Last week was bleak for Real Salt Lake. A 6-0 thrashing from NYCFC tied a club record for worst loss, which was followed by a loss to third-division Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC. The U.S. Open Cup game saw RSL register just two shots on goal against a team playing its fourth-ever game. While a draw at Portland on Saturday was a welcome result, RSL was uninspiring throughout its three-game stretch.
With frustration mounting, skepticism turned toward head coach Pablo Mastroeni. However, others were quick to point out that Mastroeni has not been given the most talented roster, a side effect of years of neglect by previous ownership. Very few coaches can succeed with no designated players, so RSL needs to add to the roster in order to truly see what Mastroeni is capable of.
General manager Elliot Fall took the first step toward addressing the problem today when the club announced the addition of attacker Anderson Julio.
The move is not exactly ground-breaking, Julio was with the team on loan last season, used primarily in a "super-sub" role. However, he did score eight goals, and an RSL team who has not scored in three straight games could use any additional offensive firepower.
With the transfer window open for another week, here are three roster positions that I think RSL should try and improve.
The last time RSL had a striker score double-digit goals was Joao Plata in 2014. That statistic is not likely to improve this year, as the team's strikers (Bobby Wood, Sergio Cordova and Rubio Rubin) have combined for just three goals in 10 games across all competitions.
The best MLS teams consistently have quality strikers. Last season, NYCFC won MLS Cup in large part thanks to Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos. New England won the Supporters' Shield with two double-digit goal scoring strikers (Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou). The Sounders have been one of the most consistent MLS teams over the past few years, and the contributions of striker Raul Ruidiaz is a large reason why.
For RSL to free itself from its offensive woes, finding a quality striker to complement the goal-scoring of the club's wingers and midfielders will make a big difference.
Of course, a striker can only convert the chances provided. Having a playmaker in the midfield is a crucial part of any attack. RSL has been middling in this area in recent seasons. Per FootyStats, RSL is currently 16th in the league in expected goals, generating just 1.15 xG per game. In the previous three seasons, RSL has finished 18th, 19th and 18th in xG.
In key passes, RSL is currently 11th in the league. The past three seasons saw RSL end at 9th, 15th and 11th in the statistic. The inability to get the ball in dangerous positions is reflected in other stats. The Claret and Cobalt has only recorded two shots on goal in every game except four this year (loss to NYCFC, tie versus Toronto, win at New England and win versus Seattle).
RSL fans often long for the days of "El Maestro" Javier Morales, whose skill on the ball was integral to the club's run of success during his time in Utah. Finding another player who can serve balls the way Javi did will support strikers in their hunt for more goals.
Depth in Defense
Defense has not been a major issue for RSL this season, as nearly half of its conceded goals came from that one bad afternoon in New York last weekend. However, injuries have plagued the backline, preventing consistency. Mastroeni has been forced to use seven different defensive lineups in the past eight games.
Shoring up the backline would allow for consistency and further improve the team's defensive performances. Even if RSL is unable to fix their scoring issues, teams who keep clean sheets cannot lose.