Boy, am I looking forward to this Saturday’s game between RSL and Seattle! Between the big show planned a half-hour before kickoff dedicated to the glorious run RSL had last year and the first home match of 2010, I don’t know which I am more excited about – but, in the end, I’m probably more pumped up about the game against a tough Seattle team. While I was thinking about this upcoming night and the events of last year, I pondered the question, “What made RSL successful the last few games of the season and playoffs?”
If you were to ask any coach in any sport what makes your club or team better than any that you face, you more times than not would get CONSISTENCY as the answer. We’ve heard Jason Kreis say he is looking for his men to put forth the same effort night in and night out this season. Too many times over the last five years, RSL rode a roller coaster of consistency … or inconsistency.
If you look at last year’s run there were a couple of things that stick out to me that made RSL successful at the end of the season. To start with, I think RSL started “running for the team,” a saying from my former college coach, Bob Warming. Too many times during the regular season I think you saw players that were making runs for their teammates but, when they didn’t get rewarded the ball, showed their displeasure via their body language.
That started to change later in the season. For sure RSL is one of the more fit teams in the league, and I think it really showed the last quarter of 2009, as guys were consistently (remember, there’s a theme here!) making unselfish runs all over the field. Show me a goal or a good defensive stand, and most of the time you can pinpoint a run at some time during the action that was key to making that play happen.
Due to the fact the team was now running for each other, their passing got better as well. When they are connecting, Real Salt Lake is one of the best passing teams in MLS. Last year, too many passes in a row to mount an attack or to keep possession of the ball were over long distances … 20-to-30 yards. “Running for the team” usually provides more options for the person with the ball and shorter distances in order to connect their pass. Think about shooting a bow-and-arrow at a target 20 yards away and then 80 yards away … there’s little surprise that you’re going to have higher percentage of hits on the closer target.
A lot of times, a good attack starts with a long ball forward and the guys bustin’ their butts to get forward to support that ball, and that’s where RSL can be really good. Take for instance the great goal scored by Javier Morales last week against Houston – a longer ball forward to Álvaro Saborío, who holds the ball very nicely, then a short pass to Kyle Beckerman, who gives another nice short pass into space for Morales, who tucks the ball away. Shorter passes make a big difference in a way a team can attack.
So much of soccer, as in many other sports, is moving as a unit. I always talk about the shape of the team when I do a broadcast. Coach Warming always called it “11 as 1.” Probably one of the best teams in the world when they are doing this well is Italy. They do such a great job about the way they move as a unit – and RSL found that movement last fall. The way you move as a team can either suffocate an opponent, to where they can’t keep or move the ball, or it can be all about acquiring the space that allows them to run all over you. The days are gone where you could have a player on the field take plays off. … players are good enough in MLS to find the holes if they are available.
There probably are other factors that play a part in a team’s success – talent being an obvious one, chemistry another – but the three I have mentioned are my keys. So far, in this 2010 campaign, RSL seems to have picked up where it left off. But, as you watch this weekend’s game, try to keep an eye on the three things mentioned above and how consistently RSL does them.
I believe that any team’s success is defined by them, and Real Salt Lake proved that by winning the MLS Cup last year. If RSL is able to consistently “run for the team,” make shorter passes available for their teammates, and move as a unit, I see no reason why they won’t be in the hunt to reach the Final again. But, the key word is, of course, CONSISTENCY!