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The Salt: Back in the playoffs, RSL’s grit propels success

MLS: Knockout Round-Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports


Aren’t we all tired and in good moods today?

Let’s talk.

Reunited, and it feels so good

Oh, were we ever outshot. 22 shots to 4 (plus one own goal.) That tells you everything you need to know about the match: We were under intense pressure and trying to absorb it rather than trying to fight against it.

It worked.

Now, I have my thoughts on why it worked — Nedum Onuoha, for one, played an incredibly effective defensive game. From the looks of it, he’s a great last-ditch defender, and he’s a great one-on-one defender. But beyond that, he reads the game well, and he was constantly in a position to get the ball out of the danger zone.

On his own, Onuoha had 14 clearances. That’s high enough for sixth-most among all players were it to take place in a regular season match. (It might be for the playoffs, too, but I don’t have that data.)

More, both Onuoha and Marcelo Silva had five interceptions apiece. Now, part of that comes from playing against a very aggressive LAFC side who had plenty of time to attack, but it’s still an important statistic.

Looking back

I’d like to take a look back at Monday’s edition of The Salt. I think there are some things I got right, but also some I got wrong, and let’s keep me honest.

In the section “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” I wrote this:

If we’re going in with hot heads and rage fueling us, I think we’re in trouble. Our tactical approach will suffer if we’re not organized, because, well, they’re better than we are. If we can’t recognize that fact and plan accordingly, we don’t stand a chance.

I’ll stand by this, and I think Mike Petke did a stand-up job getting this team organized. From the first minute, they seemed to have a gameplan, and they stuck to it. We didn’t panic when we went behind, we just kept trying to do what we’d been doing successfully. It paid dividends.

In the section “Who plays for RSL against LAFC?”, I wrote:

I’m not convinced we’ll see much in the way of change from Petke, so I’m predicting it’ll be what we’ve seen the last few weeks. Of course, he’s also a little unpredictable sometimes, and I know he’s thinking about things in ways that we are not, so really, it’s just a mystery for now.

I mean, I sort of wrote my point into oblivion here, giving myself too many outs to really be healthy. We’re not here for a writing critique, though. We did see big changes from Petke, and they also paid off well. Luke Mulholland starting worked wonders — he was everywhere — and to do so in only his second full match back from injury is really something. Nedum Onuoha was an inspired move. Corey Baird was perhaps a less thrilling substitution, but I don’t think he was a miss, by any means.

But I also think I got one thing right ahead of this game: tactics matter less — or at least differently — in the playoffs.

Last week, I wrote about Mike Petke’s substitution patterns and game management. I stand by those comments, but I actually think those things matter slightly less in the playoffs. Game management is still of real importance, of course, but a lot can happen when player motivation is at its highest.

This is where Mike Petke should shine. He’s a motivator at heart, and sometimes, I think we need to build around that. It’s not a solution all the time, but against LAFC, a match in which grit was the focus was extremely effective.

What comes next?

We have at least two more matches to contend with, and it’ll be our first chance to get actual, meaningful revenge for 2013. Now, I don’t think that’s how the players should think — they need short memories and all that, and their motivation needs to be future-focused, not rear-facing — but that’s certainly how I’m going to think.

This is going to be another short turnaround, and we should ask ourselves about what lineup we might see. We’ll talk more on Saturday or so, but briefly, I think we’ll see a few changes:

  • Luke Mulholland almost certainly can’t play another 90 minutes — or even 60 — with that short a rest. He looked completely spent by the end of that one. He’s been better than I would have expected, but let’s not tempt fate with his health. (Also, I sure hope his head’s OK.)
  • Will we see Onuoha and Marcelo Silva together again? I think we need to put a question mark here. I think they proved to be an effective pairing, but the plan against Sporting Kansas City will need to be a different one than against LAFC.
  • What about Joao Plata? Will we see him in the starting lineup?

I also have a few questions about how we play on Sunday, but you know, that’s going to just have to come later. Until then, Sporting Kansas City, this one’s for you.

Off-topic: SB Nation

I’d first like to shout out the editor of Angels on Parade, Alicia Rodriguez. We had a very good Three Questions this week (which doesn’t surprise me one bit; we’ve been exchanging these off and on for at least five years), and she took a strong stance around LAFC fan misbehavior. One line that stood out to me:

What an embarrassing showing, giving all of LAFC, including fans who did behave themselves, a black eye.

One of the best parts about managing a blog in the SB Nation network is being able to build good relationships with the people running other sites. I always look forward to exchanging questions or interactions with Alicia, and others, like Dave Clark at Sounder at Heart, or the editorial team at Black and Red United.

Off-topic: Really off-topic

I played one game of KeyForge, a new card game from Richard Garfield where every deck you buy is a completely unique configuration. It’s a very interesting idea, but because I played with the starter decks, I didn’t get to experience any of the randomness. That’s the real pull here, and I’m excited to play more.

I’m also nearly finished with the TV show Designated Survivor, which I only started because I was home sick from work. It’s sort of like junk food, but I do love Cheetos, so I guess this is par for the course.

Finally, I watched A Quiet Place, and I did enjoy that a fair amount. I’m not going to talk much about it — it’s still recent enough that spoilers matter — but I’d give it a solid 8 or 9 of 10 for atmosphere and a 6 or 7 for story.

So, what about you? What are you playing, or watching, or reading, or whatever you’d like to talk about?