

Here, you can see Luis Silva having just made a superb little pass to Joao Plata, who is running down the left flank from essentially nowhere. Drawn up? Again, I don’t know, but this seemed purposeful.

What would you expect to come from this, then? Would you expect Plata to send in a cross? He actually plays in a pretty tame ball, and that’s probably where the design of this play ended. Still, given Silva has dropped back toward the top of the box after Plata’s pass, it makes me think there is a deeper element of design to this play. Maybe Plata is looking to hit Silva here and simply misplayed his pass slightly.

That’s all to say that I really don’t think anyone expected what came next. Marcelo Silva, Kyle Beckerman and Justen Glad are doing an excellent job keeping everyone occupied in the box, but all Marcelo Sarvas really has to do is clear the ball and everything would be fine. Instead, I think he’s looking at a quick outlet pass to spring a potential counterattack, and that’s where things really went wrong. He’s wrongly estimated Luis Silva’s position, and that enables him to get just enough on the misplaced pass.

The rest? I can’t explain it. It was a really, really great finish. Just outstanding stuff.