FRISCO, Texas – Real Salt Lake talked about playing a more defensive style ahead of Saturday night’s first leg playoff match on the road at Pizza Hut Park.
However, based on the first 15-20 minutes, when Real Salt Lake captured an early lead and aggressively applied pressure in the FC Dallas half of the field, it turns out that all the defensive talk during the week was a ruse.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: FCD 2, RSL 1
“We wanted to pressure them up high and really get after them and have them thinking we were coming to sit back,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. “It worked in the beginning.”
It worked because Real Salt Lake scored a stunning first goal by forward Fabian Espindola after only five minutes. But RSL did not have the stamina to keep up the harassing high-pressure strategy.
Manager Jason Kreis says his team was supposed to switch to a more sustained possession game, which would have helped them manage the 1-0 lead on the road.
“The way we play requires a tremendous amount of energy from our players, and when we don’t have that energy, it means that we don’t have options to pass the ball,” Kreis said. “You have to be moving and dynamic and never can be standing still. Maybe that early goal hurt us a little bit in that maybe we didn’t think we needed to do as much when we had the ball.”
And so instead of establishing possession, RSL sought to continue to intercept the ball and quickly get behind the FC Dallas back line. Kreis admitted that this plan was only intended for the first 15 minutes.
“We wanted to slow it down after about 15 or so,” Beckerman said. “But as a team maybe we were thinking we could sustain this [the pressure] and get another goal.”
Real Salt Lake never got their passing game going and FC Dallas, which was seemingly demoralized after allowing the opening goal, slowly crept back into the match and figured ways to maneuver past the RSL pressure.
“We couldn’t keep the rhythm and they had a lucky play by their forward [Jeff Cunningham] to score the goal,” midfielder Javier Morales said. “We had very little of the ball and this influenced the game a lot.”
It will be a new game plan on Saturday, when Real Salt Lake will be forced to make up a one-goal deficit in the aggregate goal series.
In what will be a do-or-die scenario, they cannot afford that their tactics and strategy fail them then.