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Point of Obvious Refinement: Houston to Houston and Back

It’s been a while, so let’s make a drawn out metaphor about the last 6 weeks of Real Salt Lake games.

Austin FC v Real Salt Lake Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

I don’t know how many people read this column regularly, but I’m going to warn you up front that we’re going very much “off-piste” today. I learned last season that writing this column game-after-game became very redundant and almost reached a point of satiation with some points. In trying to break from that, I want to take everyone on a journey through the depths of my brain and how they have formed my view of the last nine games.

Car Talk with Ian

This is as much about cars as “Ted Lasso” is about soccer. I can only pray that it’s as good at anything as “Ted Lasso” is at everything.

In my past life, I was a mechanic. Nothing fancy, but it forced me to learn a lot of things about a lot of things really quickly and I’ve kind of carried that through everything. When I quit being a mechanic, I was naturally drawn to motorsports. I had met a lot of people that were working on various race cars and it was an easy thing to chase. Just like soccer, there’s almost always a race on TV somewhere.

In 2010 I was at an ALMS race at Miller Motorsports Park (now known as Utah Motorsports Campus) as what they called a “pit notes volunteer”. This basically meant that I stood in the pits and radioed in when cars came down pit lane and what they did. It all ends up in a post-race report for journalists. Basically, it was a free ticket to stand in the thick of it.

In the first lap of the race, a Jaguar rear-ended the car in front of it and shot the hood twenty feet in the air. It was wild to see from the pit wall, but even wilder when you saw it on the replay. It was one of those things that seemed innocuous at the time. The hood flew in the air, the car finishes the first lap and comes into the pit lane for a new hood. The pit crew slaps a new hood on, adds some tape, and back on the track it goes.

And then a lot more laps and a couple more pit stops later the car has to come off of the track and go into the garage. If you don’t follow a lot of racing if a car goes into the garage that is a very bad sign. That means that something was broken enough that the three or four people allowed over the pit wall couldn’t fix it in the pit and the only way to fix it was to involve as many mechanics as possible.

Long story short, the impact that caused the hood to go to the moon had misaligned other components in the front of the car. That misalignment had started to cause premature failures in the suspension and cooling systems. Attempts to correct the misalignments in the previous pitstops had only worsened the problem to the point that the driver could no longer keep control of the car at high speed. They were able to limp to the finish line in 11th place in class and twenty-second overall.

Cool Story, Bro

I know, right? I can’t tell you a lot about the last decade of my life, but I remember most of the details of that entire day. It’s amazing how the mind works, isn’t it?

Let’s bring it all back to soccer and, more importantly, Real Salt Lake’s form over the last six weeks.

This is how I see things. Real Salt Lake is a team that at the end of 2020 and into the beginning of 2021 seemed to be building an identity. That identity is the benchmark, the balance point of where the team operates at its highest efficiency. The point in which the design is working and everything functions as expected for endurance runs.

And then they bumped into the team in front of them and the hood went twenty feet in the air. Parts had to be changed and the changing of those parts exposed weaknesses in the design of other parts. Everything is moving and the race can be finished, but the changes have to come so quickly that there’s not an awareness of how those adjustments affect other pieces of the puzzle.

Told you I would bring it back...

I think about this a lot with Joni Menendez. On paper, he is a replacement part for a right-winger/forward, but in practice, he is a completely different player. His style of play and the way he wants to play completely changes the forward progress of the team. This has been evident on more than one occasion as he makes these incredible passes into space that he fought for and there’s no one at the end of the pass. He and Aaron Herrera seem to have established a rhythm, but that only causes further issues with the left side of the field. They are able to work together to create chances and then just have to wait for everyone else to find a way to capitalize on that chance.

The same can be said about Toni Datkovic. He appears to have the ability to play as “attack-minded” as we’ve seen Justen Glad play in the past, but doesn’t completely abandon his defensive responsibilities and/or make brash decisions as we’ve seen with Marcelo Silva and Erik Holt. Also, his ability to come forward forces the defensive midfielders to play more defense, which leaves a hole in the middle that can be exploited.

You can see this all over the field lately with Real Salt Lake. David Ochoa’s absence forcing the team to play with a goalkeeper that isn’t as good with his feet. The constantly rotating midfield forces a delay in response when tracking defenders through the midfield and into the box and forces the right and left-back to pull in and cover the ground. Bobby Wood, Rubio Rubin, and Julio Anderson all play “forward” in a completely different way, changing mid-match doesn’t always jive with whatever midfield rotation is currently present.

After Wednesday night’s match against Houston Dynamo and Saturday’s away day at Colorado Rapids there is an eight-day gap. I hope that they have the opportunity to pull the proverbial car into the Herriman garage and reset everything. Finishing this MLS Regular Season race in eleventh isn’t going to be the best look when we came out at the start of the race so strong.