SANDY — In the first half of Real Salt Lake’s home opener Saturday, before the game took a bizarre turn, Javier Morales lined up for a free kick about 40 yards from goal.
Before taking the kick, however, he noticed there was only one defender behind him. In the 95th minute and down a goal, it makes sense to have everyone push into the box for a free kick, but not in the first half.
Morales quickly yelled at left wingback Demar Phillips to get back and shore up the defense before taking the kick.
“I remember that play, because everyone was looking forward and l'm looking behind me and nobody was there,” said Morales. “So we have a lot of people to go forward, but we need people to defend, and in that situation, I was yelling. I don't remember to who, but somebody to get there."
In many ways, that sequence was a microcosm of Real Salt Lake’s 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union.
The players are still adjusting to their new roles in the new 4-3-3 formation, and that uncertainty of when to go and when to stay back allowed Real Salt Lake to get stretched at times against the Union— especially when poor giveaways put RSL in scramble mode.
Morales said in last week’s draw with Portland the team was extra focused defensively in the new formation, but in Saturday’s home opener, “Everyone wants to attack.”
“We can’t play like that. We have to be smart and try to go both ways. Attack and defend. And when we get that balance, I think we will be a good team, but right now we have to keep working,” said Morales.
With a bye next weekend before returning to action against Toronto on Sunday, March 29, Real Salt Lake has an extra week to try to get everyone on the same page with its tweaked responsibilities.
“Obviously (the bye will help), but I think a good video session will help a lot, too. When you can really show, for myself as well, but for the players, when you just talk about ‘Why did you make this choice? What were you thinking in this play?’ Usually, when you open up the lines of communication and talk and look at things, things get resolved,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
Despite the defensive mistakes that led to all three Philadelphia goals, Cassar wasn’t overly frustrated afterward. He said getting beat on a deflection, a quick throw-in and an own goal won’t happen too often the rest of the season.
The bigger concern going forward is RSL’s shape, especially when inevitable giveaways will occur.
Said Cassar: “We have to be really mindful of if we lose the ball, what shape we are in.”
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.