by Kali Korbis, Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake certainly had itself an eventful week.
Playing three matches in seven days was never going to be easy, especially with two of them on the East Coast, but RSL managed two victories despite the injury issues that have plagued the team recently. Real started out with a 2-0 victory over Vancouver on May 4, then collected a 2-1 road win at New England last Wednesday, before finally falling at Montreal 3-2 on Saturday.
Among all of that, an unexpected illness, a saved penalty kick, an own goal, and some dubious calls by referees would make it awfully easy to overlook the actual play on the field.
That, too, tended to fluctuate in quality. RSL’s first-half performances against Vancouver and New England were completely uninspired, but the second half of each match was much better.
Meanwhile, in Montreal, Real started out stronger, giving the Impact defense some trouble and earning several good chances in the first half that went unfinished; those missed chances loomed rather spectrally over the final minutes of the match, however, when some errors in the back allowed the Impact to eventually overtake RSL.
What should Real take away from this hectic week?
First, RSL is playing better soccer when Sebastian Velasquez is on the pitch.
“Rufio” deftly put his stamp on the Vancouver match, working some excellent combination play down the right flank that would eventually lead to the second goal, for example.
With Real’s midfield in far better health now than it was at the beginning of the season, playing time is harder to get, but Velasquez has made a strong case for more of it.
RSL’s defense is still a work in progress.
For example, the Schuler/Watson-Siriboe defensive tandem needs more work to be effective; both of them are good players, but each is much more confident when paired up with Nat Borchers.
Borchers’ illness forced Jason Kreis’ hand midweek, and Carlos Salcedo found himself in the thick of the action against New England. Add to that the battle for starting places at both the right and left back spots, and you have a defense that seems to be slightly unsure of itself at times.
Real seems to thrive on the comeback. Kreis remarked on his frustration with that mindset after the Montreal loss:
It’s frustrating because I don’t feel like we got a lot of early leads this year. To be in the driver’s seat at the beginning of the game and to have a little bit of a different feel and yet if we look back at that moment after we were up 1-0, we had two glaring chances to go up to 2-0.
As the season progresses and playoff spots must be contended with, making second-half rallies will be harder to pull off. Hopefully, the coaching staff will be working with the players (many of whom are new to the club and/or league) to get the side in a better mindset for a full 90 minutes.
That being said, there’s nothing inherently catastrophic about RSL’s weaknesses at the moment. Some of the wins that the team has pulled off this season have been remarkable, including Wednesday’s result in New England.
There are some clear points for improvement, however, and with over a week off before Sunday’s match at Chivas USA, look for Real to begin addressing them.