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3 takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s 2-0 win over Sporting KC

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath (2) goes for the ball along with Real Salt Lake forward Sam Johnson (50), in MLS soccer ction between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, in Sandy, Saturday, June 29, 2019.

Here are three takeaways from the important 2-0 clean sheet that Real Salt Lake put on Sporting Kansas City.

1. Sam Johnson really is a poacher

Some strikers just have a nose for the ball. If it’s anywhere around the goal and they just happen to be nearby, that ball is finding the back of the net one way or another. The majority of Johnson’s seven goals this season have come from him simply being in the vicinity.

But no goal exemplifies the “poacher” moniker like his second goal of the evening. On a breakaway, Albert Rusnák played the ball behind to Damir Kreilach, who had every intention of shooting it himself. But Johnson was right there next to him when he took a touch to settle the ball. Johnson, realizing SKC’s keeper was looking to make a play to wake up his team, decided Kreilach was taking just a little too long to shoot it. So, he just went and did it himself.

On some replay angles, it looked like Kreilach willingly passed the ball to Johnson on the sequence. But not only did Kreilach say he didn’t see Johnson, the Liberian striker himself admitted he stole a goal from him.

Sports data analytics company Opta gave Kreilach an assist on Johnson’s goal. Does he deserve one? Below is the video of the sequence. You decide.

2. Sporting’s defense played very high up the field, and RSL took advantage

Generally, road teams in Major League Soccer like to sit back defensively because they know the home team is going to force the issue. Not all teams do it, but most do. Sporting Kansas City, however, was egregiously not one of those teams Saturday.

Sporting’s back four consistently positioned itself at the midfield line, leaving an entire half of the field exposed.

Sporting Kansas City's high defensive shape

RSL coach Mike Petke said the team talked about and worked on ways to get behind those four SKC defenders, whether it was sending balls over the top or getting wing players to make runs between gaps in the defense.

“I didn’t see it as much as I would like to, but I saw it more than I have previously,” Petke said. “That’s a good sign.”

Johnson’s stolen goal came because Rusnák stole the ball around the midfield and started a counter attack that included four RSL players and just two SKC players. They only reason Real had that type of advantage was because of how high Sporting played defense.

3. Holy successful set piece, Batman!

It’s no secret: RSL is not very adept at scoring on set pieces, especially if it’s a corner kick. To be fair, the club doesn’t get many opportunities to do so. Real have taken 54 corner kicks this season, by far the lowest in the league.

But the team does spend time during training sessions practicing them. They go over positions, where to place the ball and certain hand signals the kicker will use. But more often than not, their attempts don’t threaten the defense.

Saturday was different. RSL and Johnson’s first goal came off a corner kick sequence that was executed to perfection. Pass, pass, header, finish.

The sequence of passes looked somewhat familiar. So after some digging, this set piece from 2015 popped up, which fans will certainly remember and appreciate. It wasn’t a corner kick, but just like Saturday’s play, it went pass, pass, header, finish.

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