3 takeaways from RSL’s loss to Minnesota

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (18) as Real Salt Lake hosts the San Jose Earthquakes, MLS soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday Sept. 11, 2019.

Here are three takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s 3-1 loss to Minnesota United.

1. Killed on the counter attack

In the last few seasons, RSL has been known as a team that likes to possess the ball. And this season especially, it’s been working more on building out of the back and controlling tempo by making sure it makes accurate passes.

But Minnesota came into Sunday’s game with on obvious game plan: just let RSL have it as much as it wants. That’s exactly what led to RSL’s 61% possession.

But it’s almost as if so much possession and passes (621-391 advantage for Real) caused some sloppiness, and the Loons somehow knew it. Virtually any time an RSL player made an inaccurate pass, a Minnesota player was there for the interception and to start the counter attack.

In the video collection below, there are three instances where RSL lost possession and the Loons went on the attack. Just look at how MNUFC capitalized on each opportunity, the final one leading to a goal.

To be fair, not every team is equipped to do this. Darwin Quintero, Jr. and a couple of the other attacking players have the natural athleticism and speed to exploit mistakes.

But if RSL’s modus operandi is possession, all a team would have to do is adopt a similar game plan like Minnesota and opportunities will eventually present themselves. So RSL will definitely need to take a hard lesson from Sunday’s game and figure out a counter to opponents’ possible counters.

2. Did Minnesota find some sort of hidden weakness?

Nick Rimando is objectively the greatest goalkeeper Major League Soccer has ever seen. And with only four games left in the regular season, time is becoming shorter and shorter for fans to enjoy his play.

But the Loons seem to have figured out a way to exploit his positioning during games. Against RSL, Minnesota tried to catch Rimando off guard and sent surprise chip shots at him three times during the game — twice in the first half, once in the second.

In the examples below, it’s clear that this was part of MNUFC’s game plan.

The question is: Is Rimando’s positioning only that away against the Loons, or in general? Because if it’s the latter, then Minnesota may have just tipped off every playoff team that would want to exploit Rimando and sneak a goal against him.

3. The next two road games could decide RSL’s playoff position

Salt Lake is now fourth in the Western Conference after this week’s games in MLS with just three points separating it and FC Dallas, which is in eighth.

RSL is good at home, and the next two games there are against the L.A. Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. Houston is basically out of the playoff race and the Galaxy can be hit or miss. So those games are strong candidates for six points.

But the road is a different story. The next two games away from Rio Tinto Stadium are against the New England Revolution (seventh in East) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (12th in West). Those games are also very winnable, but RSL is just 3-9-3 on the road.

At this point, Real can’t afford to not get results on the road. Not with how tight the race is in the conference. One misstep on the road can be the difference between a home and road playoff game in the first round.