Mike Petke said he told the players that he wanted to win first and wanted pretty to come second and it’s safe to say he got both his wishes. After a 5-1 loss, any win would have done for the home crowd but there was plenty of progress for this team in it’s tactical shape and consistency against a strong squad.
Real Salt Lake gave up a host of passing, accuracy and possession to come away with a tooth and nail 1-0 at home against a New York Red Bulls team that had just seen a blueprint on how to win at the Rio Tinto. Some of those issues still existed but all in all it was a much better performance overall from a team with a couple of changes in it.
The glaring issue we’ve had over the last three games has been distribution from the midfield area. Both Beckerman and Kreilach play a very similar type of game and while Kyle most certainly has the experience, Kreilach has a lot of physical skills that are serving him well as he embeds himself in the line up. What neither man really has is the ability to distribute the ball to the attacking quartet that are pushing quite high up the field and it’s become quite the issue for us. The solution against Dallas and LAFC was to push the wingers up to provide a connection between the defensive and attacking units but that’s punished us. With Lennon playing right back and sitting deeper and Bofo replacing Plata and playing a more traditional winger (which is a key change as detailed in point two) to do more defensive work, we lacked that ability to link the attack together.
It’s not that Kyle and Kreilach can’t play well together as they clearly do but more that we don’t have somebody distributing in the middle of the park. Ideally you would have a third midfielder playing more advanced than those two but still as part of a little trio that won the ball back and then pushed it up field but with Rusnak playing a more advanced role, we don’t have that. Looking at the chats above, you can see why there is a big space around the opposition goal in the heatmap; it’s because we couldn’t make passes to the attacking unit in the middle, only control out wide.
Basically, we have to find a way to link the midfield to the striker otherwise we’re going to struggle to score goals.
As mentioned above, I think playing Bofo in the left wing role above Plata is the best change made in this win. I’ve chosen my hill to die on and that’s “Plata is a striker who needs a partner” and I won’t budge on that. Plata had been deployed as an inside forward in the last two games and it left Demar Phillips exposed and allowed LAFC to exploit the space left as Demar pushed higher to support Plata cutting in. With Bofo, he played as a traditional winger and which meant Phillips didn’t need to push forward as high and crucially that Bofo could do more defensive work. We’re still weak there, but we’ve improved.
The side effect of this is we’ve lost one attacking outlet in a team where we need open play goals and with there still being no major change in the output of our main striking option, something needs to be done to compensate for this. Savarino played well on the wing and created some good chances and Cory Baird looked like a breath of fresh air, providing both speed and penetration in an area where it was needed.
Whatever tweaks come next, somebody needs to be given the job of scoring goals and the whole team needs to make that happen.
Reliance on the GOAT
I’ll make this quick because I will likely be killed for this one. Nick Rimando is 38. Nick Rimando has one foot in the RSL back office as an assistant manager or coach. Nick Rimando can make magic happen weekly. What’s going to happen when that magic isn’t playing anymore? Please let’s help Rimando enjoy the fruits of his labour and give him the best seat in the house for the resurgence of the RSL defensive line?
I may be in the UK, but as I saw the snow falling in Utah while my own town was shutting down due to a blizzard, I felt like I was almost there. I also built my own press box in the kitchen and watched the game from there, but it’s the snow we should focus on!
We seem to have good luck in the cold conditions and let’s hope that continues as Real Salt Lake will be heading to the star studded Toronto FC. That is going to be another tough game despite TFC suffering from a championship hangover!
Real Salt Lake need to keep building on the lessons we’re learning from these hard games and I think what we will see is something very stable as we get into the bulk of the season.