Baer: The diamond could be solution for Mike Petke and Real Salt Lake

Now that Mike Petke has taken the reins at Real Salt Lake and we've looked at what his past stint with the New York Red Bulls can tell us, it’s time to look ahead to what he should do with an RSL team that's winless through their first four games in 2017.

The most obvious problem that Petke faces is jumpstarting an attack that has scored just once this season and finished last year by scoring just three goals in their final seven games, including their MLS Cup playoff loss to the LA Galaxy. Joao Plata, Yura Movsisyan and new signing Albert Rusnak have yet to fully click, though that can partly be blamed on a Plata injury, a Kyle Beckerman red card and Rusnak being away on international duty with Slovakia.

RSL’s defense has mostly held up this season, conceding just four goals in four games despite injuries to almost every one of their defenders. Last year, that wasn't the case. They conceded 46 goals, the third-most in the Western Conference, and, based on their expected goals against, could've easily allowed more.

Data provided by Opta shows that RSL's expected goals against value last year was 49, fifth-highest in MLS. That means that, on average, given the quality of chances they conceded, RSL should have coughed up 49 goals. Solid goalkeeping and below-par finishing by their opponents kept the actual number of goals conceded down.  

How does Petke solve these issues? One potential solution may come as a pleasant surprise for long-time RSL fans.

Baer: The diamond could be solution for Mike Petke and Real Salt Lake -

Yes, that’s a diamond, the formation the team used almost exclusively in their run of seven-straight MLS Cup playoff appearances and in winning MLS Cup 2009. Former head coach Jeff Cassar moved from the formation to a 4-3-3 following the 2014 season. RSL failed to reach the playoffs in 2015 and finished sixth in the West in 2016.

A move back to the diamond would help RSL accomplish their goals for a number of reasons.

The Plata-Movsisyan forward partnership would give Plata a target man to make runs off of, much in the same way he did in 2014, when he scored a career-best 13 goals in just 26 regular season appearances while working with Alvaro Saborio and other center forwards. Too often in Cassar's 4-3-3 was Plata isolated on the wing, unable to create and get involved. Having a partner to directly work with would also help Movsisyan, who has been inconsistent since returning to Utah prior to the 2016 season.

Further back on the field, Beckerman will soon turn 35. Time stops for no man, and the MLS legend has shown his age recently. He's been given too much ground to cover and after 400-plus MLS appearances, the former US international doesn't have the same range he used to. He'd have an extra man to cover him in the diamond than in the 4-3-3, freeing him up to control more of the game in possession rather than running around to try and regain the ball.

Giving Beckerman more help in the midfield will also help RSL's backline, strengthening the midfield shield in front of them. In the past, with Beckerman chasing, they have too often been exposed and on their heels.

Will Petke turn to the diamond as a solution? We'll see. But it could certainly help RSL solve their mounting issues.