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How RSL squandered the first half against Minnesota United

Two big moments of transition underscored RSL’s bad start.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Minnesota United FC Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s 3-2 loss to Minnesota United was startling, with the first half earning particular attention for the concerning way the match started. But in rewatching, that first half — it actually started just fine, but one moment unraveled the whole thing.

Andrew Brody passes the ball to nobody in particular, giving up possession of the ball. 7:42.

A run of passes along Minnesota’s back line, who are placed around the midfield stripe. 7:50–8:03.

An incisive pass that splits Scott Caldwell and Aaron Herrera. 8:11.

A cross that saw a Marcelo Silva touch push the ball wide from a Minnesota played. 8:15.

Emanuel Reynoso unmarked in the box with Justin Meram trailing considerably. 8:19.

A dribble that beats Meram and Andrew Brody on the left flank, with Meram statuesque. A finish that Zac MacMath wasn’t ready for, low and driven. 8:22.

Those 19 seconds unraveled any chance of a good start for Real Salt Lake. Individuals will receive blame — Justin Meram for not being a better defender, Aaron Herrera for not being better prepared for a channel pass and looping run, Zac MacMath for not reacting more quickly — but all that ignores the bigger issue.

All this came about from a series of passes along Minnesota’s back line. That came from a stray Andrew Brody pass, who had just 73 percent passing on the night. But that one pass led to the chance, and that lack of reaction to the mistake, no attempt to quickly win the ball back, no defending from the front — it handed Minnesota a chance on a platter.

It obviously helped that they have a player like Reynoso, because he’s a very clear differentiator for Minnesota. It always helps to have good finishers. But RSL needs to clean up play in simple moments, because the lack of reaction in transition here is on full display. Moreover, there’s a solid 20 seconds to transition. Instead, we saw a team caught on their heels, and they had plenty of time to operate. But take a look at this shot from the match below.

That’s a team caught out in transition, and it’s a team that had no business being caught out. It’s disappointing, it’s worrying, and that goal was entirely preventable. Not at the moment of the shot (although certainly there was a non-zero chance MacMath could have saved it) and not at the moment of the cross, but 20 seconds earlier, 10 seconds earlier, even here, at 8:15. Perhaps it’s just a matter of Justen Glad being out; he’s certainly put in an excellent effort and played a cauterizing role on our back line. But this one starts at the front, and the entire run of play was sloppy. The shape is all wrong, and it’s not an individual problem — it’s a collective one.

RSL’s second goal — the Aaron Herrera-conceded penalty — happened in much the same way, but the team faced a faster transition. It was a classic case of overcommitting in the attack, and the whole team’s responsible for that. The tackle could certainly have been better, but the material conditions that led to the tackle beg to be understood. By understanding earlier causes, we can understand better why this team failed, and, with any luck, have a better understanding of how they can succeed.