Real Salt Lake started off well before dropping points late against Minnesota United, and things simply didn’t go quite to plan.
Here are three winners and five losers from a match that RSL really should have — and could have — won.
Loser: RSL’s collective defense
With the post-season rounding into view — just five matches left in the regular season for us now — Real Salt Lake needed to be focused and aware. Defensively, they were neither, with too much of the result coming down to last-ditch defending from Nick Besler and Justen Glad.
Winner: Luke Mulholland
He didn’t see any minutes, but Luke Mulholland made the bench. That’s a good sign that he’s healthy, though I don’t know exactly what his role in this side should be.
Loser: Pablo Ruiz
We haven’t seen Ruiz for a bit due to injury, having come off injured against Houston. He wasn’t great in that match, and he wasn’t great in this one. When he replaced Kyle Beckerman, two things happened: First, he took the role Sunny was playing, tracking down the ball and breaking up play. Sunny had been largely very good there, and moving him hurt us. Second, it moved Sunny into the Beckerman role, which he is less comfortable playing, to my mind. It hurt.
Ruiz was simply not up to the task. He spent chasing shadows all night, tackling at thin air far too often. It hurt us — badly. What should we have done instead? I might have looked toward Shawn Barry and moved Nick Besler up, or looked toward Danilo Acosta, who has played as a defensive midfielder in the past and could still be a good idea in that position.
But moreover, I would have dropped Damir Kreilach deeper into the match. He can play that anchor spot, and I would have liked to see him there. Why we insisted on keeping him up top when the service dried up is beyond me.
Winner: Nick Besler and Justen Glad
Our collective defending was bad, but Besler wasn’t so bad, and neither was Glad. Both mopped up extremely well, keeping RSL in front for most of the match. For me, the bigger problem is that there was a deficit on the right side, and Brooks Lennon didn’t fill it well. When we moved Jefferson Savarino into the middle, putting Baird on the right instead, we lost the defensive effort we needed to keep the game.
So, yeah. Besler and Glad did well. Probably not well enough to avoid being dropped, though.
Loser: Brooks Lennon
This was a real shame. Lennon has had a long string of good matches, but this wasn’t one of them. In the second half, he looked absolutely lost. Now, I don’t think this is just on him. The balance was thrown off when Beckerman left — a forced substitution — and we never really recovered. But Lennon was beat for pace several times, and he was beat on the dribble once or twice, too. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s disappointing.
Winner: Nedum Onuoha
So, here’s a thing. Onuoha is coming in and saying basically every right thing he can. If he’s training half as well as he’s talking, he should be in the starting lineup as soon as possible. Add in the fact that we looked lost at times, and it becomes clear that some defensive leadership would do us good.
During an interview around halftime, he said he was hoping to help someone like Justen Glad be a better player — a national team player. That’s fantastic to hear, and I hope it happens like that.
Loser: Kyle Beckerman’s hamstring
Hopefully it’s just a minor blip, but Kyle Beckerman exited the match with a hamstring issue. If it keeps him out of one or more matches, we’re in serious trouble right now. Can we cope? Certainly. And actually, if we have to, I suspect we could — we’d just have to move Nick Besler up and Nedum Onuoha in. It doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
Loser: Mike Petke’s in-game adjustments
I firmly believe by now that Mike Petke is a good strategic coach that struggles when having to adapt mid-match. He certainly gets some things right — I don’t want to paint him with too broad a brush here — but tonight’s adjustments led to our demise. Now, maybe we would have cracked under the pressure Minnesota was placing on us anyway. Still, Ruiz wasn’t great, Baird struggled to get into the game, and Saucedo was left hanging out on the bench for far too long to be of any use.