RSL Caught in Seattle’s Rising TideSalt Lake falters at CenturyLink in shutout loss
by Wes Brown | Tuesday, September 17, 2013
It’s dawn across the Puget Sound. The dust has settled and the smoke of battle is dissipating. Through the early morning fog, the flag of the victor waves high and proud. Rave Green is its color.
Real Salt Lake comes back to the Wasatch Front from CenturyLink Field as the defeated for the 1st time since 2009. No goals to be had; no points to take home; no further claim to the No. 1 spot.
The 2-0 scoreline gives Seattle a 1-point edge in the Supporters’ Shield race over RSL. This was only the 5th time in 2013 RSL was handed a shutout, the last being April 27 against Los Angeles. Things have been shuffled up in the Eastern Conference, too. New leader New York is now level with Salt Lake at 46 points, both with a 14-9-6 record.
Poor execution dooms RSL
Despite dominating possession, especially in the latter stages of the match, it did little to foment any quality offensive threats for Salt Lake. The sputtering attack was doomed by the unusually subpar final third passing, particularly the transition game from the midfield. Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman were on task with their passing in most areas of the pitch, however their forward passes into the final third were constantly foiled.
Luis Gil was a ghost on the field, drifting in and out of plays most of the night, and never really looking engaged at all. His horrific passing percentage (5 for 12, 42%) underlines how little he contributed offensively. RSL manager Jason Kreis was correct in subbing him off at halftime for Olmes Garcia; he was certainly the weakest link.
The story was similar on the other end of the pitch. Keeping defensive shape is vital to denying opponents chances, most notably on the wings. But Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran were overrun on the flanks all night by a high-speed Sounders attack. Once they were beaten or put in compromising positions, the center backs were pulled out to cover, and disaster resulted. The formation was stretched haphazardly with little midfield help. Both Seattle goals were the product.
RSL's lack of offensive finality in the match was a cynical microcosm of past RSL seasons where finishing was deficient. But it spread to a new level, across the whole pitch to every position.
The connectedness that’s usually present in all RSL matches was missing. Simple passes were cut out or misplaced. Penetrating runs went unseen by the ball carriers, or weren’t made at all. Creativity was uninspiring. Individual efforts on the ball never seemed to produce the spark needed. This level of play was rampant throughout the team.
As I said last week, playing the RSL Way is crucial to the successes of the club. The system is built on the fundamentals of possession with a purpose, high pass rates, togetherness, and collective victory. What we saw in Seattle on Friday night was a breakdown of this mantra. This could either be extremely troubling heading into the final matches, or it could simply be a 1 game fluke of poor performances remedied in time for the next game.
The future is brighter than it seems
Many will chalk the loss up to not playing competitively for 2 weeks. Others will point to individuals not playing at the levels expected of them. Some might even point to the absence of Alvaro Saborio as a cause of a misfiring attack. Maybe a combination of all of these is more plausible.
This author, however, will shirk his eternal pessimism and choose to be optimistic. The game was an aberration. It was an exception, not the expectation. These final 5 matches will prove fruitful because the oddity that was Friday the 13th is not the standard for Real Salt Lake soccer.
As a great yet diminutive Corsican once said, “[We] may have lost the battle, but not the war.” Likewise, the match in Seattle is merely a battle, and RSL would benefit from looking at the complete picture of the 2013 campaign. Five games (15 points) remain on the line. A potential total of 63 points await them. How best does Real Salt Lake capitalize on these matches to be as good as they can be to close out the season?
Moreover, a silver lining exists with personnel.
With Gil struggling Friday, perhaps it’s a great time to insert Sebastian Velasquez in the starting XI. The feisty midfielder has been itching for minutes the past couple months, and his performances in reserve matches bode well for him. His limited 1st team time has also been impressive. Is he getting hot at the most opportune time?
As the week progresses, we should hear about the severity of Saborio’s calf injury. Regardless of RSL performing better without him than with him, having Saborio as an option (even off the bench) will be at least beneficial, at most instrumental.
Additionally, Chris Schuler should be nearer to a return, which would be propitious for the center back corp. Mixing up the back 4 could reinvigorate a possibly stale line and spur the others to step up.
San Jose comes to Sandy, Utah, on Saturday. Forgetting about the Seattle result and getting back to business is Priority No. 1. Another 3 points can be had by sweeping this series against the Quakes. So let’s not get too caught up on past shortcomings. Better things lie ahead.
NEXT UP: September 21 – Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah. 9 p.m. EST, MLS LIVE.