Welcome, Real Salt Lake fans, to a revamped Three Points. I, Alex Vejar, RSL beat writer for The Salt Lake Tribune, wanted to try something new and more in-depth than what I have been doing with these stories so far, so let me tell you what you’ll be getting.
First, we all know you guys have the internet and Twitter and Instagram and TikTok and all the other wonderful platforms Bo Burnham thinks are rotting the brains of humanity. So there’s no need for me to bring you the obvious storylines after an RSL game.
Instead, I’m going to do my best to bring you something more in-depth and analytical. I’m going to bring you more video. I’m going to break down sequences and see exactly why RSL scored or why it gave up one, or why I think a certain player performed well or poorly.
You won’t always agree with me, and that’s OK. You might call me names on Twitter. That’s less OK, but still not the end of the world. I just wanted to give you fans something different than what the rest of those who cover the team provide.
Sometimes, these articles are going to be more straightforward. Others, they’ll be quirky. Yes, that means Taylor Swift references, song lyrics and lines from movies. And yes, that means more of my winning (OK, mostly losing) personality.
But overall, I just want us all to have fun. So without further ado, here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 loss Saturday to LAFC.
1. Examining RSL’s defensive positioning
RSL gave up two goals on 29 LAFC shots. First number, not good. Second number, apocalyptic. Goalkeeper David Ochoa saved eight of those shots, and that included some where he stretched out his whole body and a penalty save to boot. He deserves a lot of long-winded encomium.
But at times, RSL players were caught in bad positions and LAFC flat-out exploited them. Take the sequence where Ochoa needed to execute a double-save just to keep Los Angeles off the score sheet, which I’ve broken down into a four-act, two-dimensional, silent and still play. Don’t worry, I have visual aids.
Act 1: Everything is Fine
LAFC’s Latif Blessing is about to send the ball into the box to Jesús David Murillo, who has his hand raised. As you can see, RSL defender Justen Glad and forward Rubio Rubin are bookending him and look to be in good position to break this up.
Act 2: How the Turn Slightly Tables
As the bail sails toward Murillo, things are already starting to go wrong. Glad’s weight is shifted to his right, and Rubin starts to call for offside from the referee.
Act 3: Murillo Takes Charge
Here, Murillo is making his way to his left, with the flight of the ball. Glad, meanwhile, still hasn’t recovered. Rubin is not completely out of the play.
Act 4: Murillo in the Sky with Diamonds
And here, Murillo is leaping, and Glad can only watch. This happened in the span of just a few seconds. It highlights how just the slightest mistake or bad read can cost a team and make it look worse than it actually is. Ochoa saved Murillo’s header, which had plenty of force on it. But it could’ve easily been LAFC’s first goal.
Now, let’s look at the sequence that actually did result in a goal for LAFC. In the 10th minute, Diego Rossi and José Cifuentes played a basketball-type two-man game that led to Rossi getting an easy look and scoring off it. Again, RSL’s defense looked OK at first, but it quickly fell apart due to a combination of questionable positioning and surgical offensive execution.
Here, three of the four RSL defenders are in a line. The fourth is Glad, who understandably is playing up on Rossi while he has the ball. With Aaron Herrera nearby, there’s nowhere for Rossi to go with the ball by himself. As for Cifuentes, there’s an RSL player near him as well. So by the looks of it, all is well for RSL.
But this angle shows the real story. When Rossi makes the pass to Cifuentes, Glad appears to be up too high. and Cifuentes is actually quite open. Rossi is already making his run between past Glad, who is leaning the opposite direction. Donny Toia, however, is doing his job by staying attached to Vela.
And here, Cifuentes makes perfectly timed to Rossi, who has daylight. Glad, to his credit, did try to put a foot out there to deflect the pass, but by then it was too late. Rossi’s speed gets him between Herrera and Toia and all he needed to do at that point was beat Ochoa, which he did.
2. Marcelo Silva’s good timing
LAFC had RSL scrambling for much of the 90-plus minutes Saturday night. And as Herrera put it after the game, the team didn’t feel like they had control of the game for even a second in the second half.
As a result, RSL’s defenders had to scramble to make blocks or deflections. And in the second half in particular, defender Marcelo Silva was all over the place.
In the first clip, Silva reads a cross from the opposite side of the field and heads it away.
Here, Silva takes a considerable risk by making a diving tackle in the box. If he mistimes that, it could be a penalty for LAFC. But he executes it to perfection.
In the final clip, Silva looks beat as he’s trying to defend a large space. But he clips the ball out of the box with his outstretched leg.
These aren’t the only examples of good defense from Silva, and he wasn’t the only player to make plays like this throughout the game. But Silva found himself in several situations and he delivered, which is worth a mention after a difficult night from a team defense perspective.
3. Ochoa gets quotable again
RSL’s starting 20-year-old goalkeeper has already made headlines this season just by being him, prompting some criticism from Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath. There’s no doubt the young man has got confidence and swagger and he’s not afraid to show it.
Which is why I found it interesting when, amid coach Freddy Juarez and Herrera lamenting at how many shots RSL gave up to LAFC, Ochoa kind of reveled in it.
“Honestly, I want those games,” Ochoa said with a chuckle when asked if he had ever before faced 29 shots in a game. “They make you look good. I don’t mind them.”
I can’t tell if Ochoa saying that makes him look arrogant and dismissive, or confident and unaffected. It did not seem as though he was being sarcastic, like he definitely seemed when he said he kicked a ball into Minnesota United’s supporter section because he saw a young fan who wanted the ball.
The reasons Ochoa’s comment is notable:
1) Ochoa is fun. He says fun things and Major League Soccer needs more players who are just willing to say what’s on their minds.
2) Ochoa has a history of getting under the skins of opponents. There are some people within the RSL organization who love it, and some who would probably prefer he tone it down. After the Minnesota incident, Juarez and Ochoa talked about his behavior and maturity. Will he get another discussion after his postgame comment? Does it rise to that level?
3. It does run counter to the answer Ochoa gave earlier in the season. After RSL tied FC Dallas 2-2 — a game where Ochoa also faced 29 shots and made eight saves — he said if he would be “honestly happy” if a game ended and he came out with zero saves. He did, however, say sometimes the game doesn’t give a player what he wants. “I have to make that save when the team needs it,” he said at the time. “So honestly, it’s whatever. We don’t want it, but it’s fine. I’ll take the saves.” My question is: Which is it?