Real Salt Lake fine-tuning defense, especially on set pieces, ahead of Rocky Mountain Cup finale

Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Real Salt Lake

SANDY, Utah As Real Salt Lake look to put an end to their two-game losing streak when they face the Colorado Rapids Saturday night (8:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), there has been one area of particular emphasis this week for the guys in Claret-and-Cobalt this week in training.

"Let's be honest. We've given up six goals [in the last two losses], and five of those have been set pieces or penalties," said center back Nat Borchers following training on Wednesday. "We are going to be able to fix those issues here in training. We are working on that this week. It is a huge opportunity this weekend to show we can do better in those things."

So what does a team do that has only allowed one goal in the run of play compared to five off set pieces and penalty kicks? Besides the obvious directions to mark better on set pieces, or don't foul to set up the free kick in the first place, RSL are working on what they do best: retaining possession of the ball. After all, maintaining possession limits opponents' chances at scoring considerably.

"We are just training with regard to set pieces defensively, and we are also making sure we make better decisions late in games," Borchers said. "I think we have given away possession a few too many times late in games when we can keep the ball and keep it away from our opponent. Because we haven't been able to do that well, that has hurt us against New York and Kansas City.

"It comes down to a lot of things when it comes to set pieces," he continued. "First of all, we have given away too many fouls. We got to be careful about that. Then, on set pieces everybody has to do their job and mark up. As a group, we have to be able to hold the line at the same time and drop at the same time. It definitely has an individual and a team element to it."

RSL could look to the fact that Borchers was the only first-choice player on the defensive end for RSL against New York, as their top goalkeeper, second center back, both outside backs and holding midfielder were unavailable due to either injury, suspension or international duty. But Borchers wouldn't let that be an excuse.

"I don't think it has actually been too bad with communication back there. I think all the guys who we brought in and all the young guys and new guys have stepped up and understood what we are trying to do. I think they have done quite well," he said.

So it is a bit of a back-to-the-drawing-board mentality for RSL on stopping to allow the set pieces.

"We've been working on it," said outside back Lovel Palmer. "[RSL assistant coach] Jeff Cassar is the man who works on set pieces. He's been working on it hard. Practice today was a big emphasis on set pieces. I think the team is going to be better, more focused. We should eliminate all those mistakes.

"I think it is just a lack of concentration. We just need to concentrate for 90-plus minutes because the game goes on — sometimes 97 or 98 minutes. We just have to concentrate until the final whistle is blown and we have the result in the bag."