Three Points: Ranking RSL bicycle kick goals, Wondo kills defenses and substitution challenges

An analysis of Real Salt Lake’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake forward Rubio Rubin (14) kicks the ball for Real Salt Lake, in MLS action between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium, on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes from beat writer Alex Vejar.

1. Best RSL bicycle kick goal ever?

In light of striker Rubio Rubin’s stellar bicycle kick goal, I wondered: “How many times has an RSL player scored like that?”

Not that many, it turns out. Thanks to the wonderful RSL fans online who can Google faster than me, it seems there are only three other instances when a player has scored on a bicycle kick during an MLS game.

Bicycle kicks are fun, and quite possibly the most difficult way to score a goal. So let’s rank the ones from RSL history.

Honorable mention: Aaron Herrera, RSL Academy game, 2015

I’m only putting this on the list because I found it on YouTube when researching bicycle kicks and my goodness, it’s so good. Herrera is an elite defender nowadays, but the way he sets up this goal makes one think he could’ve been a striker. He tracks the cross, turns around, and pummels the ball into the net from the air — no settle needed. It’s elite, but not on the list because it wasn’t in an MLS game.

Fourth place: Jafet Soto, 2006

This grainy footage shows a player I’ve never heard of until now connecting on what I’m calling a unicycle kick. He gets no air and he’s not upside down, so it doesn’t look all that acrobatic. It’s basically a volley masquerading as a bicycle kick. Still impressive, but my least favorite. P.S. Props to the YouTuber for the 80s rock song in the Soto compilation.

Third place: Javier Morales, 2013

This is a quality goal — off a corner kick, weird touch, settle, goal. Bonus points that it was in front of a raucous crowd in what looks like a playoff game. It’s even tougher to score a goal like that in that situation. My only quibble is that Morales took a touch before he struck the ball.

Second place: Rubio Rubin, 2021

Spoiler alert: Rubin’s goal is not the best in RSL history. Again, incredible goal. Undeniable quality. But like Morales, he took a touch beforehand to make the shot easier. No bicycle kick is easy per se, but there are things a player can do to give himself the best possible chance. Rubin did that. He’s above Morales because he settles the ball with his chest, and that’s cool.

First place: Olmes Garcia, 2014:

Another player I hadn’t heard of until just now. But I am so glad I did this research to find out about him and his bicycle kick (again, thanks to the fans on Twitter).

Garcia has to find this ball from the air. He has to change his position to get under it. Then he has to get his foot on it and direct it toward the goal. He doesn’t even strike it all that well, and it still beats the FC Dallas goalkeeper near the post. I don’t care that it took a deflection. It went in. For my money, it’s winner winner, bicycle kick for dinner.

2. Wondolowski breaks defenses

Giving up two goals is obviously never good, and giving them up to a player like Chris Wondolowski is probably worse considering he’s known for putting the ball in the back of the net.

The way Wondolowski scores oftentimes makes fools out of opponents. He’s a poacher, finding the ball after seemingly always being at the right place at the right time.

In his first goal, shown below, a shot from his teammate gets saved by RSL goalkeeper David Ochoa. But Wondolowski is lurking nearby, manages to keep himself onside and puts it away rather easily. There are a few RSL defenders around him, but they appear to be standing around and no one is close enough to him to make a difference.

On the second goal, Wondolowski starts his run from just inside the 18-yard box. By the time his head connects on the cross, he’s just outside the 6-yard box. Neither Erik Holt nor Andrew Brody are close to his body when he makes the run.

Many MLS fans say Wondolowski scores “garbage” goals, but there was nothing garbage about these two, especially considering what he said postgame about what he watched as he waited to enter the game.

“I studied the game,” Wondolowski said, per SB Nation. “I noticed that the ball sailed all night, so I adjusted my positioning accordingly.”

3. Substitution challenges

RSL coach Freddy Juarez used just two subs in Friday’s game. He used five against Minnesota and four against Sporting Kansas City. Although, two of the ones he used against SKC were injury-related.

Juarez mentioned that the team may have shown some fatigue in the late stages in the game. That could be a reason why using only two subs around the 80th minute is too little, too late.

Juarez brought on Douglas Martinez and Maikel Chang, both of whom replaced Justin Meram and Rubin. They were like-for-like substitutions rather than defense-minded ones.

At the point of the subs, RSL still had a 1-0 lead. Then Wondo happened.

Juarez said it’s difficult for any substitute to find the rhythm of a game, but it’s especially difficult against a team like the Earthquakes.

“I thought when our two players came in, they didn’t find the rhythm of the game very well,” Juarez said. He put the onus on himself, saying he needs to do a better job of preparing the team during training for situations where it is leading or trailing so it shows how to respond accordingly.

But none of those comments address the issue of not replacing tired players with fresh ones. To be fair, however, RSL was missing three starters with injuries of varying severity. So the bench was thin to begin with.

It highlights an issue that while the roster is getting deeper, an injury to a key spot — defenders Aaron Herrera and Marcelo Silva both missed the game — can still really hurt.