Trying to define Real Salt Lake in 2023 — or under Pablo Mastroeni at all — is a difficult task.
Tonight’s match didn’t make it any easier. Going down 1-0 in the opening minutes after a justified red card for Justen Glad and one of the most utterly useless defensive walls I’ve ever seen, the team was adrift. (That wall — Brayan Vera and Nelson Palacio basically opening space for the free kick to pass between them? That’s so bad.)
Things looked even more dire in the 29th minute, when Chicho Arango went down with an injury. Looking visibly distraught as he came off the pitch, nobody would have had much to argue if you said you were done with the much.
After conceding a second goal in that same minute, this time owing to a late run in the box, RSL looked truly done and dusted. Johnny Russell’s goal hurt, especially as he basically strolled into the box totally unmarked. Couple that with an injury inside the same minute? There was no saving this match. A 77th minute penalty kick for Alan Pulido sealed it.
And no, Real Salt Lake did not come back to win this game, nor did they come back to draw. But they did come back, fixing themselves into repeated dangerous positions.
They scored once from a ridiculous Brayan Vera shot that had no business hitting the back of the net. A great goal from long distance: That’s actually the best way to define RSL this season, I guess. They’re a team that takes chances from extremely low probability positions, and occasionally, it ends up working out, stats be damned. They scored again in the 89th minute from a nice Jefferson Savarino shot, who scored from a much more likely position. A nice goal, certainly, and one that gave us watching some unnecessary hope.
It made for an exciting, interesting end to the match. We can ask about what could have happened if there were more time or another player on the field for RSL — there exists a reality where both things are true. But RSL conceded three goals at home again — the sixth time they’ve done so this season, with one of those sitting at four goals conceded.
I don’t know about you, but that feels awful. While I admit the rush of nearly leveling the match after going down 3-0 was salient, the need to do so speaks volumes. This is a team that has a fundamental weakness that hasn’t been addressed through the course of the season. Maybe there’s no way of addressing it in the way things are currently structured.
Once or twice is unfortunate; three or four times is a pattern. Six times is an utter failure.