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Points of Obvious Refinement: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders

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How can Real Salt Lake bounce back from a 2-1 loss in Seattle before their trip to Portland to play Vancouver Whitecaps?

Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders FC Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Only One Observation

I’m going to start by being level with you, this match was such a bummer to watch that I spent a bulk of the 90 minutes playing chess with my step-daughter. She beat me equally as bad, but at least I put up a good fight. I was able to set a line of confrontation on the board and hold it for more than three seconds.

So on that note, let’s talk about defending free kicks, man-marking, holding a line, and why I lose my cool every time I see a defender or goal keeper put their arm up to claim offside.

I’m fortunate to be a part of a lot of different RSL centric communities and through those communities there are these under-pinned perceptions of certain players and positions in the club. An example of this is a fear that Marcelo Silva is solely responsible for allowing too many attacking players past him with a run into goal. Through the course of this season I’ve found myself somewhat sucked into that narrative. Far too often he’s chasing the attacking player and throwing in a last second slide tackle at the top of the 6-yard box when the ship has already sailed.

At the same time, I’ve also noticed Nedum Onuoha, Justen Glad, and now Erik Holt doing the same thing. Going too far forward and having to make deep and dangerous runs back to try and put anything in the way of a goal. That leads me to believe that this is a systemic issue more than a personnel issue. For whatever reason, it would appear that the center-backs are being told to focus more on pressuring and less on setting a block on attacking players.

When it works, it works great.

When it doesn’t work, you lose a lot of games in a short time.

Right now Real Salt Lake is in the latter. Leaking goals like a boat made out of screen doors in the pre-Flex Seal era. Allowing free runs like the cheapest nylons. Watching the back of the net wave like a Maneki-neko statue.

It’s hard to watch.

I think the problem is two-fold. The defenders are pushing a high-line that they can’t make recovery runs from and zonal marking on set pieces leaves them unsure who they should be tracking on those deep runs. Between the two, you’re either chasing, praying for offside, or allowing three attacking players to drop in behind the defensive line at the top of the box and have a relatively free header on goal.

Does that sound overly specific?

Seattle Sounders defender Yeimar Gómez scored his goal in the 61st minute off of that exact scenario.

It starts when Tate Schmitt commits a silly foul trying to get the ball from behind Will Bruin, through his legs. Was it enough contact for Bruin to go down? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter. If you put yourself into a stupid position you win stupid prizes. In this case, it’s a Nicolás Lodeiro free kick from about 25 yards out.

And then this happens:

Three Seattle Sounder’s players have a clear run on goal off of a free kick that was poorly defended by Real Salt Lake
Three Sounders players goal side with a clear run on Andrew Putna

We can clearly see that as the ball starts come into the penalty area three Seattle Sounders players are there with a clear run on Andrew Putna. At this point, it’s nearly impossible the ball doesn’t end in the back of the net somehow.

It’s absurd to me that this can happen. In the area of the goal scorer, Gómez, there are 4 Real Salt Lake players (including Sam Johnson) and none to them seemed to have been ready or prepared to track that run. What’s worse is they also let two other players make runs. The Sounders essentially went into a 3 on 8 situation and came out victorious.

Maybe they thought it was offside? I don’t know, but you don’t stop until the flag goes up and the whistle blasts.

You simply can not let any team do that to you.

Especially when that team is currently one of the two teams below you in the western conference table.

Which means this has to be sorted out before Real Salt Lake makes the flight to Vancouver Portland to play the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend. If the team wants to have a shout at making it to whatever the playoffs are this year, they can not give away free goals like these.