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The Salt: A lesson in substitutions

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We’ve left The Salt until late this week. Will it make a difference?

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Real Salt Lake Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, hi.

I know, I know. It’s Wednesday. This is a Monday — and occasionally Tuesday — thing. But today, it’s a Wednesday thing, so you’re going to get it on a Wednesday.

Why Wednesday? There’s no good reason. Maybe Saturday’s match was more deflating than it should have been. Late draws are always upsetting, especially when you should have been significantly better than the opposition. Certainly, we should have been.

Let’s get into it.

A lesson in substitutions

Mike Petke has been the sort of coach that likes to leave his substitutions late, and I think you can make an argument for why he likes to do that. I was telling somebody — was it you, Jake? — that I think Petke is a strong believer in the team he puts out, and he’s hesitant to change that unless there’s a compelling reason. That’s typically injuries or players having been rested pre-match.

When Pablo Ruiz came on for Kyle Beckerman — an injury-related substitution — what we saw was a player who simply wasn’t ready to fill that role. Sure, he hit some magnificent cross-field balls — it was pretty remarkable, really — but he also struggled to get into the defensive half of the match. Unfortunately, we needed him there, and he should have been better prepared for that.

When Corey Baird came in for Albert Rusnak, we lost the rest of our spine. Ruiz was already playing in wide positions instead of a more narrow approach — for better or worse — and Baird was much of the same. Jefferson Savarino moved inside at that time, and that’s an extremely difficult role to just step into from a wide spot.

Finally, when Sebastian Saucedo came in for Sunny as we grasped desperately for a victory again, it capped several minutes of waiting to see if he’d come on. He looked exasperated and frustrated, and I don’t know that I’d blame him if he did.

Maybe these were all the right substitutions, and maybe they were even at the right time. But RSL was struggling in that match before Petke made his changes, and we struggled afterward. It’s clear the impact they had was not the desired one.

A lesson in preparedness

You know, it’s interesting how often we’ve struggled early in matches. It’s a little “bend but don’t break” right now, though it’s been worse earlier in the season. When you combine that with the substitutions on Saturday, it starts to look like there’s a preparedness problem.

Interestingly, though, we often shake out of it and really get into a match. So I don’t think it’s preparedness outright — we have adjusted our game to opponents well, but it’s just that first few minutes that things look shaky.

See, I don’t think it’s like Petke doesn’t know what he’s telling them and players have to figure it out on their own. I think it’s largely a consequence of a fairly young XI in most matches, and I don’t know that there’s a simple solution.

I do, however, think that the addition of Nedum Onuoha will improve us if he can be the vocal leader he’s said he’ll be. We need that, and he promises to be a big addition. Now, we’ve heard that before, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

A lesson in media

As you may have seen by now, The RSL Show has reported that RSL’s VP of Communications, Trey Fitz-Gerald, has left Real Salt Lake, and while I don’t think this is the place to get into the reasons — especially when he hasn’t even announced it himself yet — I did want to take a second to talk about the influence he’s had on RSL Soapbox.

When I started writing about Real Salt Lake on my own blog in 2011, Under the Crossbar, Trey was one of the earliest supporters. He had feedback on what I’d written there, he shared context and detail, and he helped boost the platform we were given. When I took over at RSL Soapbox in 2012, that continued. Over the last seven years I’ve had regular interactions with him, he has been helpful, supportive and important to the growth of the site into what we are now.

If he is indeed gone for good from Real Salt Lake, it will be a loss for everyone in the RSL fan community.

Off-topic

On the video game front, I’ve been playing more Hollow Knight and Into the Breach on the Switch, and both really are perfect for the console. Hollow Knight feels really oriented toward grinding, which can get a little frustrating, but it’s been rewarding, too.

As for board games, I’ve played a few recently I’d like to mention. The Mind is a silently played cooperative game you have to play to really grasp. Given a game takes between 10 and 20 minutes, it’s an investment worth making.

I also played Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which is a really fascinating combination of two games, Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Rather than building your own castle (as in the latter), you’re building two castles, one each with the players on either side of you.

In the less productive areas of my life, I’ve finally been watching The Good Place and listening to the board games podcast Ludology and the craft chocolate podcast Chocolate Fascination.

What about you?