LEHI, Utah — Much has been made about Real Salt Lake’s struggles at times this season, and the absence of playmaker Javier Morales has been the focal point. It’s well known that he’s the maestro behind the music when RSL is playing the beautiful style of soccer of which they are capable.
However, the numbers say that the focus when RSL struggle needs to be on the backline, not the central midfield.
Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are among the most effective center back duos in the league, and as it turns out, there is a direct correlation between their presence on the field and RSL’s results. The two have played in 11 games this season in which both were in the lineup for the bulk of the match. In those 11, the Claret-and-Cobalt are unbeaten with a 6-0-5 record.
In the 15 matches where one or both have missed at least a half hour of play due to injury, ejection or other absence, RSL are just 7-7-1.
“I think that it’s really an argument for experience and time spent together as a partnership,” head coach Jason Kreis told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Thursday. “If you change that partnership by half, that’s just the way that it goes. So when we’ve changed that partnership, we’ve had some inconsistency.”
Just in case you are still skeptical that their absences are directly linked to the results, consider this: In those 11 matches that they have fully played together, they have allowed just five goals. That’s less than a goal every other game. In the other 15 matches, the team has surrendered 17 goals.
These stats are all the more remarkable when you consider that even though more than half their games have been played without this dynamic duo intact, RSL are tied with LA – another team with its fair share of injuries and absences along the back line – for fewest goals allowed (22).
While Kreis chalks these results up largely to consistency, he also acknowledges the quality of the center back pairing that he has in Olave and Borchers.
“I think it’s the best pairing in the league by far,” he said.
Provided they stay healthy, Borchers and Olave will get their chance to prove as much down the stretch run. RSL are currently fourth in the West on 45 points – 10 behind the Galaxy – but have two games in hand and, with them, a chance to climb the standings.
The stretch run begins this Saturday (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online) with a home game against surging Sporting KC. Both Olave and Borchers are expected to be in the starting lineup.