So the season opener didn't turn out exactly as it was scripted. It's a long season, and one game in, there is no reason to panic. This is one of the reasons that so many veteran players have been brought on board, to have a calming effect when times aren't great. And make no mistake, times are definitely not great at the moment. As I said though, it is way too early to panic. It is time, however, to have a good hard look at the team. Because that's the issue at hand.
Many times in the last two days, I've either heard or read comments such as: "What happened to the new revamped offense?" or "After all these changes to the defense, how come they gave up so many goals?"
Understand this people, soccer is not American football. You can't look at a soccer team and ask questions about offense and defense, as if they are separate entities. They are not independent of each other, and actually, each relies upon the other. It must be inevitable to want to lay blame somewhere, and more directly, at the feet of individuals. Oftentimes in soccer, it is not quite that simple.
RSL's problems in both allowing and scoring goals in the 0-3 loss to Chivas USA this past weekend came down to two simple factors that have to do with the entire team, rather than "the offense," or "the defense" - 1) turnovers, and 2) team defending. RSL gave away too many turnovers in the middle of the field, close to their own goal, enabling Chivas to gain momentum and belief. The best attacking scenario for any team is to win the ball in the offensive third, and have only 40 yards to go, as opposed to starting your attack 120 yards away with a goal kick. Chivas gained a great deal of confidence early, as they were able to win several balls in RSL's half and quickly turn them into goal scoring opportunities.
The other problem that RSL had was team defending. When Chivas had the ball, there was too much space between the line of forwards and the line of midfielders and too big a gap between the line of midfielders and the line of defenders. This allowed the Chivas midfielders exorbitant amounts of time to comfortably turn and serve balls into their forwards.
In the post-game interview Eddie Pope made a comment that I can guarantee is 100 percent true, saying that whoever was serving entry balls to the forwards had too much time to pick them out. As a result, the RSL defenders were worried about balls being played in behind them (Worst-case scenario: forwards going straight to goal!), so then they couldn't get tight for balls played into the forward's feet. That is really the worst spot for defender to be in, one we refer to as "no man's land." And that's how the entire team defended all game. Because there was so much space to cover, no one ever got close enough to anyone to make them play under pressure. By the time RSL was able to get to the player with the ball, he had already made his decision and played it. I know firsthand how frustrating a problem this can be.
The silver lining is that these are fixable problems. Decision making with the ball will be better, leading to fewer turnovers in bad spots. The team defending is perhaps a bigger issue, but will also yield bigger dividends when RSL gets it right. When the team defends better, the attack improves immediately. If you are in good spots to defend, you are also going to be in better spots to attack, once you've won the ball. And believe it or not, if the team attacks better, and more confidently, it will be in better spots to win the ball back, if it is lost.
On Sunday, the team had some problems. The offense was no worse than the defense, and vice versa. As a team, RSL created some problems for themselves, and as a team, they will work these issues out. It's a long season, and they have many more games to get it right. RSL will certainly be looking for a better showing this Saturday night in Pizza Hut Park against FC Dallas.
Robin Fraser, a five-time MLS Best XI selection and two-time MLS Defender of the Year, ended his 10-year MLS career and 16-year professional career last October, and now begins his first season with RSL as the team's color television analyst. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Fraser amassed 27 caps for the U.S. National Team and was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the inaugural MLS draft.
Comments? E-mail Robin and the entire RSL broadcast crew at fun@RealSaltLake.com, and your e-mail could be featured in the Computech "Fan Feedback" feature on all RSL on KSL and FSN Utah broadcasts, as well as on KALL 700 AM.