As RSL has now played exactly half of their games in the 2021 MLS season, now is a great time to look at the team's performance so far, along with the direction they are heading for the rest of the year. To do that, I will do some individual and team winners and losers.
Loser: Playoff Race
RSL is currently eighth in the Western Conference, sitting in a three-way tie one place (and two points) outside of the playoff line. While the team is definitely in the hunt for the postseason, they are trending in the wrong direction. With only one win in the last six games, the team is leaking points fast. A big part of that issue is home form, which has seen RSL frequently drop points at the RioT. With a decent chunk of games left against teams at the top of the Western Conference, RSL may find themselves ruing all their home draws to inferior opponents., especially if they finish on the wrong side of the playoff line.
Winner: The Backline
The team is top three in the Western Conference in goals allowed, a welcome return to defensive dominance that characterized the more successful RSL teams of years past. Justen Glad has established himself as the best centerback on the roster, and Aaron Herrera has proven to be one of the best fullbacks in MLS. Herrera's six assists is third best in the league amongst all positions.
Winner: David Ochoa
The 20 year-old homegrown has solidified himself as the goalkeeper of the future as he claimed the starting spot this season ahead of more seasoned players in Zac MacMath and Andrew Putna. Ochoa has been an exciting addition to the squad, bringing a level of intensity that the team was looking for after the retirements of Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman. The young 'keeper will hopefully continue to be a fan-favorite for years to come, and he will only get better with more experience.
On a more personal note, Ochoa made his national team commitment concrete with an announcement this week that he will be playing for Mexico, fulfilling a lifelong dream. He explained his decision with a stirring piece in The Players' Tribune that is as candid as any letter from an athlete that I have seen in a while.
Winner and Loser: Andrew Brody
Brody was relatively unknown going into the season, and he seemed to be destined for a life at the end of the bench or with the Monarchs, RSL's USL affiliate. However, a Herrera injury in the home opener allowed Brody to make an appearance against Sporting Kanas City, and he immediately revitalized the attack, registering an assist to Damir Kreilach in the process. Brody's attacking capabilities landed him a spot in the starting lineup even after Herrera returned from injury.
However, Brody gets the rare winner and loser treatment because a foot injury that has required surgery will keep him out for several months. He should be back in the starting lineup once he is fully healthy, but his path back will not be easy.
Loser: Attacking Chances
As a team, RSL is in the bottom third of the league in scoring chances created, a mark that sums up most of the squad's performances this season. They have lacked the quality to generate meaningful opportunities, which has led to an inability to win games. The majority of the blame resides in the midfield. The holding midfielders of Nick Besler, Everton Luiz, and Pablo Ruiz have been unable to control possession. The result of this issue is that RSL is fourth-worst in the league at completing successful passes in the attacking half of the field. The highest-player on the team and supposed attacking superstar Albert Rusnak has been useless, creating only eleven shots on goal and three assists in seventeen games.
Until someone can step up and take control of the attacking portion of the game, RSL is going to continue struggling and sliding down the standings. Less than two goals per game is not good enough to survive in today's MLS, especially since the defense (as good as it's been) has only recorded four shutouts on the season.
Winner: Damir Kreilach
Dami is an all-star this year, and he absolutely deserves it. He has been the best player on the team by far, and he has constantly stepped up and rescued RSL when they needed it most. He is also a quality human-being on and off the field, cementing him as a fan favorite as he enters the RSL legend debate.
Loser: Freddy Juarez
At many times this season, RSL has looked lifeless and out of ideas. A strange substitution pattern has also resulted in the team consistently giving up late goals. Their opponents are usually better coming out of halftime as one-sided tactical adjustments make a noticeable impact. Typically, the blame for issues like these lie with the manager. As nice of a guy as Freddy Juarez is, he hasn't proven that he can make in-game adjustments or inspire his team to see out a result. He is also uber-predictable, a characteristic which does not usually result in sustained success in soccer.
Loser: Ownership Search
It has been almost one year since Dell Loy Hansen announced he would sell the club, but so far nothing has come to fruition. There are not even rumors at this point, which can become discouraging for a fanbase who are trying desperately to keep the enthusiasm and passion for their team alive. The lack of an owner right now means the front office is unable to invest in improvements both on and off the field, which will lead to RSL slowly dwindling in quality. For the sake of everyone involved, let's hope something happens sooner rather than later.