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What is Pablo Mastroeni’s brand of soccer, and what is RSL trying to do tactically?

What is RSL? A team that lacks much definition, outside of league-topping long passes.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been combing through data, trying to figure out what exactly Real Salt Lake is doing on the field. It’s something I’m sure a lot of us are thinking about, and rather than a flawed, angry perspective from me, I thought we could go straight for the data.

Enjoy, I guess.

At goalkeeper

  • Long passes from the goalkeeper: Real Salt Lake is averaging 50.6 yards per goalkeeper pass. That’s the most in the league by five yards.
  • Further emphasizing this desire to not play out of the back, RSL leads the league in “launch percentage,” per FBRef.com, with 72.3 percent of non-goal-kick passes taken by the goalkeeper going long. The closest to RSL is Philadelphia Union at 64.3 percent.
  • Unsurprisingly, RSL ranks highest in length of goal kick, with an average of 66.2 percent. To In 2022, only five of RSL’s goal kicks have been a pass that wasn’t “launched” — with 92.5 percent of goal kicks sent 40 yards or longer.
  • A team that defends crosses well — 17.4%

In defense — and in the press

  • RSL is a middling pressing team, sitting in the middle third for presses attempted and presses successful. Their 31 percent success rate outstrips 2021’s measure, but it’s not enough that you can call RSL a “pressing team” in any way that’s unique from the rest of MLS.
  • RSL is committing fewer fouls per 90 than any other team with just 9.63. They’re also one of the least-fouled teams in the league, third from the bottom, with just 11 fouls suffered per 90.

The passing game

  • RSL’s passing game is basically non-existent thus far, with a bottom-quartile live pass attempt count per 90 minutes.
  • Why is it non-existent, you may wonder? Look no further than the number of long passes from RSL — it’s second-top in the league with 111.9 per 90. Unsurprisingly, RSL is fourth-top in offside calls — but only middle of the table in passes sent out of bounds.
  • Troublingly, RSL is second-worst in long pass success percentage, with just a 48.6 percent success rate.
  • RSL’s aerial duel won percentage is not that of a team you’d want to play long-ball soccer with — it’s 47.5 percent, placing the team firmly in the bottom half of the league.
  • Maybe as a result of that, RSL is near the top of the league in recoveries, picking up a top-third place in the league with 90.9 per game.
  • RSL attempts fewer crosses per 90 than almost any team — just 10.5 per game. That’s bottom-quartile performance right there.

On the dribble

  • RSL is a low-ranked team in dribbling success, with an average of 6.25 per game — enough for third-lowest in the league. Dribbling success is third-lowest as well, with 46.3 percent of attempts coming off.
  • Unsurprisingly, RSL is also not carrying the ball forward — the number of progressive carries is very low (third lowest in the league), though the team is slightly better in carries that enter the final third. In that, they’re good enough for the bottom quartile and not the bottom three, so good for them.

Creating chances

  • RSL is a middle-of-the-road team in creating chances, with 17.75 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes.
  • Dead ball passes are accounting for 0.25 goal-creating actions per 90, while live passes are 0.88. That puts RSL at no. 6 on dead balls and fourth-worst on live passes.
  • Remarkably, RSL is second-top in the league for corner kicks per 90 minutes, with 6.63 attempts. 5.38 per 90 of those are inswingers, with 1 outswinger per 90 and 0.13 played straight.
  • RSL has forced the third-most clearances in the league — 24.8 per game.
  • RSL’s players are also pressed the least-often in the final third and second-least in the middle third.

Just what is Mastroeniball, anyway?

These stats combine for a pretty clear picture — and check the stats yourself if you’re inclined. RSL is a team that prefers the ball in the air and prefers to play long — but opting for long passes means they’re attempting them at a lower ratio of optimal moments, driving success numbers down.

If I haven’t mentioned a statistic here, it’s usually because RSL is firmly in the middle of the table on many things. There simply aren’t many defined markers of what Pablo Mastroeni has RSL doing.