Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Teams

For a soccer fan, it's hard to find a more frustrating, confusing and perplexing team to route for than Real Salt Lake over the last two seasons. In 2005 and 2007 it was a bit easier to deal with the teams ineptitude because there were little signs of hope and fans expected the losses. The frustrating thing about the team over the last two seasons is that at times they have played extremely well. Those times have all come at home. At other times they looked awful, more like the team from 2005. Most of those times happened on the road.

As recently as a few days ago - I was of the attitude that it was time to blow the thing up and start over. New players. New coach. New system. There is one nagging piece of information that makes it hard for me to really endorse this: over the last 2 seasons RSL has earned the 3rd most points at home, and has scored the most goals at home, while giving up the 2nd fewest goals at home.

Unfortunately the story is quite the opposite on the road: the team has the 2nd fewest road points (behind NYRB) over the last two seasons, ranks #12th in road goals scored, and #10 in most road goals given up.

The net result is that RSL has the biggest spread between home points and road points over this period - by a WIDE margin. So what is it that makes the difference?

Some have claimed that RSL has a unique home field advantage because of the altitude (it's interesting to note that Colorado and Houston are also in the top 4 in terms of swing between home and road points). Last year the rationale was that RSL had a young team and they didn't have the approach and composure needed to compete on the road. This year RSL had a more stable situation, and has plenty of veteran's on the roster - so this shouldn't be an excuse.

What is it then?

Who knows? But my theory is two-fold: lack of leadership, and lack of a striker with the composure to score those goals when needed the most.


I'm not sure if it's the coach, the captain, or just the collective group of veteran players that should provide this, but the road is when leadership is needed most. Adversity tends to rear its head in the unfriendly environs on the road. Focus and determination need to be even greater on the road. NBA coaches often say that its also harder to maintain a routine on the road, but that's exactly what is needed. Does RSL have this type of player or coach that can ensure that these things happen? I'm not sure, but something is clearly missing. And leadership is a big part of it in my opinion.

Composed Striker

One of the concerns in the offseason was that RSL was looking to rely on the young Robbie Findley and younger Yura Movsisyan for the bulk of their scoring this season. Neither of them have had the long-term experience as a starting striker to allow them to make the most of certain situations. In short, both are still learning and improving. Add the also young Fabian Espindola back into the mix, and the situation is no better. Can RSL bring something better to the table next season? Does this scream even more of the need for a proven scorer to be added into the mix?

What's not the issue?

Well, lack of talent, for starters. For the most part, this team has plenty of talent. The starting back line is top-notch, and there are plenty of capable players in the midfield. A "true-winger" is always a nice concept, but this team can be successful without the traditional wide play. And if this is the problem, why has the team been so successful at home?

Formation. Much is made of the 4-4-2 diamond, but this team has the talent and skill to be successful. I'm less sure about the fit of talent in the 4-3-3, but I think this team could be successful in this league while employing any formation.

What are your thoughts about the team for next year, and the performance this season? Also, are you still clinging to playoff hopes, or have you given up? Let us know your thoughts.