Real Salt Lake’s three-game home stretch concluded Saturday evening with a showdown against 2020 expansion team Nashville SC, which had yet to lose a game this season, with a win and three draws as it traveled to Rio Tinto. The game was the first ever head-to-head matchup between the two teams.
As the 90 minutes came to a close, neither side could find the back of the net despite having a handful of chances to find the scoresheet, but both teams still ultimately came away with a consolation point.
Although the result will feel somewhat disappointing for an RSL squad that appeared to be the more consistently threatening team for the majority of the game, head coach Freddy Juarez and his players were undoubtedly pleased with the way their defense bounced back from the two late goals it conceded to Chris Wondolowski in a gut-wrenching loss to San Jose eight days earlier. The final result was RSL’s first clean sheet of the season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
A lot of corners, but not a lot of chances
Real Salt Lake was awarded 12 corner kicks for the evening, but despite all those set piece opportunities, RSL wasn’t able to generate an on-target shot. Arguably the most dangerous corner kick was taken on the last play of the game when a cross from a short corner found the unmarked head of Erik Holt, but the header was off-target.
Juarez said that the size advantage that Nashville had played a role in the struggles from the corner, but also said that his team needs to work on their “technical abilities” when it comes to corner kicks.
“We’ve definitely got to get better at that and we will,” Juarez said of RSL’s corner kick execution. “When we get 12 corners, we’ve got to be a little bit more dangerous.”
Ochoa gets the first clean sheet of his young MLS career
Twenty-year-old goalkeeper David Ochoa picked up his first clean sheet of his career in the game.
Ochoa was tested late and came up with a few crucial saves. The most impressive of the saves came in the 80th minute when he got his hands on a headed shot from Nashville’s 6-foot-3 forward Jhonder Cádiz.
The late performance from Ochoa and the defense was a bright spot and a significant improvement from their last game against San Jose where they conceded two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game.
“This is what I work for everyday, to keep that zero on the weekend,” Ochoa said of his first MLS clean sheet. “I thought I was locked in the full 90, and the way I hold myself I should be making those late saves. Hopefully I can just be a rock back there for the guys and keep getting saves and clean sheets.”
Rusnák’s quiet start to the season continued
When the MLS released the 2021 salary guide and revealed that Albert Rusnák was one of the MLS’ higher paid players for the season, speculation began to swirl about when that steep salary would translate to heavy impacts on the field.
In efforts to maximize his impact against a Nashville team that liked to play tight and compact, Juarez elected to move Rusnák to a more central position rather than out wide. Rusnák appeared more comfortable and efficient in the central role, but still was unable to make an impact that resulted in goals like he has in the past for RSL.
Although he didn’t make huge splashes, Juarez was pleased with the way his captain played and said that the move to a more central position was intended to create opportunities for more aggressive wingers like Anderson Julio and Justin Meram, and to put stress on a solid Nashville back line.
“We knew how disciplined they are, so we tried to have a bit of a more natural winger against these guys so when we switched up at the point of attack we could be a little more aggressive,” Juarez said of the tactical change. “Overall I thought Albert had a solid game.”