Real Salt Lake’s new set piece coach hoping to capitalize on dead-ball situations

(Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake) Matt Glaeser gives direction during a recent Real Salt Lake preseason practice. RSL hired Glaeser as the set piece specialist, a rare coaching position in Major League Soccer.

Herriman • Nick Besler knows the value of Real Salt Lake’s new set piece coach.

The veteran midfielder worked with Matt Glaeser in his first year with the Real Monarchs in 2017. At that time, Glaeser was the team’s goalkeepers coach. But he also worked on set pieces and other live ball situations for the Monarchs.

Besler said he remembered the team scoring “multiple” goals off set pieces when he played under Glaeser at the Monarchs.

“I think he’s really good,” Besler said. “He spends a lot of time looking at our strengths, other teams’ weaknesses. He comes up with some really good plays.”

Now Glaeser will work as a set piece specialist for RSL. He’ll focus solely on that area of the game while also continuing in his current position as assistant coach of the Monarchs.

RSL scored eight goals on set pieces in 2019, per WhoScored data. Those include corner kicks and free kicks. With the team scoring 46 total goals in 2019, those converted via set piece make up 17.4% of all goals. That percentage ranked fourth of all playoff teams in Major League Soccer last year.

Coach Freddy Juarez has said he wants RSL to score more goals in 2020, and started preseason with attacking principles to drive that point home. It was his idea to bring in a coach that would focus solely on set pieces, so it’s clear he wants that area to improve as well.

Several players think adding Glaeser to the coaching staff could make a big difference in the team’s bottom line. With set piece goals often meaning the difference between wins, ties and losses, any edge would be valuable.

“It can have a lot of value,” defender Aaron Herrera said. “I think set pieces win games a lot of the time. Having a guy whose pure focus is on that, hopefully it’ll pay off for us.”

(Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake) Matt Glaeser encourages the Real Monarchs during the USL Championship final on Nov. 17, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. RSL hired Glaeser as the set piece specialist, a rare coaching position in Major League Soccer.

For Glaeser, breaking down set pieces is his passion. He loves the analysis and research part of what makes good set pieces, as well as what it takes to effectively defend against them.

And he knows the value of having a dedicated coach focusing on that aspect of the game. He cited Danish Superliga team FC Midtjylland, which has scored about 40% of its goals off set pieces in the last two seasons. That team has won two Danish league titles in the last five years.

Defender Nedum Onouha mentioned Liverpool FC and its focus on set pieces. He said that club could be the best in the world right now. He thinks adding a coach like that for RSL is a step in the right direction in terms of innovation.

“If you’re not at least doing that [focusing on set pieces],” Onuoha said, “then are you really trying to be progressive?”

Glaeser told The Salt Lake Tribune that he isn’t looking to overhaul RSL’s strategy on set pieces. He wants to add layers of creativity, planning and efficiency to what the club already has in place.

“We all know how tight MLS is and how a few points here and there, a goal here and there, makes a difference of the parity in the league,” Glaeser said. “If we can maximize every part of our game, we can be effective.”

A couple of players acknowledged that the team as a whole will have to buy in to what Glaeser is preaching. And if more set-piece goals don’t come despite the added emphasis, midfielder Albert Rusnák said, getting a specific coach would not have been worth it.

But early indications show that Glaeser is already making an impact.

“Matt's done a very good job of actually creating principles for set pieces,” Juarez said. “He's zoned off the field. I think you'll see a difference if you really focus on it in the games as we go on in the season. I think you're gonna see more strategy behind it.”

The season officially starts on Feb. 29 against Orlando for RSL, so the efficacy verdict of focusing on set pieces will have to wait at least until then. But there seems to be a sense that the club is eager to show off the increased focus on those situations.

“Obviously if we’re scoring a ton of goals, Glaeser … is going to look like a genius,” Herrera said. “That’s our goal: make him look like a genius. So we’ll see.”