Despite going through in the tournament, Real Salt Lake’s loss at MLS is Back was a tough one to take. It came against a fierce rival, with players that haven’t had opportunities at the tournament, and it not only could have been better, but it should have been.
So let’s get into it. Who are this match’s winners and losers?
Loser: Sam Johnson
In his first start of the year, Sam Johnson was barely involved in play. Now, that’s not just on him — there was a general lack of central play from RSL in the attacking third, and SKC is a generally defensive side, so he was never likely to get many counterattacking opportunities. But I do think he struggled, and the quick turnaround in look when Douglas Martinez came on the field may be a turning point for Johnson.
Winner: Jeizon Ramirez
This is not because he did particularly well, though I think he did fine: Jeizon Ramirez is a winner because he played a game. It’s not even his first game, as he previously played two minutes in the before time. But he had fitness issues with the pandemic-enforced break, and getting back into the team and into the game is a big step in the right direction.
Loser: Damir Kreilach
Damir Kreilach is a great player. There is no doubt of this. But his role in this game was a bit muddy, and he wasn’t particularly a difference-maker. He doesn’t need to be every game, but if his role slowly becomes aerial-duel-winner and not much else, we will have wasted his influence. So maybe it’s actually more that RSL was the loser here (I mean, we literally were, but that’s not my point) and that he should have been utilized a bit differently.
Winner: Kyle Beckerman
I actually don’t know how often we’ll get to say this in 2020, but it was extremely clear to me why Kyle Beckerman has a (mostly solidified) starting spot on this team. He is a big part of how we play out of the back, and without him, we often resorted to long, hopeful balls from our center backs. With him, we had opportunities to build through the spine. (That didn’t solve our ability to create from central positions in the final third, though. Hmm.)
Loser: Justen Glad and Erik Holt
There were good moments from both central defenders, but there were also some very poor moments organizationally. Perhaps that’s not surprising with two young center backs, but I would have hoped to see a bit more from Glad in forming a cohesive unit. Instead, our defense was pushed and pulled consistently, and we relied on a bit of luck and some physical defending to keep the game from getting beyond our grasp.
Loser: Corey Baird
I love Corey Baird. He can be a great player for us — he’s got real skill sometimes, but his lack of consistency is a detriment to his broader game. If he can find that consistency on a moment-to-moment basis, he could be a top player in this league. If he can’t, we’ll certainly still see moments of true brilliance from him, but he will struggle to reach that premier level.
Loser: Justin Meram
After some mostly good appearances off the bench, Justin Meram struggled to assert himself in the starting lineup. This is just one game, and it is his first start of the tournament, but we need our wingers to penetrate into the attacking third, and he wasn’t able to do that. All that being said, I don’t think his replacement, Maikel Chang, brought much to the game, either, and there could be some systemic reasons for both players struggling on the wing.