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3 takeaways from RSL’s worst loss of the season against Vancouver

Real Salt Lake’s Anderson Julio, left, defends against Vancouver Whitecaps’ Jake Nerwinski, right, during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in Sandy, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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Coming into its matchup with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday, Real Salt Lake had beaten the Canadian side two times this season by a combined score of 7-1, the most recent victory a 4-0 win for the Claret and Cobalt.

The Whitecaps flipped the script in Vancouver Sunday, recording a 4-1 victory over an RSL side that was playing in its first match under interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni, who took over after the unexpected departure of head coach Freddy Juarez on Friday.

Though Real Salt Lake was able to avoid being shut out thanks to a late goal from Anderson Julio in the 90th minute, the 3-goal defeat was the squad’s worst loss of the season.

RSL trailed by only a single goal after the first half, but frustration could easily be seen on the faces of its players, who lacked the competitive edge they possessed in their past matchups with Vancouver this season.

The frustration only worsened in a second half that saw The Claret and Cobalt concede three goals, some of which were scored by unmarked Whitecaps players.

The victory and three points for Vancouver moved it into the playoff picture with 26 points, good for seventh place in the Western Conference. RSL remained in sixth place with 27 points through 21 games.

The club will look to regroup and retool as it returns home on Sept. 4 to face a hungry FC Dallas team that is also looking to find its own way into the playoff picture.

Here are three takeaways from loss:

Worst loss of the season

Frustration over the result was expressed both verbally and non-verbally by the players and staff following RSL’s steepest defeat of the season. Captain Albert Rusnak unabashedly said following the game that the result was certainly the team’s worst of the 2021 season.

Though the players and coaches weren’t quick to give excuses for the loss, the team certainly had its fair share of them.

From losing its head coach less than 72 hours before the game to having a bevy of starting-caliber players unavailable, the amount of valid excuses can provide optimism that the result won’t be a trend for the squad going forward.

“It has been one of the craziest weeks I’ve ever experienced,” Mastroeni said after the game. “The players haven’t seen too many (weeks) like this as well, so it’s going to be about getting back to where we were prior to this.”

Missing its All-Star

Of all the unavailable players for RSL, the one that it missed the most was undoubtedly Damir Kreilach, who appeared in his first MLS All-Star game this past Wednesday.

Kreilach missed the match due to yellow card accumulation.

Kreilach likely wouldn’t have appeared in the All-Star game if not for his individual success against the Whitecaps this season. In the two prior matchups between the two sides, he had scored four goals, good for half of his season total.

Kreilach will be available for RSL in its game against FC Dallas on Saturday.

Corner kick woes

After allowing zero goals from corner kicks through the first half of the season, Real Salt Lake has suddenly struggled to defend the set pieces as of late, conceding four goals off of them in its last three matches, two of which came Sunday night.

Mastroeni said defending corner kicks will be something that will be worked on in his first full week as interim head coach of the team.

He also mentioned that he’ll make adjustments that will see the squad go away from zonal marking, a tactic that has been frowned upon by many RSL supporters.

“(We’ll be) finding a solution to what is now an issue defending our set pieces,” Mastroeni said. “We’re not giving ourselves as much of a chance to get into games when we’re taking some soft goals when, at the beginning of the year, we were stalwarts in that department.”