RSL still hunting for a forward that will score goals; David Ochoa’s status; and a schedule change
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird (10) brings the ball down field, in MLS acton between Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium, Saturday, March 7, 2020.
After RSL’s loss to the bottom-dwelling Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend, head coach Freddy Juarez was asked about his team’s lack of goal scoring, after just one goal scored over the last four matches. “You need someone to step up, right?," a reporter asked. "Where do you see that coming from?”
And Juarez didn’t have an answer.
“Since I’ve been here — for four years, with Jeff [Cassar], with Mike [Petke], and now being over it — we haven’t had the guy that’s going to score a lot of goals,” Juarez said. “I mean, that’s one hundred percent exactly what it is. And so then we have to like scrap, we have to claw, we have to defend.”
It’s true. In fact, it hasn’t been since 2014 that RSL has had a forward score double-digit goals in a season, when Joao Plata scored 13.
Since then, the number of forwards that have come in to RSL’s camp and failed to score more than once in a blue moon requires some extra appendages to count. Sebastian Jaime, Olmes Garcia, Luis Silva, Yura Movsisyan, Chad Barrett, Ricky Lopez-Espin, Corey Baird, Alfredo Ortuño, Douglas Martinez, Giuseppe Rossi, and Sam Johnson all have come short of picking up the slack left when Alvaro Saborio was traded and Plata’s career slid.
This season may be the best example yet of this phenomenon: RSL’s forwards have combined for just four goals — two from Baird, one from Johnson, and one from Rossi. Martinez, who has spent more time at the point of the attack than any other forward, has yet to score. RSL’s most effective player up top is actually a midfielder (Damir Kreilach).
With Johnson, the most recent of four Designated Player signings on that list above, now prohibited from team activities in the wake of a shooting at a house party
, RSL’s forward corps have become even more shallow.
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Why have RSL’s forwards been so limited? It’s hard to say. Former team scout Andy Williams pointed to
owner Dell Loy Hansen’s lack of investment in scouting and player acquisition as a reason for the drought. For example, Williams cited
RSL’s chance to sign forward Krzysztof Piątek, who he says Hansen refused to pay to acquire. In 2016, Piatek’s rights were purchased for $775K; in 2018, he moved to Italian club Genoa for $4.95 million. The next season, AC Milan purchased him
for $38.5 million.
Of course, finding a goal-scoring striker isn’t the be-all, end-all solution for a team. When asked about the team’s need for a striker on Tuesday, defender Nedum Onuoha cited the L.A. Galaxy’s performance with legendary forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic over the last two seasons — Ibrahimovic scored 52 goals in 56 matches, but the Galaxy failed to make the playoffs both seasons he was with the club anyway. Ibrahimovic didn’t do anything about their propensity to leak goals, and he left to join AC Milan.
Onuoha’s point: RSL needs to improve in all facets, not just one. And yet, “goal scoring is the hardest thing in the game,” Juarez said Tuesday.
Thanks to his time at RSL, experience has taught him that lesson.
David Ochoa waiting for his chance
David Ochoa, a 19-year-old goalkeeper who is considered one of the United States' brightest young shot-stopping talents, has been waiting in the wings for Real Salt Lake. For the last two seasons he’s been playing with the Real Monarchs, getting 25 games for the team’s USL minor-league club with good results. He’s also impressed for USMNT youth squads, including one being helmed by former RSL boss Jason Kreis.
Because both Andrew Putna, 25, and new acquisition Zac MacMath, 29, have been a little sketchy in goal for the club this season, some thought Ochoa might get a chance as the year winds down. But Juarez explained last weekend that he didn’t feel ready to throw Ochoa in just yet.
“It’s hard to just put someone in when you’re not really training,” Juarez said, referencing the club’s congested schedule and lack of practice time. “I don’t want to just decide on something where the training isn’t necessarily there to get enough reps. I think it’s important for a goalkeeper to get reps with his back four.”
RSL’s away match with the Colorado Rapids this upcoming Sunday has been postponed thanks to positive COVID-19 tests within the Rapids organization. The match is one of three Rapids matches that has been postponed as a result of the tests.
It’s not clear when — or if — the Rapids and MLS will be able to reschedule the games. MLS has acknowledged that all of its teams may not be able to play the same number of games this season. If that’s the case, the league would rely on a points per game average to decide who would make the playoffs.
Colorado currently stands in eighth place in the Western Conference standings, one point above RSL.
On Tuesday, RSL acquired $75,000 in 2020 general allocation money from Orlando for the discovery rights to 21-year-old Ecuadorian winger Alexander Alvarado.
Alvarado, 5-foot-5, was acquired by Orlando on loan with an option to buy from Ecuadorian club SD Aucas, but RSL had declared discovery rights on him, requiring Orlando to spend money to acquire his MLS rights.