As RSL prepares to face one of the most dangerous attacks in the league as LAFC visits tomorrow, including an old friend turned foe in Corey Baird, their defense will need to improve. The presumptive backline of Aaron Herrera, Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, and Andrew Brody have been consistent and contributed well to the attack, but they have not been consistent in producing clean sheets.
RSL has played nine matches this season, including six at home, and sit fifth in the western conference on points per game. While their spot in the standings is better than many of us expected, they have significant room for improvement, especially if they want to stay above the playoff line. Getting a confidence boost at home against a talented LAFC team will go a long way towards getting results when they face a heavy road schedule in the back half of the season.
In their nine games, RSL has produced only one clean sheet, which came in a 0-0 snooze-fest at home against Nashville SC. Of particular concern is their other five home games. The recipe for success in soccer is getting wins at home, and RSL's inability to shutout teams, including their lack of creativity on the offensive end, has meant they have produced several home draws. In their last four home games where they failed to record a shutout, all five goals given up have been in the second half. In those games, RSL won only once, needing some set piece magic to dispense of Vancouver in stoppage time.
So why does RSL so consistently give up second half goals, especially at home? Two reasons in my opinion. The first is complacency. In those games where RSL has given up second half goals, they have also scored in the first half every time, carrying a 1-0 lead into halftime. Unfortunately, RSL then comes out of halftime asleep, giving up easy goals because the other team wants it more.
The second issue relates to the first, and that is simple mistakes. This RSL team is clearly young and inexperienced, so they make mistakes accordingly. Against Houston, midfielder Pablo Ruiz failed to sufficiently create a tactical foul before whiffing on a potential clearance. In the Vancouver game, Brody got a foot to a clearance but it did not go far enough, allowing the Whitecaps to recycle. Against Minnesota, goalkeeper Zac MacMath punched a cross straight into an attacker, leading to a goal. And finally in the San Jose game, defender Erik Holt, filling in for an injured Silva, decided to not mark MLS all-time goal scorer Chris Wondolowski not once, but twice in the last ten minutes of the game.
Noticing a pattern? RSL goes up early, gets complacent, and commits mental lapses accordingly, leading to goals conceded. So what's the answer? Part of the issue is lack of talent, exacerbated by not having a real owner and subsequent funds. Regardless, help may be on the way with the signing of Croatian centerback Toni Datkovic, who most recently played in Greece's first division. Datkovic should start alongside Glad, allowing Silva to be the rotation option instead of Holt.
The other solution needs to be coaching. That's not to say Freddy Juarez should be fired, but he does need to do better. If he can motivate his players coming out of the locker room and make the necessary in-game tactical adjustments, the team should be less complacent, which also cuts out mistakes.
We never expected this team to be perfect, and frankly they are better than we were hoping for, but there are some clear patterns that can be fixed defensively. These changes can occur even before a new owner, which would allow RSL to make the playoffs this year and be a contender in the next few years with an influx of talent. We will see how well they are doing at making those adjustments as RSL v LAFC kicks off tomorrow at 8pm mountain time.
Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake