SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake showed glimpses of their old selves in a home victory over the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps this past weekend. The 2-0 win was much-needed medicine for a club that has struggled to find the cure for a lack of scoring in recent matches.
They're not all the way back yet, according to head coach Jason Kreis, who said there was “still room for improvement, still a couple of steps forward to make.”
But Kreis was especially pleased with one area in which RSL tightened the ship on Saturday: their commitment to tackling in the middle of the park.
“I think the number of tackles we won tonight was probably higher than it’s been for the last several weeks,” Kreis said.
The game saw a number of players showing well, none more so than Jean Alexandre. The holding midfielder, converted to forward out of necessity, registered his first league goal in the first half and picked up an assist in the second en route to a performance that would ultimately lead to his being tabbed as the MLS Player of the week.
Fabián Espíndola was also once again a stand-out for the team, putting in the work on many occasions and capitalizing himself on an Alexandre assist to net his second goal of the year. But the striker wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“It’s always good when you score,” explained Espindola, “I’m a forward. I have to. I put everything I have into the games, so it’s good when you score and help the team, but only two goals in the league this year — not so good.”
The Argentine has found himself in more positions to touch the ball over the last couple of games. That’s not part of a master plan, just a player trying to make an impact.
“It makes me feel a little bit better when I can’t score [to get touches on the ball],” he said. “At least I’m with the ball all the time, and I try to make some plays, and help the team.”
While things are moving in a positive direction up top, and the backline appears to be solid as ever, there are perhaps still some questions in the midfield, at least at the top of the diamond. Collen Warner manned that position against Vancouver. Kreis saw some improvement, but not enough to be convinced that the second year player was the permanent answer for that role.
“Collen Warner is a player that we get at a lot to try to make defensive plays,” said Kreis. “We know how gifted he can be with the ball, but we need him to make defensive plays as well, and I think he got on the end of quite a few tackles as well.”
Captain Kyle Beckerman was glad to see RSL begin a new unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, after losing two weeks ago to Seattle.
“We worked really hard for a couple of years to get that winning mentality here,” explained Beckerman, “and it’s been a while since we’ve gone through a rough patch, so tonight was big just to get back on the winning column.”
However, this week the team will face a couple of challenges away from the comforts of home as they visit Columbus on Wednesday before venturing into Philadelphia for a Saturday contest against the Union.
“It’s great for our confidence,” said defender Nat Borchers of Saturday’s win. “Moving forward, especially with all of the games that we have in June — we needed this.
“It’s a situation where we are not playing our best soccer right now,” he continued, “so it’s a situation where we’re going to have to come out and battle now. It’s not going to be just sexy, pretty soccer. It’s going to be blue collar soccer, and we’re going to have to do that every game.”