On Wednesday night, Real Salt Lake have an opportunity to save their season.
The standard-bearers for sustained success in MLS over the last half-decade have had a rough season by their standards and currently sit three points behind the sixth-seeded San Jose Earthquakes.
A win by RSL would leave three teams tied for the last playoff spot entering the season’s final two games, with no clear favorite to capture the spot.
Jeff Cassar’s team has been able to get back into the playoff race, after looking dead in the water a month ago, with the help of their new star signing.
Juan Manuel Martinez, aka “El Burrito", has only produced one goal and one assist, but his impact over his first four MLS starts is undeniable.
Granted, we are still looking at a pretty small sample size, but RSL have averaged two goals per game in Martinez’ first four starts. That is a significant uptick from the 1.1 goals per game they averaged before El Burrito wrapped up a spot in the starting lineup.
|RSL with/without Martinez starting|
(Credit: Opta Sports)
The auxiliary stats like passing and shooting have not gone up a significant amount, as you can see above, but Martinez gives RSL what they didn’t have before. A natural winger for their 4-3-3 formation. It also should be noted that three of his four starts have come on the road, where RSL have had worse stats than at home all season.
When the Claret & Cobalt moved from their usual 4-4-2 diamond formation to a 4-3-3, one of the main advantages was to be able to get three of their star forwards on the field at the same time.
But due to injuries and inconsistency, that vision hasn’t really come into focus.
Sebastian Jaime and Olmes Garcia have been underwhelming, mostly playing on the wing. Joao Plata is just rounding back into a form after a preseason injury and all-time club leading scorer Alvaro Saborio was traded back in July.
Martinez’ combination of speed and technical ability has been the perfect on the wing in Cassar’s 4-3-3. You can see it in his numbers too.
Since his insertion into the starting XI, El Burrito has won 3.84 fouls per 90 minutes. That mark would put him second in the league if was able to keep up that pace for the entire season.
Winning those fouls has shown more tangible results, too.
Another area where his speed has shown is in his attempts to get by defenders in one-on-one situations.
Again, we are dealing with small sample sizes, but he has averaged 4.54 dribble attempts per 90 minutes in his short MLS career. That number would put him in the top 15 in MLS this season and by far the most on Real Salt Lake. Only Garcia (3.19) and Plata (3.13) have averaged more than three dribble attempts per 90 minutes this season.
If RSL are able to keep their playoff hopes alive on Wednesday against a stingy Timbers backline, it will likely have to do with the impact Martinez has on the game.