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Quick passes make quick goals

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RSL’s new mantra: Win the ball, score a goal.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Some of my favorite Real Salt Lake goals have come from long strings of passing culminating in a seemingly perfect goal — but that’s not the Real Salt Lake we’re watching now.

In fact, this RSL team has suddenly become a quick team, which strikes me as a bit funny. That was exactly the strategy Jeff Cassar tried to impart on this team with little success, and Mike Petke has come in and made it happen.

We still score those brilliantly worked plays at times, but last week was the perfect case study of what Real Salt Lake has been working to become in 2017. If we’ve suddenly started reaching our potential, there’s no better time to do it than with fewer than 10 matches remaining until the playoffs — although one might have wished for some earlier consistency so we weren’t on the edge of our seats, waiting to see if we make it into the post-season.

The last two matches have seen us score eight goals, and none of those goals came with more than four passes. Let’s take a quick walk.

RSL vs. San Jose

1. Silva

Luis Silva’s opener was well-worked, but it was created when Danilo Acosta and Tony Beltran took a smart defensive approach and doubled up on one runner, allowing Acosta to win the ball and quickly lay it off for Chris Wingert. Albert Rusnak did the hard work and found Silva streaking down the right side, and as we know, Silva finished with aplomb.

2. Savarino

This was an interesting one to me. Jefferson Savarino’s excellent strike came after some extended play down the flanks, and it nearly culminated in one Savarino strike but ended in another, instead. The first opportunity had something like seven or eight passes involved, but this one just had two.

3. Rusnak

The longest of our passing plays, this one featured Luke Mulholland winning the ball in the middle third, finding Tony Beltran, who found Brooks Lennon — all this is on the right touchline or thereabouts — before he fired in an overwrought cross for Luis Silva. Joao Plata retrieved it, found Rusnak, and that bouncing finish was perfection. Does this really count as four passes when one was a poor cross? I don’t know. Still, it’s not exactly a long play.

4. Movsisyan

Simple. Nick Rimando found Yura Movsisyan. Yura Movsisyan shot and was blocked, then Yura Movsisyan shot again.

RSL vs. Colorado

1. Joao Plata

You’re noticing a pattern here, right? Tony Beltran won possession in RSL’s half, found Sunny in the midfield, who found Albert Rusnak, who, yes, found Joao Plata. Great finish past Tim Howard, and it was the uncertainty we created that really opened up the goal here.

2. Luis Silva

This was a penalty. Hardly any passes came before Luis Silva scored.

3. Luis Silva, redux

Brooks Lennon won possession deep in RSL’s half, fired off an outstanding pass, which, admit it, you thought was a clearance. I did. Luis Silva followed it, had a great touch, and finished. Yum.

4. Brooks Lennon

Again, this one starts in our half. Beltran took a throw-in, Mulholland sent forward a long ball, Saucedo had a nice short pass inside the box, and Lennon had himself a perfectly placed goal. Cool.

Takeaways

We’ve finally figured it out, I think. Early on, we focused a lot on where we won possession, but I think that might have been the wrong thing to look at from our outsider perspective. Instead, I think I should have been looking at the situations, not locations, during which RSL won possession. Looking at this list — still, not a definitive one by any stretch — shows us winning possession inside our own half during established attacking plays. That’s important because those are the situations in which players will have committed the most going forward, leaving us with the greatest opportunity to have an impact. It’s about transition play, and it’s so nice to see us executing.