Real Salt Lake came out firing to start this MLS season. Against the odds, they rose to the top of the West, hand in hand with the Colorado Rapids, also defying the odds. But they were two different kinds of success. The Colorado Rapids were compact. They knew their strengths and they played to them. They had defensive solidity and a fresh helping of veteran, proven goal scorers.
Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake was quite different. They had one clear order of business. Sit deep and fire the ball up, letting Joao Plata run underneath it. Then, they could hopefully filch a goal or two.
It wasn’t the most reliable source of goals, but it was working for the Utah-dwellers. They were able to establish themselves as one of the upstarts.
But Plata got hurt. And suddenly there was no one to fire the ball to from deep. Plus, Jeff Cassar may or may not have realized that that wasn’t exactly a reliable source of wins anyway. So Salt Lake began to reinvent themselves, gearing their output towards prolonged, sustainable success rather than flashes in the pan. It was a bold step and one that would be met with set backs, but it was necessary.
Cassar made it very clear what the objective was. He cited the secret to his team’s success as ‘defending as a team’. He wants to have eleven guys defending and eleven guys attacking. He wants to be like Colorado: compact, disciplined, and organized.
It was tough for awhile, with Plata out and the venerable Javier Morales leading the creative duties. But against Sporting Kansas City, it looked to have come together.
Real Salt Lake went into Children’s Mercy Park and did exactly what Colorado has been doing all year, only they did it bigger. Whereas Colorado has been squeezing out 1-0 wins by surrendering possession, defending as a team, and taking their chances, Real Salt Lake pushed out a conclusive 3-1 victory while surrendering possession, defending as a team, and taking their chances.
So you see where the excitement lies.
Salt Lake had fallen in a bit of a doldrums, losing two straight 1-0 games. The first, against Colorado, where they were outdone by the master. The second, against Houston, Real Salt Lake’s finishing was just tragically off.
Against Kansas City, it came together. Real Salt Lake looked just like Colorado. They took their chances, they invoked havoc when they had the ball (as briefly as that may have been) and they defended comprehensively as a unit, preventing Sporting Kansas City from getting any sort of offensive traction.
The question is whether or not Salt Lake can master this style of play like Colorado has.