At the start of the season, it’s really hard to tell which teams will be going to the playoffs and which ones are going to be towards the bottom by year’s end. Everybody talks about who is off to a quick start and who is struggling right out of the gate. But I think one month is just too soon to tell about a side long-term … for me, it’s the first ten games that are a telling sign of where a team is at – and, even then, sometimes that stretch isn’t long enough.
That is why RSL fans should not press the panic button about their team’s slow start … a slow start record-wise, at least. There have been plenty of teams that have had similar starts and ended up being the kings of the league. Real Salt Lake is 1-2-1 (and could have been 1-3-0 had it not been for the late heroics of Álvaro Saborío), but with that said the squad has played some great soccer. It definitely has been the better team in three of its first four games, and I felt that RSL was outplayed only in L.A. last weekend, partly due to tired legs from their Open Cup victory in San Jose three days earlier.
Defensively, RSL has been very sharp, giving up only 14 shots on goal across four games – which includes the two penalties from the Houston match. I would think any coach might be thrilled about allowing an average of only three shots on goal per game defensively. And it’s not just the backline getting those results, as the whole team has been doing a great job of closing the ball down all over the field.
When Real Salt Lake has had the ball, its possession has been great. No matter who RSL has had in the line-up, their movement of the ball has created holes in the opponent’s defense. They have carried the run of play, as I stated earlier.
If there is a “needs improvement” aspect of RSL’s game, it would be the way it plays in the final third of the field; the squad has not been particularly sharp around the box, where too many passes have been off the mark. I also believe the willingness to get numbers around the box needs to get better … with a great example being Will Johnson’s goal against Seattle, when RSL had four or five guys around the box. There simply needs to be a greater sense of urgency when the team pushes into the final third.
So calm down folks, there’s no need to panic. There’s still a lot of season left and, perhaps more importantly, this is not the RSL of years past. Continuity is the key word this season, and if the guys can put the “final third” aspect together we will see a team that can far surpass the one that raised expectations so highly last year.