Real Salt Lake has seen a recent resurgence that has breathed life into its playoff hopes while also propelling the Claret-and-Cobalt to the top of the Group G standings in CONCACAF Champions League play. There are many factors that have contributed to a stretch of six matches that has seen RSL go 4-1-1 across all competitions.
The addition of Juan Manuel Martinez and the return of Jamison Olave are chief among those that have sprung Salt Lake back into contention in the Western Conference with five matches left to play in the regular season. And while Olave’s return has coincided with the defensive stability over the last six matches that has seen RSL post three clean sheets and allow just four goals for a 0.67 goals against average, it isn’t just the hulking center back who has made the difference defensively, but instead a total team effort to regain possession.
“He’s a big presence back there, but it’s really starting at the top,” RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar said. “When our front four is really putting in the defensive effort, it makes life easier to organize in the back for the back line. Then when they’ve had to deal with things they’ve done a good job. Our goalkeepers have come up with big saves. Everybody is contributing in some fashion.”
Praise has been high for Martinez for his contributions on the offensive side of the ball. And justifiably so, as the former Boca Juniors forward has scored two goals, but has also drawn two penalties, assisted one goal and had two of his shots saved only to have the rebounds pounced on for goals. However, his workrate on the defensive side of the ball has drawn equal praise from his teammates and coaches.
That effort has been contagious and helped trigger some of the defensive successes. Olave adds one more element that has helped matters – communication.
“We’re talking a lot in the back. We’re trying to have a lot of communication with Kyle. Kyle with Javi. Javi with the forwards. That’s the key for us right now,” Olave said. “We are defending from the forwards to the keepers.”
Now RSL takes its defensive form on the road for consecutive nationally-televised matches on Fox Sports 1, starting on Sunday against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. With just three points separating Salt Lake from the sixth and final playoff spot in the West, RSL’s climb has meant a boost in confidence throughout the roster.
“Obviously three points is important, but the spirit of the team is running good right now and we want to keep that moving forward,” Cassar said. “I think our whole team right now is confident. Everyone is playing their defensive part.”