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Tactical Preview: RSL’s new possession mentality

RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez on the sidelines during RSL’s 3-0 win over Seattle Sounders
Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

It’s been quite some time since I felt like writing anything resembling a tactical preview would be a worthwhile undertaking. After Freddy Juarez’s tactical outlay worked particularly well on Wednesday, it’s worth taking a little bit of a dive in.

Passing rates

I’ve pulled passing data from the start of 2018, and with 90% passing, this was the second-highest passing accuracy we’ve seen from RSL. The one match to surpass it? RSL’s 6-0 victory of Colorado Rapids, which saw an obscene 93% passing success rate.

But if you keep going a little further, you’ll see more successes in last match’s passing approach:

  • RSL’s final third passing success was 81% — the most since, again, that Colorado Rapids demolition, which had 88% success in the final third.
  • It’s too early in Juarez’s tenure to talk meaningfully about averages, but let’s do it anyway. We’re at 84% passing success under Juarez in 2019, and we were at 78% passing success under Petke in 2019. I know that’s a tiny sample size, but it’s super interesting to me. I’ll be anxiously awaiting more detail here. (2018 under Petke: 82%)

How will this actually play out against LAFC? Will Juarez try to go for a possession-oriented style? Is that the best case for success? Let’s move on, but these are pending questions to which we have no immediate answer.

How much really has changed?

I actually don’t know if, in broad strokes, much has changed, outside of a marked desire to play a possession game. And don’t get me wrong — that’s a big thing, and it’s an important thing. But we’ve only seen that in one game.

Now, notably, that was the first game in which Juarez was wholly in charge of Real Salt Lake and not simply “acting head coach.” I’d imagine if he thought Petke was coming back, he wouldn’t completely uproot the playing style. Now that the team is his own, there’s almost certainly more of an impetus to shape the team in his own image — or at least an opportunity.

Now, LAFC is a very different team than, well, any other team in this league. There’s very little doubt at this point that they’re extremely good. Like, unholy levels of good. I suspect they’ve made a bargain of some sort. Would a smart-passing game play out against them? I don’t know. They have a +40 goal differential. Man. Wow.

The Baird Factor

OK, so calling this the “Baird Factor” might be a little off, but you know what? Three goals in two games is really good. But ... would he start? I think there’s a pretty big question mark there right now, given he started in our last two matches.

And it all does make me wonder: What is Corey Baird bringing to this side — aside from his goals, which are hugely important. I actually don’t see huge changes in his positioning, or even necessarily the runs he’s making. Certainly, his runs have been well-supported, though. Is that different? I don’t know. It’s hard to step back through time to other non-scored opportunities he’s had.

All I do know is that I thought he was going to be a footnote in 2019 — a sophomore slump — but I sincerely doubt that now.

Waibel on Juarez

From an interview with Spence Checketts on ESPN 700, here’s RSL general manager Craig Waibel on RSL coach Freddy Juarez.

I think the biggest thing with Freddy from a coaching standpoint is he’s been with this organization forever. He was with the youth residential program when it was in Arizona. He started there as an assistant and worked his way up through the ranks, so he knows this organization as well as anyone. He’s been here certainly longer than most of us, built a great foundation as a coach for himself. He’s drawn toward the tactics of the game. He’s not a roaming-the-sidelines kind of boisterous guy, but he’s very focused on the tactics, very focused on the roles they have within it. I think that’s ultimately what’s going to make him successful.