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The Salt: RSL at the halfway point

RSL’s draw against Columbus just emphasized how weird MLS truly is.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake played a match last night against a team they should have beaten easily, but they played to a goalless draw instead. The result is one thing to be concerned about, but our play has me a bit more startled.

Bobby Wood’s surgery late last week confirmed that he’d be out for an extended period — joining Damir Kreilach in our array of players who won’t be playing any time soon — further highlighting a crucial fact about the team: There are no consistent goal scorers on the roster. There is no one player that can be counted on for a goal when things get difficult.

Kreilach, when healthy, is that player. Incidentally, he’s also the player I least understand in this system — but I’m starting to wonder what it is for which we’re aiming. I think time has proven that we’re not an effective aerial team from the run of play, with Sergio Cordova an unreliable option at best, and with everyone from the midfield forward simply being a bad option otherwise.

That hasn’t stopped Cordova from being the target of long passes, but he’s winning the duel less than 40 percent of the time. In fact, only two players have lost more aerial duels than Sergio Cordova in the league, and he has the eighth-most lost aerial duels on a per-90 basis. Bobby Wood hasn’t been far off.

But still, lost aerial duels aside, RSL was winning. They might still win a lot of games. The future is, as yet, unwritten. I think. Unless, of course, time is not linear or something, in which case, sports get a whole lot more interesting and weird.

I’m starting to come around to an idea that I normally found pretty troubling: Results don’t matter in June in MLS. Or July. Or, really, any time before October. The ups and downs of the season simply don’t always correspond to a chance at a trophy. Statistics don’t always mean much in this league. Maybe it’s a parity thing, but I’m always left feeling like it doesn’t matter what happens in the game in any deep, meaningful way. (Maybe this is a metaphor for existence.) You could have a computer generate results in MLS within a reasonable limitation (anywhere between zero and three goals for either team) and I’d probably nod and say, “Hmm! Interesting,” when I looked at the results.

All of that is just to refer back to this from Aaron Herrera last night.

It just seems like an incredible misstep, from my perspective, to care about league position in June. We’ve literally just played half the games available, and yes, we do have a great record so far. But MLS is not a league in which early season results can be the difference between first and fourth place. This is a league where a team can languish at the bottom of the table for 60 to 70% of the season, make a run at the right time, and end up with a top-four seed in the playoffs. Even now, RSL is second in the west, but there are four teams with one or two games in hand that could conceivably bump RSL down to 7th place in the West. Standings are a fickle thing in MLS.

Caring about being top of the table near the end of June? I just don’t get it, and I think focusing on that might have been a distraction. I’m no professional athlete, though. It’s just a guess.

Anyway, there you go. Some thoughts for you on this Sunday morning. I’m baffled, but it isn’t the first time I’ve felt lost about Real Salt Lake, and it won’t be the last. But, all the same, I’d like to see RSL play with a creative player centrally at some point. Maybe that’s Diego Luna when he rejoins the team (er, joins the team? I dunno if you can really rejoin a team you only just signed with.) Or maybe it’s something different. But I don’t think the solution is playing Jonathan Menendez centrally — especially not as high up the field as he played.

Well, there you go. Some Sunday Salt. I’m sorry about the alliteration. I don’t have a whole lot of Off Topic for you, but I’m enjoying Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as much as I’ve ever enjoyed Star Trek, and I’ve been digging into a lot of science fiction short stories this month. I’ll share some of my favorites on Twitter and in my newsletter in early July.