One criticism Real Salt Lake faced last season was that the team seemed too dependent on Alvaro Saborio to score. The Costa Rican international scored 39 percent of RSL’s goals in 2012, an undeniably huge portion – and one that was too big for some.
If you're a team with one player carrying too much of the load, it can really throw things for a loop if the player takes a step back in form or gets injured. So when Saborio went down with an injury at the end of April, many people – including me – thought RSL would struggle to score goals and win games. Well, six weeks later, we've been proven wrong.
Since the beginning of May, RSL has amassed 13 points in just six league matches, tied for the best mark in MLS. The team has stepped it up defensively, conceding just one goal a game in that time. But lest you think it's only the defense that's leading to results, in those same six matches RSL is hanging 2.33 goals per game on its opponents, with Sabo only playing 28 minutes since April. In the midst of all that, RSL also put up a U.S. Open Cup win. Here are a couple of points on scoring that have stood out to me this year - and especially recently - that have RSL poised to do very well through the rest of 2013:
- There are plenty of scoring chances being generated. RSL leads MLS by a country mile in shots on goal with 88 - that's a whopping 20 shots more than second place FC Dallas.
- Nine RSL players have already scored in league play this year. In 2012, only 10 players scored all year. RSL should easily surpass that number - I expect Khari Stephenson and Sebastian Velasquez will open their accounts soon, and the center backs are due to poke home a set piece one of these games.
- Speaking of sharing the wealth, as I mentioned above, Sabo scored almost 40 percent of RSL's goals last year. This year he's only scored 20% of them. And it's not like the overall team production is down - RSL 2013 is on pace to outscore the 2012 edition.
- All five strikers on the roster have scored this year. The four not named Saborio have all scored in the last six games.
- On an individual level, Ned Grabavoy has already matched his career-best for goals in a season and we're not even halfway through the year.
- Javier Morales is still dynamic. He’s already matched his scoring total – three – from last year and his assist number is right on last season’s pace.
I attribute the offensive success this year - and most notably over the last six matches - to two things: First, a strong commitment by attacking players to put themselves into spots where they can score. Jason Kreis alluded to this in his postgame press conference last Saturday night by saying that RSL struggles to score when they don't get enough numbers in the penalty box. Second, I think the superior depth of the 2013 squad has caused everyone to raise their game, especially in training. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you train at a higher level, you tend to play at a higher level. The fierce competition for minutes has certainly been effective in that regard.
There's still a lot of soccer left to be played, but all signs point to this team being one of the few that will be right in the thick of things at the very end.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.