Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s loss to the L.A. Galaxy from beat writer Alex Vejar.
1. One sequence sums up RSL’s entire season
If there ever was a perfect play to encapsulate RSL’s entire season and how frustrating and difficult it has been, the 50th minute was it.
Albert Rusnák sees Corey Baird make a sprinting run behind the L.A. Galaxy’s back line and sends a perfect ball over the defense. Baird lets it land in front of him as he survey’s the situation. Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham comes off his line, and Baird chips the ball up and over him toward an empty net.
For a moment, it looks like Baird has tied the game at 1-1. A game RSL absolutely had to win in order to keep its playoff hopes alive. For a moment, the team had executed one of its core principles to perfection.
But in the very next moment, all that was taken away by Giancarlo Gonzalez. He jumped in the air and kicked the ball away before it crossed the goal line.
It was a microcosm of RSL’s 2020. After so many games this season, RSL has lamented at how many chances it created but wasn’t able to finish. And that’s the main reason the team won’t see any postseason action this year.
There’s still one game left and it’s at home, but it’s worth taking a brief look at Salt Lake’s shooting this year. The club ranks 11th overall in Major League Soccer with 267 total shots. But only 70 of those shots have been on target, per Football Reference. That ranks 23rd in the league.
Defender Justen Glad said it best after Sunday’s game: You have to score goals in soccer. RSL simply didn’t do that this season.
2. Justen Glad serviceable at right back
Coach Freddy Juarez and I have something in common: fans hated us for our thoughts about playing Glad at right back.
When the lineup came out, RSL diehards on social media were disgruntled over the choice, even though Juarez has done it before. With Aaron Herrera suspended, there really weren’t that many other options. Alvin Jones wasn’t a realistic choice because he has hardly played this season and RSL needed to win the game.
So the game starts and Glad is sprinting in recovery to break up an attack. Or he puts himself in the right position for a clearance. Or he contains a Galaxy attacker in a one-on-one situation. All those things are good!
And Juarez thought so, too.
“I thought Glad was very good," Juarez said. "I thought he looked comfortable on the ball. A lot of people are probably shocked when he plays there and I’m sure I already got killed by it in the media, but I thought he was very good.”
So Glad is not the team’s preferred player at right back. OK. But he wasn’t responsible for RSL giving up two goals either.
The first one was off a set piece, and Juarez said goalkeeper Andrew Putna could have taken a hop before his dive to generate more power rather than dive from his spot. That could’ve been the difference between a goal and a save. It was a correctible detail.
And here, Glad is up high in the midfield when Cristian Pavon gets the ball. But he sprints back and catches Pavon. It just so happens that Pavon is faster than pretty much everyone.
It’s true that Glad should not be the club’s long term solution if Herrera can’t play for whatever reason. But he deserves a little more credit for his performance at right back on Sunday.
3. A brief look ahead
The 2020 season is ostensibly over for RSL. It was a disappointing one by many measures, and the club dealt with possibly more than any other MLS club when it came to off-the-field drama.
So what now? Do they blow it up? Do they chalk up 2020 to the coronavirus pandemic and largely run it back? What will the new owner do? Will the team remain in Utah?
All of that remains to be seen, but there are decisions that have to be made to put the club in a better position for the long term. It’s hard to tell after one bizarre season if Juarez is the right coach. He might still be if he had a normal year and ample practice time.
It’s also hard to tell if Elliot Fall and his front office staff did enough to construct a good roster. The pandemic messed with international travel, and the ownership situation could have affected spending to some degree.
But one thing is clear and needs to be addressed: This current team doesn’t have enough. Enough scoring, enough depth, enough competitive fire. All of that was lacking this season.
Depth can be fixed by adding to the roster. Scoring can be fixed by working on it in training and getting more games, but the organization can also go get a striker — although that’s easier said than done.
But the competitive thing, that’s not taught. The entire league went through uncertainty and schedule changes and a disruption in the season. RSL was one of the few that didn’t rise to the occasion from an effort and passion standpoint. That’s revealing in and of itself.
Should anyone blame them, though? This year has taken a toll. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Can you really blame a person or group of people for perhaps subconsciously putting soccer on the back burner? Yes, they’re paid athletes. But they’re also humans, and we so easily forget that.
I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe this exact team with a few tweaks will be stronger in 2021 because of what it endured in 2020. Or maybe 2020 revealed the organization needs to clean house. Either solution would be valid at this point.