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3 Storylines To Watch When RSL Take On Roman Burki & St. Louis CITY


Welcome to Storylines.

Real Salt Lake dropped its season opener in a tight match against Inter Miami on Wednesday, but will look to rebound against St. Louis CITY this weekend.

There were plenty of positives and questions to takeaway from RSL’s opening game, but here’s a few to keep an eye on as the Club looks forward to Saturday’s matchup in the Midwest:


  1. How does RSL start converting the many chances they create?
  1. What are the keys to beating one of the Western Conferences’ best teams?
  1. What worked in the second half against Inter Miami, and how does RSL carry that momentum into St. Louis?

Where to Watch:

You can catch RSL vs CITY on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass right here.

Kick off is at 6:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, February 24.

The Deep Dive (TL;DR Summary At The Bottom Of Each Storyline):

  1. How does RSL start converting the chances they create?

Claret-and-Cobalt Homegrown Justen Glad said it best during Wednesday’s postgame press conference when asked about if it felt good to get the Messi circus out of the way early in the season.

“No, I wouldn’t say so particularly,” Glad said. “I feel like that was a game that, if we capitalize on one or two moments, then it’s a totally different storyline.”

“We were all looking forward to it, but the whole team here believes that we’re up for any game, any opponent, any player. It doesn’t matter who we play, so I think it was just another game for us.”

One of the major feelings leaving Miami for Real Salt Lake was that the season opener was there to be won. Especially in the second half, when the Utah Club started to play the way that Head Coach Pablo Mastroeini envisioned in preseason.

“I think once we settled down late in the first half and started building our way into the game, I thought we did a good job of creating some opportunities,” Mastroeini said.

“It's always gonna be a tough start coming to Miami and I think it took a little while to get over the nerves part. But again, I think we created some really good chances on goal and in these games it’s about finishing. Tonight we just couldn't find that equalizer when we were down a goal.”

In the second half, RSL looked much more involved in the game in both possession and chance creation. This is evident by the team’s 4 shots in the first half compared to the 12 they registered in the second. As RSL continued to mount pressure, the more comfortable the players looked in their new tactical set up.

However to win games, you need to score goals and RSL only recorded two shots on target on Wednesday, both coming from centerback Brayan Vera. Vera has proven himself a goalscoring threat in more ways than one, whether it’s from set pieces or from long range. Going forward though, more will be needed from the attacking group against St. Louis to get a result on the road.

It was also unfortunate that just as RSL seemed to really pin back Miami and establish possession, Diego Luna was forced off due to cramps. The 20-year-old has proven to be one of the best young chance creators in Major League Soccer, and thrives when given the opportunity to break down teams creatively in possession.

The Club’s new Captain, striker Chicho Arango, led the team in expected goals (0.4) and shots (5) but didn’t receive any gilt-edge chances to notch his 100th career goal as a professional. Getting Luna involved more, and establishing more of a connection with Arango, will be key for RSL as the season progresses, not just against St. Louis.

Since Saturday’s match is on a quick turn and such short rest, it also wouldn’t be crazy to expect some rotation and for a couple more players to earn additional minutes. Recent signing Matt Crooks joined the team in Miami late on Thursday and is expected to be available for the weekend, while youngster Fidel Barajas - who made his MLS debut on Wednesday - also showed a spark off the bench.

Crooks’ potential inclusion should excite RSL fans as he adds another dimension to the attack that was missing in Miami. The 6 '4 attacking midfielder can join Chicho as an aerial threat in the box, but also has proven during his time in England an adept ability for work rate behind the ball, pressing actions and quick combination play, something Luna thrives at as well.

There’s plenty of nuance involved in chance creation, whether it’s through intricate attacking actions, the width the wingbacks provide, or killer throughballs that spring counterattacks. At the end of the day, as Glad said, RSL just need to capitalize if they want a different ending to the story going into the Club’s home opener against LAFC.

TL;DR Summary:

Scoring goals is hard, but RSL fans should feel good about what they saw in the second half against Inter Miami. As Arango and Luna get more used to playing with one another, and other players join the fray, even more chances should be created and hopefully, converted. As we go into how St. Louis CITY play in the next section, RSL’s possession heavy second half prove to be even more important against their Western Conference Foes.

  1. What are the keys to beating one of the Western Conferences’ best teams?

St. Louis CITY finished in the top spot in MLS’ Western Conference last year, scoring a conference-best 62 goals in the process. City lost one of their most promising goalscorers in Nicholas Gioacchini, who joined Italian side Como 1907 this winter, but retained one of the league’s most lethal - #9 João Klauss - and 2023 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Roman Burki. The list goes on with midfielder Eduard Löwen who, as’s Joseph Lowery points out, has the quality to be in the MLS Best XI come the end of the year. When you have such talented players in such important positions, it makes sense why CITY had such a successful inaugural season last year.

