Monday, June 30, 2008

A Real World Review: Monday June 30, 2008

A Real World Review
A Review of Week 15 for RSL
By Paul Bernhardt (aka, BalanceUT)
Key Developments: RSL continues to struggle on the road with the loss in KC. Fortunately, the performance of other Western Conference teams allowed RSL to maintain their 2nd place position in the conference. Now at the halfway point of the season, the team at 19 points means they are just shy of the points typically needed to make the playoffs.

What’s Right in the Real World: Defense. Even though giving up a goal due to an error in judgment Saturday night in KC, the 2008 edition of RSL has the overall best defense in franchise history. The center tandem of Olave and Borchers may be the best pair in the league. Wingert has shaken off some early season jitters to play solidly. Beltran is clearly a rookie, but has high skills and sufficient speed for recovery such that he does not cause the high level of worry of previous outside backs. Compared to previous seasons, this past couple of months is the first time that we could count on seeing the same four consistently in the back and know that they will serve the needs of the upcoming match.

The midfield is also right in the Real World. While it was not terribly obvious in KC, Morales, Williams, Kovalenko and Beckerman fundamentally do what is asked. What makes RSL’s midfield not look to be high quality, particularly at home and at KC is narrow pitches. A narrow pitch crowds players such that the space for passing is restricted, leading to less of an apparent flow. The proof for me, however, is in the fact that KC looked essentially as restricted. That means our crew was doing as much to them as they were to us. Play that is essentially a draw when on the road is what you need for your team and the midfield provided that.

What’s Wrong in the Real World? Still, finishing. While not the horror of missed opportunities that we saw hosting San Jose last week, RSL blew some clear chances, any one of which could have made KC work for a draw or even resulted in stealing 3 points. Notably, Dr. “Goals” did not produce again. This has been blamed on lack of service from the midfield. But, I think that is misplaced blame. I believe that Deuchar is not getting open in positions where the midfielders want to give him the ball. He is fighting constantly in the box and often losing that battle. That continued in the KC game. Deuchar would get the ball either too far out from the goal and alone with no options but to try to work the ball with his feet, a disastrous choice. He is called for fouls all the time while fouls against him seem never called. Findley seemed to be still suffering from the effects of his mild concussion from the week before. The lack of production of Deuchar and Findley, appropriately, lead to their being substituted off in favor of Movsisyan and Nunez, who did no better. Part of that is Movsisyan’s inability to keep his head up and pass to others. When, oh when, will Espindola return? And, when he does, will he be the same player he was so many months ago?

A certain amount of the problem for RSL in KC was due to the coin flip. When the coin flip allowed KC to put the sun in Rimando’s eyes, RSL had to play a very defensive first half. Many times all 11 were in RSL’s end of the field. Kreis likes to have RSL come out attacking, but it was clearly not an option in the match. When KC came out the second half very aggressive, RSL did not adjust well and it was a dicey start to the half.

In the end, what scuttled RSL’s road point was a careless foul by Cutler. Sometimes it seems that Cutler’s role is ill-defined. Defensive, yet carries himself to the attack very easily. This sounds like Beckerman, but Cutler does not have Beckerman’s talent level. So, Cutler, in trying to recover going back, fouled and that set up the opportunity for KC.

Leading to the last thing wrong in the Real World: Best seen in the contrast to KC’s scoring opportunity, RSL needs to be much more dangerous on set pieces. Usually Morales is quite good, certainly better than Williams ever was in previous seasons (and I am a pretty big Williams fan). But, against KC, he was off the mark. RSL needed to convert one of its several set pieces (and nearly did, but close does not count).

A Brief Look at the Week Ahead: Back in the friendly confinement of Rice Eccles, RSL will need to take advantage of the home field against a resurgent Houston Dynamo. Houston started the season terribly shaky, particularly compared to expectations. But they have recovered substantially and is a good road team, having the highest number of road draws of any MLS team. RSL and Houston are tied for 2nd in the West. This is the opportunity for RSL to make a statement that they intend to contend for a playoff spot. History says that RSL should be content with a draw against the two-time defending MLS Champions. But, given that RSL’s form at home, a defense that is very good and Houston’s problems with finishing, this game is RSL’s to take. I predict RSL 1-0 Houston.

Final Thoughts: RSL is really in pretty good shape, particularly compared to previous seasons. Kreis has completed what he initiated last season, shoring up the defense. The first step to winning in soccer is to stop losing, to stop giving up easy goals. RSL’s defense is clearly solid, and Olave is spectacular. This allows the rest of the team to go forward. I think RSL has all the pieces to be a playoff team, but Deuchar is the key. If he can ever get a proper feel for the MLS game, he will become quite dangerous. He still seems to be knocked around in the box with impunity, yet when he returns the favor he is called on the fouls. Unfair or not, he has to figure out what to do to become effective in MLS. When he does, and he shows he can convert the chances, the team will find it easier to get the ball to him, opening up options for other players. RSL can become a team that opponents dread coming to town and fear to visit, because all the rest of the team is sufficient. RSL can be playoff bound with only a little improvement in offense.