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Set pieces: How RSL's fortunes turned around against Portland

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Chris Schuler

Javier Morales

2013 MLS clubs and set-piece goals

Set-piece goals Team
15 Philadelphia Union
12 FC Dallas
12 New York Red Bulls
10 Colorado Rapids
9 Portland Timbers
9 Sporting Kansas City
7 Chicago Fire
7 Columbus Crew
6 Houston Dynamo
6 LA Galaxy
6 San Jose Earthquakes
6 Seattle Sounders FC
5 New England Revolution
5 Real Salt Lake
4 Montreal Impact
4 Toronto FC
2 Vancouver Whitecaps
1 Chivas USA
1 D.C. United