(Image courtesy of Real Salt Lake)
Week 2 Takeaways
Coming off a 1-2 victory on the road at Minnesota, Real Salt Lake bagged all three points to start their season after a first week bye. Their 2021 debut performance gave fans a reason to be hopeful for this year's campaign and gave critics a reason to rethink their doubts. Of course, it was only the side's first match, but they look poised to carry their pre-season form into an early run for important points against conference rivals. Here are my three takeaways from our first match on Week 2 that the team will need to sustain to achieve this early success.
New offensive solutions: Newcomers Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubin linked up twice to secure a win in their RSL debut, providing what appears to be the solution for the club's offensive questions from the off-season. These counter-attack sequences will need to continue capitalizing on chances in transition, as well as improved possession play. I'm looking forward to seeing how the midfield can create chances through the middle and on the wings. Rubin said after Saturday's match that "for [him, he doesn't] care who scores as long as we get the win, it goes a long way. You can tell in the locker room that it is a different atmosphere...we have to continue to work and build that chemistry when it matters." If RSL's offense can continue their momentum, things are looking good.
Solid defensive showing: In his post-match remarks, Coach Freddy Juarez stated that "the team was united the whole time. They came at us, we were bending but didn't break. We fought, showed a lot of character, showed a lot of perseverance. It was a group that wanted three points tonight." Although Minnesota outshot RSL 23 shots to 11, only 2 of MNUFC's shots were on frame, with the 86' goal and the save from Ochoa. The key to sustained success throughout the season will be keeping the opponent's offense off-target and growing more comfortable on that back defensive line as a team.
Edge and spirit: Following some physical and verbal clashes in the closing minutes and upon hearing the final whistle, RSL keeper David Ochoa turned and punted the game ball into the stands. Understandably, the action prompted an outraged response from Minnesota players, fans, and staff, and there was a scrum on the pitch as emotions were made known from both clubs. Thankfully, the event was deescalated without further incident from either side. Later, Ochoa and MNUFC players Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper were fined an undisclosed amount by MLS for their actions. Was what Ochoa did wrong? Maybe. Did MLS do the right thing by fining involved parties? Debatably so. Was I fired up as a fan seeing young talent showing passion? You bet. I'm looking forward to how the club will rally around Ochoa's competitive spirit throughout the season and continue to establish their new identity.
Week 3 Preview
Since Freddy Juarez's side suffered no injuries through Week 2, we can expect to see the same lineup against Sporting Kansas City that we saw against MNUFC. It is possible that there might be some substitutions in the starting XI before or throughout the match (80F forecast, Utah's elevation and start of season form may factor in), but I don't think that the system will change very much, barring some drastic need to switch things up. If RSL can continue to groove with their new offense while staying solid on the defensive side of the ball, they can match up to an historically challenging opponent in Sporting KC. Three things to look for at Saturday's home opener:
Strong start: Last week, RSL struggled to settle in for the first half hour, but found their groove before half-time, resulting in two goals in ten minutes from Julio. Keeping momentum and drawing on the crowd's energy will help them as they look get ahead early and build their lead. SKC will probably line up in a 4-3-3, and CBs Glad and Silva will need to work together to shut down their front line, especially Gianluca Busio. If they can get through the first 45' ahead and without conceding, they can get extra security for any late minute goals.
Stay healthy: As I mentioned in the season preview, one of keys for this seasons is to find consistency in the roster and in play. Being smart and keeping away from knocks as much as possible will help, as some kind of rotation will most likely be implemented throughout the season to avoid fatigue. Planned substitutions are fine, emergency substitutions can make the campaign very difficult. This match will certainly be a physical one given the two club's history.
Fight the whole 90': In the 16 seasons of RSL's history, they have only lost one home opener (LAFC in 2018), which is pretty good I'd say. If the ball doesn't roll our way early, don't forget that it's never too late for a last minute goal to secure an extra point or two. Remember Damir Kreilach's late equalizer from last year? Anything can happen when you #Believe.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake 2 - 1 Sporting KC
Thanks for reading along! Let me know what you think, and if you have anything you'd change or like to see.
I'm looking forward to match day at the RioT tomorrow!