Real Salt Lake players, coaches say it’s too early to worry about team’s low attacking numbers

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Real forward Jefferson Savarino (7) scores a goal for Salt Lake, in MLS action between Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas, at Rio Tinto Stadium, Saturday, March 30, 2019.

The 2018 version of Real Salt Lake’s offense was all over the place. It scored 12 goals in two weeks at one point, while also giving up at least three goals in 10 games, including the playoffs. It was fourth in the league in shots on goal during the regular season, but also had the worst goal differential of any playoff team in either conference.

Through seven games of the 2019 season, those trends appear to have continued and look slightly worse. While RSL has played well in spurts and is coming off a win over Orlando City SC in which it put away its most goals in open play, the team still ranks at the bottom of Major League Soccer in several key offensive categories.

RSL is last in the league in corner kicks (20), shoots the highest percentage of shots from outside the 18-yard box (57%), and is tied with three other teams for the lowest percentage of time spent in the attacking third of the field (22%). Those seem like nerdy numbers, but they point to the possibility that Real hasn’t yet found its attacking swagger.

Forward and designated player Jefferson Savarino said Tuesday that he thinks the team hasn’t yet reached its level of sharpness when it comes to its attack. He pointed a lack of movement as the possible culprit.

“I think we haven’t had much movement,” Savarino said. “But I think game after game, we’re going to find the rhythm and the attack that maybe, for the moment, we have [not] had in previous matches.”

Corner kicks, possession in the attacking third and shots inside the 18-yard box all generally indicate how much pressure the offensive team puts on the defense. The higher the numbers in any those measures, the better chances a team has to score.

Coach Mike Petke, when told Thursday of those statistics, said they tell him “we have to improve on corner kicks, we have to improve on possession in the opponent’s half, we have to improve on opportunities in the 18-yard box.” But he also said it’s too early in the season to give too much credence to those numbers. The fact that RSL has accumulated four red cards and played in three of the most difficult stadiums in the league also play a part, he said.

“We have 27 games left,” Petke told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Those numbers right now — our environment, where we’ve been, playing down a man if not two men — those numbers are obviously going to go lower.”

Midfielder Albert Rusnák said the low attacking numbers can be attributed to RSL having played four of its first seven games on the road. That causes Real to be “under it” for the majority of the game, he said.

The numbers prove Rusnák’s point, but only slightly. Of the 20 corner kicks, nine have been on the road. RSL shoots 54% of its shots from outside the 18 at home (second in the league) compared to 59% on the road (first). And it sits in the bottom three teams in MLS in possession in the attacking third both home and away.

Defender Donny Toia said regardless of where the shots come from, the only thing that needs to improve is capitalizing on those opportunities.

“We create a lot of chances,” Toia said. “Now it’s just a matter of finishing — whether it’s outside the 18 or inside the 18. So I think that’s one thing we have to focus on is now just finishing our chances, the ones that we create.”

Rusnák, in regards specifically to corner kicks on the road, said the team shouldn’t necessarily focus on getting more of those opportunities because the players don’t have the collective size to score much from those plays. But he would like to see RSL find a way to put pressure on the opponent’s third more when they’re away from Rio Tinto Stadium.

Petke said that team is not yet at the point yet where it stops being “early” in the season. To that end, he reiterated that are many games left to become a better attacking team.

“At the end of the day, of course, you always want to raise those numbers and you always want to improve,” Petke said. “We have a hell of a lot of time to go to improve.”


At Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati

Kickoff » Friday, 5:30 p.m. MDT


Radio » 700 AM

Records » RSL 2-4-1, Cincinatti 2-3-2

About Cincinnati » Coming off a three-game winless streak. … Five players, including reserve Przemyslaw Tyton, are questionable to play. … Eight different players have scored a goal. … Are 1-1-1 at home. … Have three straight road games after RSL.

About RSL » Erik Hold (ankle) and Marcelo Silva (knee) will not play. … Albert Rusnák and Damir Kreilach lead team with two goals each. … Game against Cincinnati is first of two straight on the road. … Kyle Beckerman leads team with four yellow cards, and will be suspended a game should he get one more.