RSL’s defense is stifling in the box, Meram returns to Orlando, MacMath starts

Orlando's Ruan, left, and Utah's Damir Kreilach, right, collide on a header during an MLS soccer match in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Here are three observations from RSL’s scoreless draw against Orlando City on Saturday.

1. Not in RSL’s box

Orlando relentlessly crossed the ball into RSL’s box and created several more chances than the road team. In all, the Lions amassed 27 crosses to Salt Lake’s 13.

Many of Orlando’s opportunities could have been goals in most other circumstances, but RSL didn’t let that happen. Salt Lake had 32 clearances. And when the Lions played balls close to the goal, RSL’s defenders got them out of danger.

A few of RSL’s defensive plays in the box came with diving headers, like this one from Justen Glad.

“We were warriors out here tonight,” Giuseppe Rossi said. “Our back line played a tremendous game. We worked as a group. We sacrificed for each other. We sacrificed so much in this game.”

RSL coach Freddy Juarez said defending in the box is something the team worked on during the preseason, adjusting some principles from last season.

“It’s not by design that we want the opponent to cross,” Juarez said. “But if [they] cross, we want to be in good positions to deal with that. And I thought players like Nedum [Onuoha], Marcelo [Silva], Justen Glad in the first half, Donny [Toia] — they’re guys that don’t shy away from duels. [Nick] Besler, [Justin] Portillo. It’s a team DNA that we need.”

Defense was RSL’s strong suit last season, and it continued in the first game of the season.

2. Justin Meram’s cold welcome

One of RSL’s newest forwards played in Orlando for less than a season in 2018. And the Lions fans let him know just how much they still don’t like him when he entered the game in the 70th minute.

Meram was loudly booed and fans used a four-letter expletive while chanting his name. The reception could stem from comments he made about Orlando fans when he was still with the team, for which he was granted a leave of absence before eventually being traded.

Meram played 20 minutes and didn’t attempt a shot. Juarez said he added to the team while he was out there, and it seemed like he knew what Meram could endure once he came on.

“It’s a tough environment to put Meram in because it’s an ex-club and that takes a strong mentality,” Juarez said. “I thought he handled it well and he’ll keep growing from that kind of stuff.”

3. Zac MacMath does his job at goal

There were questions during preseason about which three players would win the starting goalkeeper job to start the preseason. But veteran Zac MacMath started all three preseason games, appearing to win the job, despite Juarez’s comments that it was still a three-person race.

MacMath started against Orlando City and more than held his own. He tallied two saves to one for Lions keeper Pedro Gallese. He also played crosses well, batting them away or catching them to deter dangerous chances from Orlando.

On Orlando’s best opportunity of the evening, MacMath was right there to stop it.

MacMath recorded his 37th shutout of his career Saturday.