Inconsistent Performances Plague Salt Lake

A plethora of players struggle against Galaxy
by Wes Brown   |   Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kingdom of Salt - column on Real Salt Lake (RSL) & the Salt Lake City Utah soccer scene

In games past, Real Salt Lake and their fans could’ve staked a reasonable assertion for the StubHub Center (formerly the Home Depot Center) being their home away from home. Their last 8 games at the venue have all been wins.

However, legitimacy of this claim came to a crashing end against the LA Galaxy on Saturday. For some, the 4-2 loss brings into question the resolve of RSL’s First XI in big road matches.

Analysis

While RSL manager Jason Kreis opted for his first choice lineup in the traditional diamond midfield, this time it was LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena who bucked his normal formation in a most subtle shift. Veteran Robbie Keane spearheaded the attack as usual, but Landon Donovan was pushed from his left wing position alongside Keane. Young academy striker Gyasi Zardes took up Donovan’s normal left spot. This bandy of offensive threats changed LA’s formation to more of a 4-3-3 in attack while allowing Zardes’ pace to compensate for lack of 2-way play.

Zardes’ speed and craft put right back Tony Beltran under routine pressure, especially later in the match with tired legs and minds doing their toll. Likewise, Keane and Donovan teamed up to overwhelm the centerback pairing of Nat Borchers and Carlos Salcedo. Not once, but thrice Salcedo was beaten by Keane, resulting in a goal each time.

Donovan’s quickness on the counterattack is, by now, a trademark for LA and the US National Team alike. Against RSL it was no different. The speed at which LA was able to mount the attacks against a scrambling defense put RSL’s center backs in poor spots to resist which aided Keane in his positioning.

All of this resulted in the shape of Salt Lake’s formation becoming distorted. The 2 wingers (Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil) were doing more defending than anything else, and Gil was constantly dragged into double-teaming both Zardes and Keane. As we saw a few weeks ago against New York, when the midfield fails to function properly, it hampers the work of the strikers, too. Even after substitutes Robbie Findley and Olmes Garcia entered, shifting to 3 forwards, they floundered in their linking plays.

Yet another big road match looms on Wednesday night against Portland. The 2nd of 3 matches against the Timbers in a month will certainly test the fortitude of this team. Will Kreis mix up his lineup once again and rest weary bodies, or will he push through until after the weekend, trying to salvage much-needed points in the tightening Western Conference standings?

Things we’ve learned

- The formidable backline of Wingert-Borchers-Salcedo-Beltran was poised to continue its dominance in this game. The lone blemish now on their record together can be squarely placed on the shoulders of Salcedo. Exhibiting yet another bout of over-aggressiveness on Keane’s 1st goal, he also proved to be overly-passive on the Irishman’s second pair of scores.

- Borchers is not off the hook. What would’ve been a stellar performance on any other night was marred by his regular failings in the man-marking department. Omar Gonzalez’s goal off a corner was the most abhorrent example, for sure; but the practice became common-place after that instance as well. His performance could be chalked up to a one-off, heralding back to the miscommunication with RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the Colorado game which resulted in a Deshorn Brown goal.

- Kyle Beckerman may not have had a strong performance either, chasing the ball more than stymying the opposing attack. But the captain will get some needed time off this week after picking up another yellow card, ruling him out against Portland due to accumulation.

- If there was any brightness on defense, it was with the outside backs, Wingert and Beltran. Although Beltran’s forward assistance was largely thwarted by the presence of Zardes on that flank, he did his defensive duties and shut down the LA youngster for most of the night. What was lacking in attack out of the back on the right was more than compensated for by Wingert on the left. Wingert frequently stepped to the clearance and put it back into the attack, which created and sustained dangerous chances. Even Borchers stepped up in this way; one of which was the origin of the Joao Plata goal in the 53rd minute.

- Plata may have gotten his 2nd start in as many games, but to me he’s a super-sub. The pace and flair he adds off the bench is even more than what Findley brought in years past. My first choice for a strike partner with Alvaro Saborio is Garcia. Simply put, he has all the things Plata brings, but with the aerial presence and size of a true #9. It also gives tactical flexibility late in matches whether with a lead of chasing one. In the former, Garcia can operate as a lone striker while Sabo is subbed off. In the latter, he can stay on while Findley or Plata shifts the formation to a 4-3-3. Either way, he’s clearly fit for 90 minutes and brings what’s necessary to the attack.

NEXT UP: August 21 – Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. 11 p.m. EST, MLS LIVE.

Wes BROWN

Nationality:
USA
College:
Harrisburg Area CC
Club Domestic:
Real Salt Lake
Club Foreign:
1899 Hoffenheim
USSF Licensed youth coach. Founder and manager of Scalliwags United. On-field utility man. Tactics geek. Book worm. Member of the United Church of Kreis with a t-shirt to prove it. Keystone native, future Beehive resident. Proud husband and father of two.
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