Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 4-4 draw with the Portland Timbers from beat writer Alex Vejar.
1. The team actually played
Let’s not forget: It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that RSL would travel to Portland to play the Timbers.
The players decided not to play against LAFC on the same day teams in other sports sat out to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Then owner Dell Loy Hansen’s comments caused a firestorm that led to several allegations that he made racist comments.
Fans on social media appeared supportive if RSL had decided not to travel — or even travel and still not play.
But they did and they played a heck of a game. Defender Nedum Onuoha was asked on KMYU pregame how the team makes sure it stays focused given all that’s happening off the field.
“It’s easy to be honest because this is what we love doing,” Onuoha replied. “We’ve spent a long time in this year not being able to play. So whenever we get these opportunities, it’s definitely something we look forward to. And even though we have other things which are going on, the fact is we’re always getting ready for the next game on a Saturday and here we are now.”
It’s unclear how and why the decision was made that the team would play against Portland. Reporters were told postgame that players would only answer questions about the game, but would be available in the coming days to answer non-soccer questions. So a story on the internal drama and Hansen’s decision to sell the team is coming.
But RSL played like a team on a mission Saturday. Previous iterations of this team would have laid down after trailing by two goals late in the game. But not this one.
2. The attack is working
Midfielder Albert Rusnák made a point to remind reporters how much we’ve been asking about why RSL has struggled to score this season.
“It wasn’t long ago that you guys were asking me that we’re not creating chances, how we’re going to improve that,” Rusnák said.
He immediately followed that up with the fact that RSL has scored eight goals in its previous two games and on Saturday took 29 shots, which ties a club record.
Before the win over Colorado, Salt Lake had scored only five goals in six games. So those questions were legitimate at that time.
Coach Freddy Juarez and his players were united in saying that aspect of the game would improve. It was just going to take a little time.
Well it’s definitely improved. Forward Corey Baird said the team has found its spacing, which allowed for players to find pockets and make the right decisions. They’re small details, but they matter.
“We’re doing all those little things on and off the ball with our movements that really just all added up to a collective performance that you saw tonight,” Baird said.
So for now at least, the questions about the attack can stop.
3. Super subs
For two games now, RSL’s bench players have changed the course of a game.
It was Maikel Chang against Colorado. Against the Timbers, it was Giuseppe Rossi and Sam Johnson, two players who haven’t seen much action this season despite being expected to make some noise when they signed with the team.
Rossi’s goal got RSL back in the game. He wasn’t shy about conveying what he could do if he had more playing time.
“I bring a lot,” Rossi said on KMYU. “It just showed a little bit in 10 minutes. I can definitely do much more. Just need the possibilities to do so.”
When Johnson has played — he’s struggled with injuries for much of his time with RSL — he’s been productive. He scored nine goals in 26 games (15 starts) last season. And he provided an exciting one to seal the draw.
Juarez said after the Rapids game that substitutions sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. They’ve worked for two straight games And the bench players have clearly been ready to contribute.
“It’s not an easy thing to come as a substitution,” Rusnák said. “Whenever the subs can make an impact immediately in a short amount of time, that’s great for us as a team.”
Rusnák said Rossi and Johnson scoring goals after coming off the bench is a testament to the depth of the team. Juarez said the quality of soccer increased when they entered the game.
“I think the fresh legs came in at the right time,” Juarez said.