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The Salt: Schedule hell, RSL got bad, and where’s Onuoha?

Mike Petke’s mad. So am I.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If I seem a little on-edge today in The Salt, I just want you to know it’s only for soccer reasons. It’s certainly not because it’s been raining a lot, because I truly have enjoyed that part of things.

And there are plenty of soccer reasons, so let’s just have it, huh?

OK. So we’re bad again. We’re on a four-game winless streak during the most important time of the season. We could have already locked up playoff berth if we’d won both our last home games. We didn’t.

So let’s talk.

When did RSL get bad?

Ah, OK, so I don’t actually know the answer to this. We started kind of poorly — it was rocky, at least — and it took until the end of May to put together more than one consecutive positive result. We did once go three games without a win, but this is easily our worst form of the season.

You know, I’m a little surprised by that. I haven’t felt like we were truly good at most points — here and there, sure — but to never have been this bad is actually pretty good in MLS. Even SKC went five without a win this season, and they still have an outside shot at the best record in the West.

We’re bad, and it’s really distressing to me that I have no idea when we regressed this much. Maybe we’re a team that really can’t stay good or bad, but our timing is truly dismal this time.

MLS has given us schedule hell

I know it’s a little inane to complain too much about the schedule, but consider this: When MLS released the schedule, RSL played Portland Timbers twice in their last three games and had a three-day turnaround between facing that side.

And why? I don’t know. It’s not like we have a pro football team using our field. We can’t use that excuse. No, instead, we face New England Revolution on Oct. 18, and on Oct. 21, we face Portland again.

See, here’s the thing. Everyone else is playing Oct. 28. We’re not. Maybe that’s a nice thing if we end up in the playoffs — something I’m really doubting at this point, which isn’t a great feeling. But look. I’m working on a piece that’ll drop probably Thursday about who might replace who in the lineup. We’ll at least be missing Sunny and Kyle Beckerman, and we might be missing a slew more through international duty:

  • Shawn Barry
  • Joao Plata
  • Jefferson Savarino
  • Albert Rusnak

And I still think there’s a real possibility that Nick Rimando will be retroactively suspended, so there’s that, too.

And if we’re not missing them, they might be on one or two day’s rest for meaningless international friendlies.

Look. I know that this happens. But MLS has put us in a real bind, and good grief am I not happy about it. I know Mike Petke isn’t, either.

Where is Nedum Onuoha?

Look. If you’re going to sign a player on a TAM contract, you better intend to play them. Not seeing Nedum Onuoha has become something of a mystery to me. Why have we signed him if, when we really need him, he’s absent?

Moreover, why aren’t we seeing Marcelo Silva? Is it truly an injury that sort of magically comes and goes? I really find that hard to believe.

I think we’ve signed Onuoha for the right reasons. I think he’s the right player for us. He might not be perfect, but he has a blend of experience, skill, intelligence and leadership that could be really valuable. Maybe he won’t work out — that happens! — but how are we supposed to know if we don’t actually try?

Part of me thinks that Mike Petke has been digging in his heels, and that’s why Onuoha hasn’t seen a start. What I do think we’re seeing is that there is a disconnect between those bringing players in and those deciding who plays in a given match.

Now, I can excuse a number of player selection issues. For example, when you hear for the better part of two years that Danilo Acosta has attitude issues, it does start to sink in. I do think playing Brooks Lennon at right back has been a very good move, too. I think Joao Plata being dropped both times he’s been dropped was the right decision, and it worked out well in the end.

But Onuoha? I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around his non-selection. I sure hope we see him on Saturday, because if we don’t, I have absolutely zero idea who’s going to play at center next to Justen Glad. Luke Mulholland, maybe?

Toning it down

Alright, so I know I’ve just put our coach on blast a little bit above, and I will stand by that completely until I get information that necessitates me contradicting that. But I do think he’s got a bit more of the blame recently for on-field performances than is justified.

After all, while I do think Onuoha should have played, we have reason to suspect that Nick Besler can be pretty good at center back. He did generally well against LA Galaxy and their famous player, for instance. Personally, I expected better of him than we saw. The same goes for Brooks Lennon, who I think has taken a bit of a step back in recent weeks after looking every bit the part at right back.

I do think a good coach can recognize when a player is struggling and either help them adapt or rotate players a bit, but I think it’s important that we think about that topic separately from ‘tactics’, writ large.

I tend to break the game down like this:

  • 1) Selection — who plays in a given match
  • 2) Strategy — the general ways you want to play
  • 3) Tactics — the specific instructions given to achieve the team’s strategy
  • 3a) Substitution patterns — a subset of tactics
  • 3b) In-game tactical adjustments — also a subset of tactics

I’m not saying this is the only way or even the right way to think about a soccer match, but it’s broadly how I think about the game. The question I have, then, is this: What areas of this is Mike Petke better at, and which is he worse at? Every coach will be better at some things and worse at others. If we judge his skillset relative to itself, we can come up with an idea that doesn’t necessarily rank him alongside other coaches. Instead, it can help us understand who he is as a coach.


Alright, so I’ve continued reading the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch novels, and I’m really just breezing through them at a reasonable clip. I’ve truly enjoyed it, so if you’re a fan of DS9 and wish you had more than seven seasons of it, I’d really recommend giving them a try. Start with Avatar.

I’m also getting truly excited for the return of Jean-Luc PIcard to my TV screen. He’s always been a role model for me, and I think the way his character was treated in the ST:TNG movies was not particularly great. Giving him a chance to play the Captain — Admiral? Ambassador? — again is truly exciting. It starts filming in April.

It’s been a bit of a slow week for board games, but I’m working on a list of games to play this Halloween. I’ll be sharing that with the lot of you when I’m done with it, but I’d be happy to give you a preview in the comments if you’re so interested.

Anyway, are you getting excited for the offseason? Maybe it will be nice to have Saturdays free again. I’m not crying; you’re crying.