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Kragthorpe: Goals remain elusive as RSL launches new season

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:46 pm


Sandy

Kyle Beckerman's perfectly chipped pass gave Joao Plata an opportunity to make Real Salt Lake's 2017 opener much more memorable, but Plata's shot sailed over the crossbar Saturday afternoon.

RSL started the season pretty much the way last year ended, failing to score in a draw with Toronto FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Defensively speaking, the shutout is worth something — especially because of everything that Nick Rimando did to make it happen in another spectacular showing from the veteran goalkeeper against a very good opponent.

Offensively, though? RSL coach Jeff Cassar resists any suggestion of a winless streak or lack of scoring as carryovers from last season, but that line of thinking is inevitable. And the absence of offense will remain the story of this team, until the goals start coming. The franchise has spent a lot of money to attract and keep offensive players with nothing to show for it yet.




In attacking sequences, "we're still working on the final ball, the final product," Cassar said. "Obviously, putting the ball in the back of the net is the most difficult part. … You could see where the potential is, and that's exciting."

That viewpoint requires some faith, at this point. Thanks to Major League Soccer's lengthy calendar, RSL has nearly eight months to figure out this stuff, as playmaking newcomer Albert Rusnak blends in with Yura Movsisyan, Plata and other. But it is not unreasonable for fans to demand some production, and soon.

The attendance of 19,519 was slightly short of a sellout in the earliest home opener in RSL history, a rare case of the team launching a season at Rio Tinto Stadium. The franchise's 13th year began with MLS commissioner Don Garber in attendance, speaking bullishly about the league's future with considerable competition among candidates in the next round of expansion.

RSL and MLS have come a long way together since 2005, when Garber was in town for the team's first game in its temporary home of Rice- Eccles Stadium. The franchise has established itself in the league and built a winning tradition, although the past two seasons have eroded some belief about where the team is headed.

In that sense, Saturday's tie could help only so much — never mind that it would have been a loss, if not for Rimando's stopping Jozy Altidore with the soccer equivalent of a blocked shot in basketball and then denying Sebastian Giovinco's penalty kick.

Rimando personally makes watching this team worthwhile. Now, if he could just score goals himself.

"The goals will come," Rimando promised, expressing confidence in his teammates.

But they couldn't score Saturday. In some instances, Rusnak said, "We got there to have a really good chance, but we need the final pass."

Cassar liked how his team generated 17 shots, the problem being that Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin hardly was tested. And now Real is winless in its last nine games, counting a 2016 playoff defeat, and offense remains the biggest issue. Cassar makes a fair point in asking that his 2017 team be judged only for its own performances, but fans have good memories.

This story would be different, of course, if Plata had converted in the 78th minute. That's all it would have taken to give RSL a significant victory over the Eastern Conference's defending champions in tough conditions. The south wind made it difficult for players to control their passes, in either direction.

RSL defender Tony Beltran observed how the wind in Sandy suddenly seems to be a consistent pattern over the past couple of seasons. Unfortunately for his team, that's not the only recurring theme.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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