One of the things that make CITY so dangerous is that they play a very direct, narrow and quick style of play, with a high line. CITY love catching teams on counterattacks, and springing forward once they win the ball in their own half. Miami also proved to be dangerous on the counter (any team with the all-time worldwide GOAT will be), but the Herons’ aim is to dominate possession. CITY has proven to be just fine waiting without the ball until the opportune time to strike.

Just like RSL, CITY have already played a competitive match this season. On Tuesday, CITY played Houston Dynamo in the Concacaf Champions Cup, winning 2-1. Even at home in St. Louis, RSL’s opponents on Saturday were happy to give 60% of possession to Houston, while they racked up 15 shots to the Dynamo’s 6. St. Louis’ press also caused Houston problems and is something Pablo Mastroeni has already been thinking about.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, the RSL coach pointed out his keys to defeating CITY will be switching the point of attacking to deflate St. Louis’ narrow press, and winning the ball back quickly after dispossession to try and stop CITY counters.

RSL was the Western Conference’s best team on the road last year, and Mastroeni says this is because his team treats every game the same, whether it’s in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountain range or not. Against St. Louis, he noted that success will likely come from suffering through the highly-intense first 15 minutes CITY throws at them, and then growing into the game and imposing the new RSL style of play against their opponents, much like we saw in the second half against Miami. When watching Houston take on CITY earlier this week, he said the Dynamo had to do the same thing.

As Mastroeni points out, it will be even more important against St. Louis for RSL to stay switched on when they have the ball, as well as the second they lose it. The two pivots in RSL’s 3-2-4-1 in possession will have to be aggressive in both winning the ball back, and blocking potential passing lanes. If RSL can do this, and the Club’s attacking players can wear down the CITY defense in their own third, the Claret-and-Cobalt will have a much better chance of leaving Missouri with a positive result.

TL;DR Summary:

St. Louis CITY is a direct, counter-attacking team that can hurt RSL through a variety of ways with a cast of very talented players. It will be key for the Claret-and-Cobalt to win the ball back quickly when it loses it, and find a way to break down the St. Louis defense when CITY surrender possession to them. Getting the ball past Burki won’t be easy, but with a game under the belt and implementing the new tactics, hopefully RSL’s attacking quartet up top can find a rhythm.

  1. What worked in the second half against Inter Miami, and how does RSL carry that momentum into St. Louis?

Mastroeni credits the nerves and excitement that come from playing Lionel Messi as some of the reasons RSL struggled in their first half against Inter Miami. In the second half, Real Salt Lake seemed much more assured, aggressive and dominant, which is encouraging going into St. Louis. How they carry that over into their match against CITY this weekend is the big question.

During RSL’s first ever visit to CITY Park last season, the Club returned to Utah with three points and three goals, including one goal and one assist from Luna.

Like Mastroeni pointed out about the Dynamo having to deal with the first 15 minutes of intense pressure from St. Louis, RSL had to do the same thing at CITY Park last year. Then in the 15’ minute, it was RSL who hit St. Louis on the counter to open the scoring through Luna.

What RSL did well in the second half against Miami was being aggressive but also keeping possession. As mentioned earlier, this is where the two pivots will be key to not only switching the point of attack against St. Louis’ narrow play, but also in winning the ball back when lost.

If CITY play narrowly against RSL this weekend as expected, also expect for there to be chances on the wing with the Claret-and-Cobalts overlapping wingbacks. Andrés Gómez and Andrew Brody both found their way into the attacking third more in the second half against Miami and non-surprisingly, both had half-decent chances to score too. Brody had the second highest xG in the team on Wednesday.

Midfield metronome Pablo Ruiz also dropped deeper in the second half against Miami, switching play and dictating tempo like he does best. While he was asked to play a more advanced role earlier in the game, he shone in his regular pivot role later on. There’s no question Ruiz can play effectively further forward, but if so, the pivots will need to recreate his effectiveness further back on the pitch. Much easier said than done.

Just like against Miami as well, the game will be there to be won in St. Louis and it’s assured RSL will be going on on the road with the sole intent to get a result. With the first-game jitters out of the way, hopefully the Claret-and-Cobalt can pick up where it left off, and find the back of the net as well.

TL;DR Summary:

What RSL did well in the second half against Miami on Wednesday was controlling possession, and being aggressive. To keep that up, they’ll need to be strong mentally when faced with the St. Louis pressure, and counter press while also looking into wide areas to exploit CITY’s narrow style of play. RSL can leave CITY Park with a result just like last year, but will need to play like it did in the second half against Miami to do so.

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