RSL offense good in loss, home struggles, and better play with 10 men

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha (14) heads a corner kick, as Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jake Nerwinski (28) defends, in MLS soccer action between Real Salt Lake and the Vancouver Whitecaps at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020.

Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

1. Tough loss, but good offense

In less than a month, RSL got off at least 25 shots in two separate games — the 4-4 draw to the Portland Timbers and Saturday’s loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Coach Freddy Juarez said he was disappointed in Saturday’s result but proud of how the team played. And it’s not difficult to see why.

Of those 25 shots, 16 came from inside the 18 yard box. There have been plenty of games this season where RSL didn’t shoot 16 times in 90 minutes. So for the team to get off that many attempts in the most dangerous area of the field points to something good happening offensively.

RSL also created 21 chances. Juarez said he’s encouraged by those numbers.

“When you have shots, it’s one thing,” Juarez said. “When you have shots … in the box, to me that’s very encouraging. And it should be encouraging to the team.”

It shouldn’t be forgotten that RSL only made one goal out of its 21 chances. That’s not a ratio that any team would want to make a habit of. Also, only four of RSL’s 25 shots were on target.

Salt Lake, however, has had games this season where it found the net multiple times. Three against LAFC, four against Portland, four against Colorado once. So RSL is obviously capable, but it hasn’t happened in the past two games.

“It seems like more times than not that we’re in great positions to score,” forward Justin Meram said. “Sometimes [we’re] a bit unlucky. But we’ve scored multiple goals in games. … You’re not going to score four goals every game.”

But if RSL keeps creating even half as many chances at it did Saturday, things should even out.

2. Home not so sweet home

Rio Tinto Stadium is known as being a fortress for RSL. A big reason why they have made the playoffs the past two seasons is because of their performances at home. It’s just very hard for opponents to win there.

But for some reason, 2020 home games haven’t been as kind to RSL. The team is just 1-2-2 at Rio Tinto this season, which amounts to an average of one point per game.

There isn’t a good reason for why RSL hasn’t played well at home. For one thing, Utah is one of the only markets in the Major League Soccer that currently allows fans at stadiums. While Saturday’s match had less than 3,500 in attendance, they were as loud as any crowd all season.

And it’s not like RSL is sitting back in defense when teams come in. They’re trying to win the game, as evidenced by how many chances they created against the Whitecaps. So it’s not that either.

In a normal season, September would be a month where RSL would have already gained some rhythm and momentum and played like they were unbeatable, especially at home. This year has seen so many stops and starts that it’s conceivable that momentum hasn’t had enough time to build yet.

But Salt Lake is running out of time due to the shortened season. The team wanted to use this stretch of four straight home games to climb up the Western Conference standings.

The end of RSL’s home stand is Wednesday against Minnesota, which has already beaten Salt Lake this season. Real has their work cut out for them.

3. RSL somehow played better with 10 men

One would think that when an opponent has a man advantage, a team would just try to get out of a game in once piece and not concede too many goals. But that wasn’t RSL against Vancouver.

Salt Lake actually made a game of it after Kyle Beckerman left with his second yellow card in the 63rd minute. They routinely got into the final third and were attacking with reckless abandon looking for that equalizer. Meram got it for them.

“I think we showed good character to get back into the game, and I think it was when we were down to 10 men,” defender Nedum Onuoha said.

From the time Beckerman received his second yellow card, RSL outshot Vancouver 10-5, per Stats Zone. Both teams scored one goal and had two shots on target in that time frame.

A screenshot comparing Real Salt Lake's shots to Vancouver's after Kyle Beckerman got his second yellow card and left the game.

Juarez said he felt RSL’s play wasn’t aggressive enough in the first half despite outpossessing the Whitecaps and playing better generally. But Real found that later.

“I thought we controlled a lot of facets, but I just didn’t think it was aggressive enough until after we went down a man, almost,” Juarez said with a laugh.

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