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Who will end 2018 as RSL’s top assist-maker?

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With 7 games remaining for Real Salt Lake we take a closer look at who will walk away with the most assists for the 2018 season

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, why isn’t there an award for the man with the most assists each year? Top scorer gets the golden boot, top goalie the golden glove, top player the golden ball, but the top assist man, he gets nothing. That is something that FIFA and MLS need to get on top of.

In the meantime, send your best ideas for the award for most assists to @rslsoapbox on twitter or leave it below in the comments and we’ll see what you can come up with!

While you guys are coming up with the prize and name of the recognition, my top pick would be the silver shin guard. With 7 games remaining we are breaking down for you the narrowing race for the top assist man on RSL this year.

Real Salt Lake started this season off slow in the goal scoring category, but with the team finding its shooting form, assists are also on the rise. Here for you are the contenders, the pretenders, and the “can’t set a teammate up” offenders.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Contenders

Jefferson Savarino in the minds of some supporters has taken a step back in 2018 from where he was in 2017. I think that actually has more to do with expectations coming into this year than his actual performance. Savarino needs only 1 more goal to tie his 6 goal total from last season and has already surpassed his 5 assists from 2017 with a team leading 8 assists this year. With his 8 helpers this campaign, the silver shin guard (seriously, help me name this thing) award for most assists is his to lose at this point. He has 2 more assists than the next closest teammate and given that 4 of his 8 assists have come in the month of August we don’t see him slowing down anytime soon. Despite having the most assists, Savarino has only the third highest assists per 90 of anyone on the team at 0.31, so if he doesn’t keep the foot on the gas he could see someone surpass him.

Albert Rusnak is within close striking distance of Jefferson and we are sure he will want to repeat as our assist winner like he did in 2017. Last season Albert got off to a blazing start in his first year of MLS play. He finished last year with a team high 14 assists and added 7 goals to go along side that. This year we haven’t seen close to the same productivity by Rusnak, but he is certainly capable of turning it on and waving goodbye to the competition. He currently has 6 assists, good enough for a tie for 2nd place. He also has a 0.25 assists per 90 which is tied for 4th on the team.

Damir Kreilach is the last player in our group of contenders. He is tied with Rusnak on both assists (6) and assists per 90 (0.25). Impressive given the fact that he has played defensive midfielder, creative midfielder, and even striker at times. Despite the week to week uncertainty in where he lines up, it hasn’t seemed to dampen his ability to have an impact. While certainly within striking distance of the assist crown, the likelihood of Damir winning is small. He hasn’t tallied an assist since July 7th, opting instead to score 4 goals over the last 6 matches he’s played in instead. Hey, we aren’t complaining.

With 7 games left, Kreilach has 7 goals, 6 assists, and has put his personal stamp on this club and the hearts of its fans. Whether he wins the assist title or not this year, he certainly wins my newcomer of the year award for the club. A great signing by Craig Waibel and company.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Pretenders

While each of these players has shown well for themselves in their own right, we think they are just a little too far from the top spot to be considered serious contenders. We do hope however that they prove us wrong during the home stretch.

Joao Plata is at the top of our pretenders list, and some arguments could be made given his recent form that he should be a contender. Plata currently sits on 5 assists, only 3 away from the top spot. Had he seen more minutes during earlier stretches of the season we think he would easily be in that upper echelon.

Here is our argument why Joao just won’t have enough time to get there. He currently has the second highest assists per 90 of anyone on the team at 0.38, that bodes well for him. The problem is that he needs 4 assists to take first place, 3 only gets him a tie. With 7 games remaining that leaves a total of 630 minutes remaining in the regular season. Simple math shows us that at .38 assists per 90 with 630 minutes, Plata would notch another 2.6 assists. So it isn’t a stretch that he could finish with 8 assists, but that requires him to play every minute of the last 7 games at his current assist per 90 clip, and hope that the three players ahead of him lose all form.

Joao certainly shouldn’t hang his head though, he has already tied his assist count from last year and has surpassed his goal tally. Another solid season from one of our longest tenured players.

Rather than break them down individually, your last 3 pretenders for the assist title are Sebastian Saucedo, Corey Baird, and Brooks Lennon. The youngsters have all shown very well for themselves with each sitting on 4 assists. Sebastian leads the entire team with a 0.40 assists per 90. As he gets more minutes in the years to come he could prove an invaluable creator offensively. Baird deserves his own round of applause, given that he is the only #9 on our team in recent history to even notch an assist (we’ll get to that in the next section) and all during his rookie year.

That brings us to Brooks Lennon, the wingback of the future. Much has been said of his transition for good and bad. Is he miscast, should he be playing winger? I don’t know, I am not a coach or GM. What I will say is this, he has already tallied 4 assists this campaign from the right back position. The club legend Tony Beltran’s best year in that regard was a 3 assist year and he has a total of 12 for his entire career. Brooks isn’t the defender that Tony is, he’s got a long way to go to be in that same conversation. But arguably he adds more to the attack from that position than Tony does. If he can improve year over year defensively while maintaining his knack for offense he could become a very desirable player at that position.

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

“Can’t set a teammate up” offenders

Here’s the part where we call attention to those who probably should have an assist but don’t. Let’s ignore all other context for a minute and go strictly off of stats, sorry @sltidjake. In particular I’d like to call out an issue from the players on our roster playing center forward. As mentioned previously, Corey Baird is excused from this group as he has 4 assists in his rookie campaign.

Luis Silva has notched 5 goals for RSL this year, not bad. However, he has yet to record a single assist. This doesn’t jive with the oft used narrative that Silva is better at holding up the ball and distributing to his teammates than Corey Baird who is “just a runner.” Make of it what you will, if he finishes the season without an assist it won’t be great, but it also won’t be unprecedented. Remember our old friend Yura Movsisyan? He finished last season with 7 goals and...you guessed it, zero assists. For all of the talk of needing a great finisher up top, it’d be nice to have someone who can also create more opportunities for the other very talented attackers we have on the field.

So there you have it, the race to the silver shin guard is still very much open for the taking. Will it be Jefferson, Albert or Damir? Or could a dark-horse candidate like Joao Plata make a late push? In the end, we can all hope for lots of assists ergo goals down the stretch run to the playoffs!