If you had Damir Kreilach down as Real Salt Lake’s most valuable player when 2018 started, come on down. You’ve won a prize.
Who could have predicted just how good Kreilach ended up being in his first season? I certainly thought he’d be good, but there was always a risk there. I didn’t, however, think he’d end up as our leading goalscorer and the player that lifted us out of a play-in match against LAFC.
When Kreilach signed in early 2018, I thought he’d be a good midfielder for us. I knew he could score the odd goal here or there. He’d scored 12 in a season once in his career, but I didn’t expect it to happen here in his first season.
So far, he’s at 14.
In lieu of more words about how great he is — all of which are unnecessary, because you already know how great he is — I’d like to break down how he scored his second goal against LAFC. It was a thing of true and utter beauty.
Jefferson Savarino’s cross
Every good goal starts somewhere, and this one started with Jefferson Savarino running down the right side and sending in a cross. To say it was a nice cross doesn’t do anything to really underline how good of a cross it was, though. It was spectacular. Look, here’s a screengrab.
Our spacing is actually really interesting here to me, too. See how Albert Rusnak is just standing on his own? Let’s look more closely.
Look at the pretty colors. Alright.
I think we have three distinct areas of space we should consider. First, there’s the area Albert Rusnak is occupying. It’s in orange. Then, we have the area where Damir Kreilach is looking to move. That’s in red. In blue, we have Aaron Herrera’s running area.
An important factor here is how we’re being marked. Kreilach is being loosely marked, Jefferson Savarino is being double-teamed, and Brooks Lennon is being watched closely by two players. This will be important.
Baird picks up the cross
Again, an illustration
The space has shifted upfield, but LAFC look very lopsided here. They haven’t coordinated their defending well at all, and Damir Kreilach still has about as much space as he did prior. Albert Rusnak is further forward, too, but he’s still keeping his run. Brooks Lennon is calling for the ball, which is the least surprising thing we’ve seen.
See the run of Albert Rusnak here? That’s in orange. It’s important. Kreilach is trying to find Baird over the top, but it’s the run of Albert Rusnak that is going to rip a hole in the fabric of spacetime. With this run, he’s pulling two players out of position, and this will be vital for the goal.
And here we go. LAFC has put the header straight up, and Corey Baird wins the second ball. Albert Rusnak is occupying three players, and Damir Kreilach is occupying none. Again, this is important.
But let’s also call to attention Brooks Lennon and Aaron Herrera. They’ve moved forward and are basically both at the edge of the box, each occupying the attention of a different player. Between Rusnak and the two full backs, five players are removed from paying attention to our most goal-dangerous player.
Now, we have the full backs up here, which means the midfielders are taking a more defensive stance. They’re probably spread a bit wider — we can’t see — but there is some balance to the risk. This one frame actually tells us a lot about what Mike Petke is trying to do here. We could have seen Aaron Herrera close to the touchline, but instead, he’s pulling in more centrally. Brooks Lennon was doing the same thing, too. Both could also have pushed their runs further, but staying near the edge of the box has kept the box from getting too crowded. Let’s keep going here, since we’re only seven seconds into the highlight clip.
Remember when I said that Albert Rusnak was occupying three players on his own? That’s actually only half true. They’re positioned to be “paying attention,” but look at their gaze in the shot before this one. They’re focused on Corey Baird and, more importantly, the ball. They’re watching the ball. If only there was a phrase for that. Hmm.
OK, but really, look at that. Albert Rusnak, by not moving too quickly or looking like he was about to make a play, is in a perfect position to receive the ball. But you also need to look at Kreilach again — he’s still free. Nobody’s paying him any mind. This is important.
It’s remarkable to me that Corey Baird has attracted the attention of five players. They know he’s dangerous, and they’re probably cognizant of that fact. But it’s not doing them any favors, here, as his inside run has left him with an excellent passing option he’s about to take.
That pass is good. Rusnak won’t score here — especially with how crowded it is in front of goal — but he’s about to try. That’s a great take, and I’m so glad we get to look at how we’ve built play that didn’t directly result in a goal. Instead, we need to understand what we were trying to understand what we got.
LOOK. Look at how free Damir Kreilach is. It’s obscene. He should never be that free on the edge of the box. It doesn’t make any sense. It underscores their need for a defensive midfielder. I don’t mind it, though. They can fail.
I don’t need to annotate this. Look how clumped up LAFC is. That’s amazing. Kreilach is aware here of what might happen, and sometimes, you have to play for a rebound. Also, do you see Luke Mulholland there? He’s on the right side, and he’s made a late run. That’s nice to see.
So, he takes the shot, it pops up to a defender, and he weakly clears it to the top of the box.
Look. Damir Kreilach is still ready. He’s the only one really ready. It’ll be a tall order, but he can take a shot from that position if the ball falls to him. It can’t be a plain old volley, though. The box is packed. It can’t be a normal chip, either. That’s too slow. What can he come up with? We know the answer already, and it’s a great one.
Yeah. He sends in the most insane shot I’ve seen in MLS in ages. Volleys are spectacular and fun on a normal day, but you take a crane kick volley and try that? I mean, credit for even trying.
Look at this. Brooks Lennon and Jefferson Savarino are both calling for the ball. Look again at Lennon’s position — this is not a coincidence. It doesn’t relate specifically to the goal, but it tells you so much about how they’re being asked to play. I get why they’re calling for the ball, too — they’re in arguably more reasonable positions to attempt something.
Nobody expects this to work.
What a goal.