Real Salt Lake Will Use Eight-Game Tumble to Fuel 2017

Real Salt Lake’s 2016 season ended abruptly last Wednesday with a 3-1 defeat to the LA Galaxy in the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.  That loss capped a stretch that saw RSL go winless in the final eight matches of the season and Head Coach Jeff Cassar was as frustrated by the conclusion of the season as anyone.

“Extremely disappointed to end the year on that performance in that magnitude of game.  I think it really reflects on how the last eight games of our year went,” Cassar said Tuesday as he recapped the season on the Bill Riley Show on ESPN 700.  “We really dropped the ball not picking up enough points in the last eight games to put ourselves in position to host that game – which we should have and could have at the end of the day.  It was a big thing we were pushing for and didn’t achieve.”

There were many contributing factors to the unflattering final months of the season.  Defender Aaron Maund was continuing his breakthrough performance on defense in 2015 until a fractured foot ended his season early.  Forward Yura Movsisyan battled a fractured heel for the final weeks of the season as well.  And forward Juan Manuel Martinez, Cassar revealed, was dealing with a sports hernia in the later months, limiting the dynamic attacker to just one goal and one assist after July 1.

Those factors combined with some tactical changes by the opposition to limit the ability for RSL to continue the run that had the club second in the Supporters’ Shield standings on September 7 after running the gauntlet of three consecutive matches against the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy that saw the Claret-and-Cobalt go 2-0-1.

“At the end of the day, it’s never one thing.  I think teams really started to sit back on us, especially on our home field, which makes it difficult to break down.  We didn’t have enough killer mentality to put away opponents when we had the opportunity and that left us vulnerable in the back,” Cassar said.  “When the goals started to dry up at the end of the year, the confidence in the group started to drop a little bit.  I believe we started to press a bit more which left us a little bit open defensively.  With that combination, also with some of our attacking players not being able to operate at 100% hurt us.  There are things we need to improve heading into next year, but looking back on the year, I think there are so many positives to take out of the year.”

Among those positives was a five-point improvement over the team’s showing in 2015 and a return to the postseason for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.  In addition, Cassar was utilizing young players at a generous clip, seeing players under the age of 22 on the field for the third most total minutes in MLS.

For each of those positives, though, the negative taste of the final eight matches will fuel the club heading into 2017.  Cassar and his staff will look at the last eight games to better understand why it happened and how to better deal with it to improve next year.

“We do have a lot of young talent on this team that have been able to learn from players that have been in their positions that are right now knocking on the door and getting ready to start to make their mark and be the next level of core players for RSL.  That’s really exciting,” Cassar said.  “We do have to improve in some areas.  We have to get younger in some areas.  We have to get more athletic in some areas and we’re really excited about our opportunity to do that.”

For the full interview, click here.