Sandy • Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday from beat writer Alex Vejar.
1. Bobby Wood is a problem
When news broke that RSL was signing Bobby Wood in January, there was plenty of excitement among fans. Wood was a former U.S. Men’s National Team player and had spent his entire professional career in Europe, where some of the top soccer in the world is played.
And since Wood’s arrival in Salt Lake City, fans have been eager to see him unleashed. Before Saturday, he had made six appearances and started once. But his minutes have been limited overall, as he’s tried to work his way into full fitness.
However, against the Colorado Rapids, Wood displayed just how dangerous he could be for RSL. Below are five plays that show why.
In the first, Wood does it on both ends. He dispossesses a Colorado player and then positions himself to receive a direct pass. Unfortunately, the pass went too long. But it was the right idea.
Next, Wood runs with a shifty version of Justin Meram and positions himself between Colorado’s center backs as he asks for the ball. When he receives it, he tries to squeeze between the two defenders only to get knocked down. Maikel Chang is running on the right, gets the ball and takes a shot. The referee decided to give RSL the advantage rather than blowing the whistle on Wood’s fall. The important thing is here is Wood occupied two defenders with his activity.
Another similar run: Wood runs between the center backs and tries to split them. This time, a Colorado player gets to the ball first and concedes a corner. Wood again drew two defenders and put RSL in good position to score, this time on a set piece.
Then, Wood receives the ball and elects to run between the right back and center back. It seems like he really loves to make the defense make a decision, or to force a mistake. This time, Wood draws a foul and gives RSL the opportunity for a free kick just outside the 18-yard box.
And lastly, Wood gets a pass from Albert Rusnák and makes a long run, taking on and evading two defenders in the process, for his first goal of his Major League Soccer career. And there was much rejoicing.
Not to be overlooked: Wood doesn’t get any of these opportunities if it’s not for his teammates’ willingness to make passes ahead to him. And the passes came from multiple players. So it seems like everyone is getting comfortable with the way Wood plays, and vice versa. Wood appears to be the type of player opposing defenses have to game-plan against, and RSL hasn’t had a player like that in years.
2. Astone Morgan’s activity
This is Morgan’s second season with RSL. He signed with the club just before the 2020 season — which, of course, was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He just hasn’t seen much time on the field.
But due to the tight schedule right now, Morgan got the start in place of Donny Toia. And at the risk of being a bit over the top, his arrival felt like the first time I saw “Amadeus” or the first time I listened to “Yellowcard” — a sensory explosion that left me both pleasantly surprised and impressed. Now, I understand that he’s a regular on the Canadian national team and he wouldn’t feature for that squad if he wasn’t good. But I’m specifically talking about RSL.
I looked back at this 72 minutes and found eight instances that show how effective and active Morgan was against the Rapids.
First, Morgan tracks back all the way to the Rapids keeper to bother him. I’m not sure if he was actually trying to make his presence known and/or set a defensive tone, but he certainly did that. And this was in the first three minutes of the game.
Then, Morgan is communicating with his teammate a bit higher up the field. As the ball gets played toward him, he tracks back perfectly and kicks the ball away.
Third, Colorado’s keeper sends the ball to about midfield and Morgan comes from behind to get his head on it and give RSL possession.
Next, Morgan reads the Colorado player looking to cross and blocks it.
Then comes another blocked cross, and this is so nonchalant.
Aferward, Morgan intercepts a ball and heads it to David Ochoa.
Then comes one of the most technically sound sequences for Morgan. He’s tracking two forwards at once with his eyes and body positioning. So when the ball is played away from him, he’s able to recover and tackle the ball out of bounds while avoiding the foul.
Morgan’s most memorable sequence from Saturday night will be his goal-line header clearance in the 64th minute that saved a sure Rapids goal. He covered for Ochoa as a center back should, and had the timing to make the play.
Andrew Brody’s injury and eventual rotation due to the tight schedule already gave Morgan an opportunity for some more minutes. And he absolutely showed enough Saturday to warrant more time. The rub, of course, is he also has to earn it week in and week out and continue to prove himself at training sessions.
But at least one thing is for sure: Morgan definitely has the savvy and skill to truly compete for more minutes at left beck on this RSL team.
3. Joni Menéndez minutes
Menéndez is going to be very exciting.
Within a few minutes of his RSL debut, he nutmegged defenders, gave a perfect pass ahead to Damir Kreilach, and even intercepted a pass. He has speed. He’s always looking to go forward either himself or with a pass once he receives the ball. And he clearly has some technical skill.
As long as he stays healthy, Menéndez can certainly challenge the current contingent of wingers on the roster and perhaps be making regular starts in the near future.