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Why Jonathan Menendez isn’t starting for Real Salt Lake

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s loss to Austin FC brings with it a number of questions, and one of the individually focused questions is a big one: Why isn’t Jonathan Menendez starting?

The answer, as RSL interim coach Pablo Mastroeni puts it, is pretty straightforward: He doesn’t fit in the 3-5-2 system the club has been playing.

Some quotes from Mastroeni from his press conference following the loss are below:

The guys that came in, Rubio [Rubin] was bright and Jonathan [Menendez] brings a different dynamic in that wingback position. Obviously it’s not his preferred position, but with Glad behind him I thought we had a little bit more cover.

In this system and with the way we want to defend, I think it’s critical to have two ball winners in there. We are so expansive and the idea is that when we lose the ball in the attacking third to have a really aggressive re-press. Not that I don’t think Joni [Menendez] would be capable of playing that position, but I think it would be asking a lot of Dami [Kreilach] to really get after it, close down at speed and do all of those things when he’s been so great for us close to the goal and getting in the box.

Let’s parse that a little bit. It’s clear Mastroeni’s trying to play the in-vogue gegenpress style often employed by Jürgen Klopp — literally, counterpressing. That’s a strategic approach, of course, and isn’t bound to one formation. Here’s a nice clip of Klopp (a Klopp-clip, if you will) talking about the gegenpress.

That “aggressive re-press” is just counter-pressing, so that’s not too difficult to understand. I think the implication, then, is that Menendez doesn’t fit into the system naturally unless he’s playing at forward. Why at forward? I think we can answer that by where Anderson Julio is playing now — at forward alongside Damir Kreilach.

We can also gain a lot more after that from Pablo’s initial quote above, that Menendez isn’t in his “preferred position” when he’s playing at wing back. That should be no surprise, give we signed him for his attacking prowess.

In the end, the answer is simple: He’s too attacking in his intent for Pablo Mastroeni playing out wide, and he isn’t good at that “aggressive re-press.” In short, the system change broadly — not the formation change specifically — has a talented TAM level player ridingg the bench.