Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thoughts on Chicago Loss

Unfortunately Real Salt Lake failed to capitalize on an opportunity again on Saturday as they played against a depleted Chicago on the road. The 1-0 loss the seventh on the road in ten tries. They currently have three road points on the season, tied for 3rd worst in the league.

The opportunity lost was especially frustrating as Chicago is a good team (3rd in the league in points), but has struggled at home, as they only had two wins at home prior to Saturday. They were also playing without Brian McBride, Cuahtemoc Blanco, Wilman Conde, and John Thorrington. On the other hand, Real Salt Lake was mostly at full strength after players had returned from Gold Cup action. Both teams had multiple players who participated in the All-Star activities earlier in the week.

The loss, combined with the loss at Columbus two weeks ago, also reversed a trend where RSL appeared to be gaining confidence on the road. Prior to that they had gotten a result in 3 out of 4 matches.

It would also have been nice to pick up a win or at least a draw to start the month of August off right. The month will be a challenging one as RSL faces six opponents during the month - all of them with currently with more points than RSL. An unsuccesful month will almost certainly leave them out of the playoffs, as they currently sit 4 points outside of a playoff position.

The play on the field was not crisp for either side in the first half. Both teams gave away the ball far too easily and created far too few opportunities to really expect to break through the scoring ledger. RSL in particular seemed lethargic, and failed to push numbers ahead of the ball and generate attack. One bright spot was Yura Movsisyan who didn't get alot of touches on the ball in the opposing third, but when he did, he created some danger largely on his own as there was precious little support with him.

Javier Morales, who picked up an injury in the All-Star game as he received a set of studs on his calf, appeared to be tentative and failed to create much of the magic that we have come to expect in the midfield. He also failed to connect on several simple passes, which is uncharacteristic.

In the second half, Real Salt Lake did start to generate some positive play in the opposing end. However, disaster struck in the 76th minute just at looked like RSL may be on the verge of breaking through. RSL managed to give up yet another goal shortly following a set piece (this time a throw-in), as Chicago got off an un-checked cross into the box, where Patrick Narko easily put the opportunity away.

After that RSL increased the pressure, coming up with some near-misses, but they were unable to break through. Their best chance may have been Robbie Findley's opportunity from inside the area that hit the upright and bounded away.

If Real Salt Lake wins all six of it's remaining home matches, then they will likely only need to pick up 2 or 3 road points to make the playoffs. However, it's highly unlikely that they will win all their home matches against Seattle, Houston, Chivas, Chicago, New York and Colorado. This means that they need to pick up points on the road, probably at least five or six with only five remaining road opportunities. This is going to be a steep challenge for a team that has only five points out of their first ten road battles.

In short, the playoffs are slipping away. Not beyond hope, but the team has certainly put themselves in a difficult situation once again. You're likely to hear phrases like "must win", and "should have" for the remainder of the season. Hopefully the team is up to the task and can go on a run similar to last season.