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Composure lacking in final third for Real Salt Lake, which faces San Jose in Round of 16

RSL advanced to the knockout round as the top qualifying third-place wild-card team

SHARE Composure lacking in final third for Real Salt Lake, which faces San Jose in Round of 16
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Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gadi Kinda (17) and Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera, right, compete for a ball during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — With group games of the MLS is Back Tournament counting toward the regular-season standings, in the build-up to the tournament Real Salt Lake coach Freddy Juarez said success in those games was all that mattered.

He said trying to win the tournament in Orlando was insignificant, because qualifying for the knockout stages would happen naturally if his team was successful in those “regular season” games.

RSL ultimately did enough to qualify for the round of 16 with a 1-1-1 record in group play, but did it show enough in those games to be considered a contender in the 16-team single elimination tournament? The jury is still out.

RSL controlled the game against Colorado in a 2-0 win, but against Minnesota and Kansas City struggled to create quality scoring chances despite a clear advantage in possession and was shut out both games.

Despite the 180-minute scoring drought, though, Juarez is confident heading into the knockout round.

“We’ve got to continue to work. We have the fight in us, in all three games we had control of moments of the game, large portions of the game,” said Juarez.

RSL will open the knockout round against San Jose on Monday (6:30 p.m. MT, FS1), with the winner advancing to face in the winner of Columbus-Minnesota in the quarterfinals on Aug. 1.

“We’re in a good moment, I believe. We compete, we’re used to these scenarios,” said Juarez.

While RSL finished third in Group D with four points, San Jose won Group B with wins over Vancouver and Chicago and then a scoreless draw against defending MLS Cup champ Seattle.

Real Salt Lake and San Jose split the season series last year, each winning at home 1-0.

“We’ve got to have more composure in the final third. I think we were getting up there a lot, and whether it’s the final run, the final ball, it just hasn’t been good enough from us all tournament.” — RSL defender Aaron Herrera

With just two goals scored in group play — tied for the fewest of the teams that have already booked their place in the next round — Real Salt Lake has some work to do ahead of San Jose.

Defender Aaron Herrera believes it’s about staying calm in those key moments.

“We’ve got to have more composure in the final third. I think we were getting up there a lot, and whether it’s the final run, the final ball, it just hasn’t been good enough from us all tournament. Even against Colorado we scored two goals, but one was a good finish and one was sort of fortunate,” said Herrera after Wednesday’s loss to Kansas City. “At the end of the day I don’t think we have enough composure in the final third and it’s something we definitely need to work on going into this next game.”

Herrera said players are still getting used to the tendencies of some of the newer players, which was evident on a few occasions with Justin Meram against Kansas City. Where it was a backheel pass from Meram that a teammate wasn’t expecting, or a run into the box that Meram made and the pass didn’t follow, those nuances are still a work in progress.

After the Kansas City game, Herrera said, at some point it becomes about hunger and desire.

“At the end of the day it’s just effort from us, it’s wanting to score goals, it’s playing the ball in behind and runs off the ball. We need a lot more movement and like I said, composure in the final third if we want to create anything,” said Herrera.