Was it the extended break, was it a young rookie center back being exploited by a veteran forward, was it simply that one team was better on that day than the other, or was it something else that was the root of the RSL 0-2 loss at Seattle last Friday? It was a simple statement last night from Ned Grabavoy, who has been amazing this season, got me thinking. In response to me saying that I hope he keeps on scoring goals, he said “I have to do more than just that”, and all of a sudden a couple of things clicked for me.
Since July the team has had just 3 clean sheets, 3-0 at FC Dallas, 1-0 over Houston, and 4-0 over Columbus, if the playoffs started today only Houston would make the playoffs. Since July RSL has given up multiple goals 7 times (2 goals vs KC, Colorado, Portland & Seattle, 3 goals against Portland, 4 goals against New York and LA) all of those teams would make the playoffs if they started today. I believe there is the problem, a team once known for their lockdown defense (20 goals allowed in 2010, 36 allowed in 2011, 35 in 2012) has allowed 37 goals already in 2013 with 5 matches yet to be played. That has in part been balanced out by the scoring of RSL, who lead MLS with 52 goals scored this year and still lead the league with a +15 goal differential, but clearly both numbers point to a change in how RSL plays. For years we have heard that everyone plays defense for RSL, and I believe that is still the case but it appears that in our midfield the shift has been to play a bit more offense.
In 2012 RSL scored 46 goals, forwards accounted for 29 of them, while the midfield contributed 13 goals, but in 2013 we have 52 goals with 24 coming from the midfield and 27 coming from our forwards. I believe that these numbers represent a slight shift in how RSL plays, a bit more offensive minded from our midfielders than in the past, a bit more open with our formation. What I can’t say is that this is a bad thing, RSL has 14 wins with 5 matches remaining, we are just a point out of the top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race, and 3 of our last 5 matches are at home, all are against teams currently out of the playoff race. RSL could and should match their record of 17 wins in a season (set last year), and with a single victory will become the first team to reach 50 points or more for 4 straight seasons in MLS history.
For the last several years RSL has been known league wide as a team that like to play a more attractive style of soccer than most, a style that starts with their diamond formation and continues on to their domination of possession in the majority of matches that they play. While other teams get giddy about 5 or 7 pass set up plays for goals, RSL instead often looks to plays with double digit passes as part of the set up, like this 14 pass sequence that set up a recent Luis Gil goal:
On Friday night for some reason it simply didn’t work, but consider this fact the last time RSL was held without scoring at least on goal was April. Yes, 23 matches ago (all competitions) was the last time that a team (the LA Galaxy) kept RSL off the scoreboard, that is simply impressive. So while I get that the Sounders are playing well, I am more likely to chalk that one up to simply a bad night for RSL combined with a familiar foe that was well prepared than I am any alarming trend.
The question is how will RSL respond this weekend, with a side note of how will the Sounders do in LA and what about the Red Bulls? Real Salt Lake will take on the San Jose Earthquakes a team currently in 8th place in the Western Conference but just 5 points behind the 5th place Portland Timbers. At home this is a must win for RSL if they want to keep realistic hopes of winning the Supporters’ Shield alive as there are currently 7 teams within 5 points of the Sounders who have 49 points.
RSL has already beaten the Quakes twice this year 2-0 in San Jose and 3-0 earlier at Rio Tinto, but San Jose has been playing better lately and we know that it is always an intense and often physical match when facing them. Then factor in it will be Chris Penso as the head official, and well the wildcard factor just got even more interesting as he has in 14 matches this year issued 39 yellow cards and 6 red cards (only Baldomero Toledo and Jorge Gonzalez have issued more reds) and well anything is likely to happen. Still you have to always consider that in the Western Conference the home side wins 58% of the time, 62% if you factor out Chivas USA.
The last time the Sounders took on the Galaxy in LA it was a 4-0 romp for the Galaxy which was earlier this year, with two matches against them remaining this season it may be the biggest hurdle Seattle will face this year, I expect most RSL fans (heck all non-LA or Seattle fans) will be cheering for a 0-0 draw with 4 red cards shown to each side. I don’t expect that but I do expect a very exciting match.
Nobody has really been paying attention to anyone other than Montreal in the East, but when you play in a conference that is the weaker of the two, it is easy to pile up numbers in a hurry and with 3 straight wins the New York Red Bulls have pulled to the top of the Eastern Conference with 48 points, they host FC Dallas on Sunday, a match that will be on UniMas and a win could move the Red Bulls to the top of the league based on other results. I will be pulling for Dallas to beat up on RSL East on Sunday, as they are far enough behind us that I don’t worry about them.
Each week until the end of the MLS regular season will feature big time matches as teams jockey for position, even after the loss at Seattle the Sagarin ratings still have RSL in first place but now the forecasting tools are split between RSL and Seattle as to who will end up in the stop spot at the end of it all. Sport Club Stats now has RSL ranked 3rd in MLS with just a 13.8% chance of winning the Supporters’ Shield but things change quickly with this ranking system.
This is an exciting time of year for all fans of Major League Soccer, and with just weeks left in the season RSL find themselves with a real shot at 3 pieces of sliverware.
That’s How I See It