For me, one of the real shining lights of the Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Football Club match was goalkeeper Andrew Putna’s ability to put the ball deep into enemy territory almost every time he touched the ball. It managed to put LAFC in a bad spot every time because they either needed to drop deep and prepare to defend or just head the ball out, giving RSL an advanced position for a throw in. It was “Route 1” soccer at its absolute finest, and it’s not something that most teams are set up for in the era of “play it out of the back.”
For better or worse, all RSL goalkeepers present and future will be compared to Nick Rimando. There’s no way you can talk about that position in these colors and not talk about Nick. One of the often overlooked skills that Nick had was the ability to drop kick a ball 50+ yards without much thought. It’s easy to over look because he was also so good at playing out of the back that he didn’t need to do it that often. To the point that the team in previous eras seemed to be built more around strong lads that could carry the ball long distances instead of just run and shoot.
It’s a new era though. With pacey attackers up front like Baird, Martinez, and Chang, there is ample opportunity to just clear the ball down the field and have someone run onto it and make magic happen. I think this new level of attack will help the team bring back the diamond midfield in a meaningful way.
Putna still needs to work on his ball control and building out of the back skills, but I think if the starting XI is put together right, his ability to drop a ball in behind the line of confrontation will help immensely.
A lot of teams in the MLS are built to hit on the counter. LAFC is the shining example of it and Saturday’s visiting Colorado Rapids have made a habit of only scoring goals on the counter, even if they’re terribly ugly.
Against LAFC (and previous opponents Minnesota United), we saw how dangerous pressing high and attacking can be. If it wasn’t for some brilliant saves from Nedum Onuoha, Justen Glad, and Donny Toia the game against LAFC could have had an outcome similar to the scoreline in Minnesota.
The team needs to be prepared to make those recovery runs and, when possible, avoid putting the foot on the accelerator too much. The four center backs on the roster either have a lot of miles on their legs or aren’t as pacey as a modern winger. This may hurt a little in the attack, but it will prevent allowing Colorado a sniff at goal.
Or worse, giving away an own goal on a recovery run...
Three goals and four yellow cards isn’t a sustainable model. Two yellows for tactical fouls and two for some form of dissent. It’s not a great look, especially in such a dominant performance.
Being better prepared for the counter attack is a big part of this, but also just keeping calm. There’s no reason to boot the ball out of play early in the second half to delay a restart. There’s no reason to be chirpy with the referee late in the second half.
Yellow cards accumulate now and if the rumors of 12 more games before November are true, the team can’t be carrying the threat of match bans. The roster is deep, but not that deep.