Three Points: Putna provides, set piece success, and RSL just played harder

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach (8) reacts after scoring a goal for Real Salt Lake in the first period, in MLS soccer action between Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles FC at Rio Tinto Stadium, on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 3-0 win over LAFC from beat writer Alex Vejar.

1. Andrew Putna saves and saves and saves

RSL goalkeeper Andrew Putna couldn’t remember the last time he had eight saves in a game.

“Not since college, probably,” Putna said after he chuckled at the question.

Regardless of when it last happened, Putna’s eight-save performance was notable. Not only did he help get RSL’s first clean sheet since July 17 against Minnesota United, but he also redeemed himself for conceding seven goals in his previous three starts.

“It makes me feel more confident obviously after a performance like this,” Putna said. “But it’s just about working hard in training and almost forgetting about those mistakes because as a goalkeeper, you have to a short memory.”

Putna and Zac MacMath, who started in RSL’s 4-0 loss to Minnesota, have been competing for the permanent starting spot all season, with young David Ochoa waiting in the wings for his opportunity as well. Putna said he thinks he and MacMath have had a good competition thus far and have supported and pushed one another to make sure they are ready.

After Nick Rimando’s retirement, the starting goalkeeper spot is wide open at RSL. But if Putna keeps playing like he did Thursday, it may not be much of a competition after all. He’s trying to stay humble.

“It was just good to see the shots and make the saves tonight, really,” Putna said. “That’s all.”

2. Set piece success

It might be time to write this: Matt Glaeser looks like a genius.

Glaeser is RSL’s set piece specialist. Coach Freddy Juarez gave him that role so he can help with corner kicks and throw-ins in an effort to score a few extra goals in 2020.

In his time with the Real Monarchs, where he is still an assistant, Glaeser also tinkered with set pieces. He was successful with the USL team, and he’s been successful with the MLS team.

Two of RSL’s three goals against LAFC came directly off set pieces. While they weren’t situations where a pass led directly to a goal, the players' position for the initial pass is what helped turn a recycled sequence into a goal.

Salt Lake leads MLS in goals off set pieces with six, per WhoScored data.

Assistant coach Tyrone Marshall said with the size of LAFC’s lineup, RSL knew it had the advantage in the air. He added that studying film helped Salt Lake find areas where set pieces could benefit it against LAFC.

“We put in some set plays for this particular game," Marshall said. "Watching the [LAFC] game against L.A. Galaxy, we knew we had some opportunities that, if we had those chances, I think we were going to capitalize.”

When Glaeser came in before the 2020 season started, the jury was still out on whether his input would make an impact. Defender Aaron Herrera said back in February that if RSL is scoring multiple goals on set pieces, Glaeser would look like a genius.

Looks like Herrera was right.

3. RSL just played harder

Forget for a second that RSL scored three goals.

There are some key metrics that point to why RSL came away with a win against LAFC that don’t include possession percentages, shots or even goals. They’re the hustle numbers.

Real won more duels than LAFC (60-47). They won more tackles (17-7). And yes, they even had more yellow cards (4-2). All that despite Los Angeles shooting the same amount of shots on target, having more possession and creating many more corner kicks.

It’s true that LAFC started a lineup with four players who had never started a game before. And it’s also true that LAFC didn’t have its best player available.

But those aren’t excuses for getting outworked, and the numbers clearly say RSL outworked the visitors Wednesday.

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