RSL Sets Course for Final StretchHigh confidence rampant for Salt Lake as competition increases
by Wes Brown | Tuesday, August 27, 2013
That’s the word I use to describe Real Salt Lake’s 4-0 romping of Columbus Crew on Saturday. It was timely as well, seeing as how RSL have clutched onto the Supporters’ Shield lead over the past several weeks riding the twin backs of luck and fortuitous results by other Western Conference foes.
The emphasis this week is in light of a not-so-stellar record against Eastern Conference teams in 2013. Going 3-4-2 (1-1-2 at home; 2-3-0 away) against what’s traditionally been a weaker conference, slamming 4 goals in the back of the net and claiming upwards of 71% possession at times is exactly what RSL needed to help get their mojo back.
Perhaps the real story here is how mismanaged the game was for Columbus. Robert Warzycha has made it a habit of positioning Dominic Oduro as a right winger the last few weeks, to their detriment. Oduro’s only consistent asset (his speed) is useless so far away from the opposing defense. When he was able to make runs into the attacking third, the presence of a single Columbus striker (Jairo Arrieta) meant that one of the RSL centerbacks was free to double-team Oduro.
Similarly, the young and inexperienced midfield combo of Ben Speas and Will Trapp lent itself to being easily overwhelmed by a rather authoritative Salt Lake diamond. With no real threat to pin back RSL’s outside backs, Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert were typically found overloading the middle third, allowing Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales to push further up the field.
Things we’ve learned
- Straight up (and admittedly cliche), Devon Sandoval is a fox inside the box. Getting his 8th start of the season, Sandoval’s presence was felt heaviest between the 6- and 18-yard boxes. When he wasn’t in the area, he was holding up play for his midfielders to push into dangerous spots. My only criticism is that he seems to be a bit one-dimensional at this point in his development.
If RSL manager Jason Kreis is looking for a mimic of Alvaro Saborio, then time must be spent coaxing the creator out of Sandoval. Some of this will come from increased playing time, but it’ll take peer influence to develop this type of action. Watch for the evolution of his game through the end of this season.
- Morales proves again that he’s the spark that drives this team when they’re attacking. The downside of this is the dependency upon 1 person to dictate the offensive successes. We’ve seen in the past how subpar performances by Javi have failed to produce proper link-up plays to the strikers. This usually requires added assistance from the outside mids to drive the play up field, but at the cost of defensive shape which usually opens RSL up for counterattacks. This is one limitation to the effectiveness of the midfield diamond.
- Fortunately for Kreis, his roster bodes a glut of able-bodied creators. I’ve spoken before about Ned Grabavoy’s versatility and breadth of ability. He could play anywhere from wide mid to point of the diamond to the defensive mid spot. Likewise, Luis Gil is showing how much he’s progressed his game over the past year. No doubt his junior national team call-ups have aided his play, but he’s become much more than the heir apparent to Morales.
Gil is not the No. 10 some may have pegged him as early in his young career. The vigor he brings while attacking is obvious, as evidenced by the simple, clean, yet technically proficient finishing on his goal. What Gil brings in addition to inventiveness is solid two-way play turning him into more of a traditional #8 than anything else. What I’m about to say may unseat a few people, but here it goes: Luis Gil could possibly be the next Michael Bradley. Digest that a bit.
- After a couple forgettable performances for Kyle Beckerman, the RSL captain has returned in force. Netting 2 goals and aiding in the shutting down of one of the most prolific attackers in MLS (Federico Higuain), Beckerman’s restoration to form has come at a great time for the club.
The next 4 games will be crucial to RSL’s Supporters’ Shield hunt. Going to Cascadia twice to take on Seattle and Vancouver, as well as home stints against Portland on Friday and San Jose later, strong performances from KB5 will be necessary to impede some rather potent offenses. Luckily, he’s recently sat for yellow card accumulation, meaning he’s starting fresh on the disciplinary sheet. Sans any hothead moments, we should see him feature for the remaining games.
- Kreis’ post-game comments are extremely telling of where this team is and where it’s going. Saying that “this was probably the most complete match [RSL] have played all season”, I can’t help but agree. Dominating possession is one thing, but creating chance after chance from multiple players is quite another.
This match was about more than getting a vital 3 points; it was about individual players performing at the peak of their potential. Columbus could be written off as a meager opponent, but the result and individual achievements will boost club confidence going into the final stretch of the season, and may confirm that they have what it takes to stave off the competition for their 1st Supporters’ Shield title.
NEXT UP: August 30 – Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah. 10 p.m. EST, NBCSN.