Here are three takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s scoreless draw against the New England Revolution.
1. Formidable performance wasn’t enough to keep RSL in fourth
The thing about this point in the Major League Soccer season is that some teams will have to rely somewhat on other results to secure enviable playoff positioning. RSL isn’t quite one of those teams, but it’s almost one of those teams.
Real went into Massachusetts and gutted out a result against the Revolution despite getting wildly outshot and having eight changes to its starting 11. And for a team that prior to Saturday had won or drawn only six of its 15 road games, getting a tie under those circumstances is nothing to sneeze at.
But the reality remains: Because RSL didn’t win, that opened the door for other Western Conference teams playing that night to jump it in the standings. And that’s what the L.A. Galaxy did with its 2-1 win over Montreal. The Galaxy were only two points behind the fourth spot after Real’s game, and now they’re one point ahead.
While the draw didn’t take RSL out of the running for the playoffs, the difference between fourth and fifth place is starting at home versus on the road in the first round.
On top of that, any win would create even just the smallest sliver of separation in a tight Western Conference. And New England isn’t the strongest team in MLS.
But the Revolution tried hard to win that game, and RSL prevented that from happening. It may not be three points, but it’s positive momentum going forward. With only three games left and other teams jockeying for position, RSL is going to have dig a little deeper to maximize the final three games.
2. The reserves showed up
Due to a stretch in which RSL has three games in eight days, a rotation of its 18 players needed to suit up Saturday. Interim coach Freddy Juarez and his staff may have surprised many with just how much he did that.
Eight players appeared in the starting lineup Saturday compared to the game against Minnesota. Only Aaron Herrera, Damir Kreilach and Sam Johnson were holdovers.
In previous games where so many regular starters either came off the bench or didn’t suit up at all, there’d be a nervousness throughout the fan base that RSL would most likely lose. It may just be because some players who started haven’t played MLS soccer — like Andrew Putna, Justin Porillo and Erik Holt.
But Putna grabbed his second shutout in just five starts. Erik Holt helped anchor the back line. And as a collective 11, the group made sure it didn’t blow the game at a time when RSL can’t afford to lose.
Juarez mentioned many of his players in his postgame comments and said he was proud of how they came in and did the job they needed to do. The lesson here is now the coaching staff can have a little bit more trust in their bench if something wacky happens. And that’s valuable.
3. RSL won the hustle battle
It takes a lot of grit and effort to draw a game after giving up 23 shots and seven corners. But RSL did it, and it did it by outworking New England all over the field. A few stats shed light on how that happened.
RSL won the duel battle 63-53 and had 12 tackles to the Revolution’s seven. A duel is essentially any time two players are going after possession of the ball. It can happen in the air or on the ground. It’s a 50-50 ball. And Real got to more of them, which means it wanted the ball just a little bit more than New England.
Salt Lake winning tackles also points to how sharp the team was. It had the ability not to foul — RSL recorded five fewer fouls than the Revs — in those moments and disrupt what the Revolution wanted to do more often than they disrupted RSL.
It was the right time for RSL to outwork its opponent. And because it did so with mainly reserve players, that means its regular starters will have the opportunity to do it against the Galaxy on Wednesday. More of that will need to happen in the last three games for RSL to stay in the playoff hunt.