Winner: Maikel Chang
It’s so easy to point to Chang as a winner that I don’t really think it’s that interesting to say, because it’s really quite obvious. Chang was quite literally a game-changer. He played progressively, he was involved in the attack, and he was quick about things. There was no dallying on the ball while opposition players got back into defensive positions. When he got the ball, he had intention, and that made a massive difference.
Was Chang a perfect possession player? Certainly not. But the first half demonstrated that a possession player on the wing wasn’t bringing much value, and the shift — which put Albert Rusnak in the center of the park, roughly — changed the balance of the game. It was a masterstroke from RSL coach Freddy Juarez, but it took Chang executing on it for the game to move positively.
Also, one last Chang thing: That goal? It came something like 20 seconds after he lost the ball, then won it back again. It’s a beautiful sport sometimes.
Loser: Albert Rusnak
So I was particularly hard on Rusnak after that first half on Twitter — and I will stand by that. I don’t think Rusnak had a particularly good game, with the first goal coming after he made a pass into pressure while the deepest player on the field, then didn’t chase the runner back defensively. It was not a good look.
That said, I think the real risk here is that Rusnak may be edged out of the lineup. It’s becoming less and less clear what he brings to the team, especially when Maikel Chang came in at the right wing and absolutely earned more minutes for himself in a man-of-the-match performance. Rusnak is the most droppable player in the attacking half of the field currently, with Corey Baird, Justin Meram, Chang, and Pablo Ruiz all looking the part. Will he start on Wednesday? I’m actually having doubts.
Winner: Corey Baird
Corey Baird is an interesting player. He can be absolutely stunning in his skill when the game is being played quickly, but he can also look a step behind when the game is being played slowly. It’s a strange conundrum, but when RSL took the game to Colorado in the second half, Baird was at the center of much of what RSL was doing well. He linked up very well with Chang, and he and Justin Meram had some good moments together.
If Douglas Martinez is out for several matches, I think it’s easy to argue that Baird should get his starting spot. Obviously, we’re playing matches in a very tight time crunch, and that could impact things considerably, but I suspect Baird played himself into a very good spot here.
Winner: Justin Meram
Justin Meram has enough experience in this league to argue he should be starting. He also has enough raw skill on the ball to do so, too. He came into this match, though, on the bench, behind a set of more established RSL players (plus Douglas Martinez, but we’ll get to that.) He might well feel a bit hard done by, not starting. If that’s the case, though, he didn’t show it: Instead, he went right to work, and he really helped lift RSL in the second half. He found an onrushing Damir Kreilach for RSL’s opener, and he scored the nail in the coffin in the 89th minute with a simple, smart and classy finish.
Meram has done his part to argue for his starting role. I suppose we’ll see what comes next.
Winner: Nedum Onuoha
After he sat out the MLS is Back tournament, I was biding my time until I saw Nedum Onuoha on the field again. He’s a very smart, very capable defender, and RSL badly missed his presence. He showed exactly why that’s the case during the win, looking as focused as ever and, at times, being RSL’s most adventurous attacking player.
That came largely in the first half, and he was at the center of the only really quality attacking build-ups for RSL during that period. It was, well, distressing. But then in an interview at halftime, he said this:
Onuoha: "I don't think we've played that well. The fact is, we gave them a goal. I think need to go out in the second half and try to do better. We have to be cleaner. We've had one or two opportunities to get into the box and haven't done anything with it." #RSL— Matt Montgomery (@TheCrossbarRSL) August 23, 2020
Fantastic. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know exactly what happens in Real Salt Lake’s locker room, but it’s very easy to imagine that Onuoha, an experienced player who has a real way with words, wasn’t a big part of the turnaround in some way. If that’s what he said to press, I’ve got to imagine that he said something not dissimilar to his teammates.
He’s a gem, and we have surely missed him a great deal over the last few matches.