If you asked me a month ago how Real Salt Lake would find the most joy against Portland Timbers in the first leg, I probably wouldn't have answered with "set pieces." In fact, if I had, you might have looked at me a bit oddly and called me a name or two. One couldn't really blame you for that one.
In the course of the regular season, we scored a remarkable five goals from set pieces. I say "remarkable" somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but in actuality, it's not as bad as it sounds. It's on-par with our 2012 record, for one. And it's better than a number of other teams. (See the chart below.) But three set piece goals from two games (two by Chris Schuler, one by Javier Morales) is our playoff record, and five was our season record. It's as if something radically changed. That something is more of a someone: Chris Schuler.
But all that notwithstanding, it's a strange spot for us to find strength in recent matches. We've prided ourselves on being a team that focuses on on-the-ground attacking play, movement, midfielders getting into advanced positions - in the air, we've been prominently lacking. This did not help us on set pieces one bit. But prominently, Jason Kreis softened his stance on practicing set pieces early this season, and as a result, our fortunes have improved. Not in the short-term, although we did get that nice little short-corner goal immediately after he publicly said that we'd work on them, but in the long-term. We're seeing, I think, the product of our labors. That's not a bad thing.
For your viewing pleasure: our two set pieces goals against Portland Timbers. Try not to drool all over your keyboard.
2013 MLS clubs and set-piece goals
|12||New York Red Bulls|
|9||Sporting Kansas City|
|6||San Jose Earthquakes|
|6||Seattle Sounders FC|
|5||New England Revolution|
|5||Real Salt Lake|