SANDY, Utah — RSL hit a relatively rough patch in recent weeks — at least by their own high standards — winning just once in the five games prior to their 2-0 defeat of the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
But many had to ask: What caused the downturn? Was it a hangover from the Champions League loss over a month ago? Was it a result of losing star playmaker Javier Morales to a gruesome injury? Or was it a case of not doing those things that brought about their sustained period of success?
Though it’s impossible to know with certainty — and it’s possible that all of these contributed to some degree — there are some reasonable conclusions that can be reached based on certain facts.
FACT: In the three games in which they were shutout, RSL managed a little over eight shots on average, compared with more than 13 shots per game this season. Conversely, in the team’s three multi-goal games, the team registered nearly 17 shots.
CONCLUSION: As Arsène Wenger (and others) have been known to point out so astutely: If you don’t shoot, you can’t score. It's obvious, but the story here is that though improved finishing always helps, when RSL have struggled it has been because they have failed to create enough chances.
“We’ve got too many guys that are OK with letting someone else do the job, or take the responsibility, or have the final pass or take the shot,” Kreis said. “We need more guys to step up and say, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
FACT: When RSL have gone scoreless in a match, they averaged 61 percent possession; however, they managed only 57 percent possession in games in which they scored more than one.
CONCLUSION: While possession is a key component in soccer, RSL’s already obscene possession stats are more than sufficient for getting results. If you have the majority of the ball, it instead becomes a question of what you do with it, when you have it. A few percentage points of possession one way or another may not be all that important.
FACT: In the three games in which they scored multiple goals, RSL committed 15 fouls. On average for the season, the team committed 20 percent fewer fouls (12) per game.
CONCLUSION: The team has been more successful when they scrap and fight hard for the ball. This fight manifests itself in a higher-than-usual foul count.
“Because when [successful teams] lose [possession], they're pressing back instantaneously to get the ball back,” said Kreis during the team’s scoreless streak. "That's a part of our game I think we've really let slip."
FACT: In the three games without a goal, RSL registered just three offside calls, as opposed to more than five offside whistles in the rest of their matches.
CONCLUSION: As with the foul count, being aggressive is important, and while offside calls are frustrating to the strikers receiving the whistle, it’s a sign that they are pushing the envelope — which may ultimately lead to the desired result: goals.
Whatever the factors, Kreis is hopeful that his team is finally turning the corner after a 2-0 victory at home against Vancouver.
“I feel like just a breath of fresh air in the team, and that breath came when Jean [Alexandre] scored that first goal,” said Kreis. “I’m hopeful that we can turn what was a very positive match on Saturday into a couple of positive matches in a row here."
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