Mike Petke needed a win. Not because his job was in danger; both the Real Salt Lake organisation, and MLS as a whole has a proven track record of giving substantial time to coaches. Petke needed a win to validate that his approach could work and that his way of playing had the potential to take Real Salt Lake forwards and not back. He needed a win to keep the players “bought in” to his way of doing things and quell any “mentality” issues that may be coming up. He needed a win, to be honest, to justify the passionate faith the fan base has in him.
But you know how this works, it’s my job to say where we could have done better after any game. That we beat Colorado -at home, after some blowout games should be a reason to make any fan believe we could knock Barcelona off their perch, but after every dizzying high has to come the crushing low and so here are the three things to do better after Colorado.
In my head, after any game, I always put a big, mental asterisk after every goal that’s come from a set piece or against a team down a man. The reason being, well, these are professional players who should be killing teams in these situations. I know it’s easier said than done and that so much goes into the game that having me sat on my sofa balancing a large bag of Malteasers on my belly as I type this would have so many eyes rolling there’s a risk they will fall out but it stands to reason you’d expect a player to be able to score a penalty. A team at this level should know how to exploit a team down a player and on 19 minutes, Colorado were just that as Tim Howard was sent off for handling the ball outside the area.
It wasn’t until the 82nd minute, an hour later into the game, that Real Salt Lake managed to open the scoring and it was a penalty that snuck past the fingers of substitute keeper Zach McMath (who seems to be preferred in goal by the Rapids faithful) who been having a great night so far. Follow this up by a Krealich wonder goal and another set piece goal from Rusnak (who took advantage of the previously-great-now-asleep-at-the-wheel McMath) and you’re still left with the following stats
- 29 Shots
- 10 On Target
- 8 Off Target
- 11 Blocked
Whatever way you want to slice it, that’s not the kind of ruthless form we’ve been seeing from the elite teams in the league, elite teams we’re trying to overtake no less. We had 70% of the possession, 88% passing accuracy and over twice the passes as Colorado and we still needed a penalty to open the scoring? A 10 minute three goal bonanza over a team down a man doesn’t mean our striking issues are over. When the dust settles, questions should be asked why we couldn’t finish off the chances that came before that PK.
Final Third Distribution
One thing I’ve noticed when I’m writing these pieces this season is that there’s always the same gap in each game. To be fair, this time around it’s not as noticeable but it’s still quite shocking to see.
This is the successful passes from Real Salt Lake over 90 minutes. Notice what I’m calling “The Bowl” right in the Colorado area? That worries me because we’re getting no penetration in the middle of the park. There’s nobody there holding the ball up or assisting the the wide players with distribution. Everything is coming from out wide where it’s much harder to score. Rather than the ball being in front of goal and setting up for us to shoot, we’re pushed out wide where the angles are tight and we’ve no areal presence to finish off the chances we’re making. It explains why we have so many blocked shots, it’s because we’re taking most of them outside the area or at unfavourable angles that are easy to cover. We need less of the bowl please!
This one kills me to write because I know how it sounds so I’m just going to rip the plaster/band aid off. We play better with guys like Besler, Ruiz and Baird in the starting line up and they should be playing over guys who haven’t been pulling their weight. These guys are desperate to prove they deserve to play for an organisation that’s been building them into established MLS players and so each minute could be the last they get all season so they bust their backside to make it could. On the flip side, there are some players we’ve seen this season who know they can get a game and a paycheck in other leagues in the world who don’t put the passion needed out each week. Play the guys who play well, not the guys who’s salary is too high to bench.
I’m still looking for a sign that this team knows what it’s doing to be honest. It all seems very “Death by Football” but without the scoring goals which doesn’t really make me hopeful for this teams chances. I’d love to see more behind the scenes stuff and to see what Petke is expecting the team to play like and what his ideal is for how we perform as a team because it’s so hard to see on the field as we’re often on the back foot.