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The Salt: Maikel Chang shows he deserves starts, plus more from RSL’s Seattle win

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

RSL’s win on Saturday over Seattle Sounders should perhaps have not been surprising, but I entered the stadium thinking we were going to lose, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

See, missing Damir Kreilach, not having a creative attacking midfielder, and going forward with a formation that I just didn’t think was working for us — that all combined to give me no small amount of pessimism.

But we all saw (hopefully! Go watch the highlights!) what happened, and I’ve got to say, it was weird. We started fine — just fine, not amazing, not particularly poorly — but when we came back from two hours of lightning-induced delay, we looked good. Sometimes we even looked great. Weather does funny things to people, doesn’t it?

Tate Schmitt, Andrew Brody and Maikel Chang

There were a number of good, meaningful performances from Real Salt Lake players on Saturday, but three of the biggest came from Real Monarchs alumni. (The biggest might be Zac MacMath in the last 20 minutes of the match.) It’s not that I’ve thought any of them are bad players, but it’s easy to look at that group and see a USL Pro-level group. But what we saw throughout the 90 minutes against Seattle was important.

First, we saw Chang driving up the wing and carrying the ball. That opened up space in a really important way, providing room for Bobby Wood to operate in the middle and Andrew Brody room to drive up from the right wing back role. The spacing on the right side was immaculate, and it gave the side both defensive security and attacking space out there.

Tate Schmitt at left wing back brought all that together, offering a slightly more defensive stance — but one that started further up the field. Seattle can destroy teams on the wings when they’re on, and while they certainly weren’t on, that’s in no small part because of these three.

I do think it’s extremely interesting that Maikel Chang is earning time ahead of Jony Menendez. I’m not in training, so I don’t see that side of things, and I’m sure RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni could point there and issue a “that’s why.” That’s not for me to speculate on, though, so all I can say is that it’s surprising. More surprising than that: Chang has shown he deserves to start. Again. He did it in 2021, and he did it on Saturday.

Entries into the final third

I wrote last week about how RSL struggled to get the ball into the box — and the final third — against Houston Dynamo, and how that impacted RSL’s ability to create anything of note. While this was not the most creative evening for RSL, it was miles ahead of the season opener.

The person who made the most passes into the final third? It’s Scott Caldwell, the stay-home defensive midfielder with nearly zero touches in the final third. He landed with nine on the day, more than any other player in the match. It’s not a shocking number, but it underscores one thing that went right for RSL, and that’s providing passing into dangerous areas of the field. He also provided the joint-most progressive passes, per, tied with Andrew Brody at six.

A progressive pass, FBRef says: “Completed passes that move the ball towards the opponent’s goal at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes, or any completed pass into the penalty area. Excludes passes from the defending 40% of the pitch.”

Caldwell’s presence has brought a stability to the midfield that RSL has lacked since Kyle Beckerman retired, and while I don’t think he’s necessarily the long-term solution (I’m still hoping we sign Gustavo Cuellar,) I do think he’s a huge breath of fresh air in a midfield that has lacked structure with Pablo Ruiz and Everton Luiz as the starting pair.

Seattle ... bad?

Before we get to far into this question, we should remember that Seattle played a mix-and-match lineup ahead of a crucial CONCACAF Champions League match against Club Leon. That’s not me trying to make excuses for them and to explain away RSL’s performance, but Seattle didn’t prioritize this match, and they played two 16-year-olds — one as a starter, another as a sub.

With all that in mind, Seattle haven’t won an MLS match since Oct. 9, 2021, when they posted a 4-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps. They were decidedly not good in Salt Lake City — not that they’ve been good in Salt Lake for a long, long time — and it’s something we should wrestle with as we think about this match.

Obviously, we’re all fans here, and we all just want RSL to win. But I do think it’s important that we understand reasons and causes. I know I’m not alone in this, but for me, being a fan is about more than just support and excitement: It’s about analysis and understanding from a place of passion.

Anyway, yeah, sure looks like Seattle’s bad, doesn’t it?

Chaos favors the home team

The duck game.

The snow game. The other snow game.

The dumping-rain-U.S.-Open-Cup game against — I think — Carolina Railhawks.

Chaotic situations often favor home teams, perhaps in part because they have a frame of reference for their surroundings that can help lift the veil of chaos. I’m not a psychologist, so all I can do is hazard a guess.