Welcome to From The Upper Deck, my blog about RSL and soccer in general. I have a lot of passion for the beautiful game. I am just a fan that likes to sit in the upper deck and take it all in.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

RSL Round Table- The Shooting Gallery

I saw an extremely interesting stat coming out of the San Jose match. Peter Hirdt, who is with Elias Sports, tweeted out that RSL had given up 27 shots in each of the their first two matches. Prior to 2014 the team had never given up that many shots in a match. In all of MLS history, only one team had every given up 27 or more shots on back to back games.

This brought a lot of questions to my mind. What was causing the shooting gallery that was taking place at Nick Rimando? And more importantly, is this something that RSL should be concerned about moving forward? I honestly wasn't sure what to think so I put out the call to some others to do another round table discussion. I wanted to get their opinions on these questions.

For today's round table we have both Wes Brown (@wesbadia) and James Rust (jamesrust15) along with myself. Wes writes for Soccer Newsday as well as RSL Soapbox. James was the former co-host for On Frame as well as the former pre/post game host on ESPN 700. I want to thank both of them for their time.

From what I saw in preseason, the small tactical adjustments Cassar's made to the overall formation/style of play has encouraged the outside mids to cut centrally as they make their runs into the box. (Others may have a different view of things). I believe this has enabled us to get so much more pressure and higher numbers inside the penalty area on the attack. It also opens up the flanks for overlapping runs by the fullbacks. Honestly, the adjustments play more into the pros/cons of the conventional midfield diamond more so than under Kreis. We all know that the diamond has been touted as being susceptible to wing play because of its lack of "width". Under Kreis, our shape in midfield was slightly different, and, I believe, because of that our diamond played with seemingly more width than maybe other diamonds have in soccer history.

Cassar's tactics may be more conventional/traditional for that diamond formation. The wide mids were originally supposed to be more attacking than the traditional two-way or box-to-box types. One was traditionally a winger; the other a modified #8. It's also why the diamond has sat the defensive mid so far back, to provide extra numbers in defense. While Cassar's players do have the two-way abilities (Ned and Luke are probably the best examples right now), asking these guys to get dug in on the attack in more central spots commits them more to offensive duties than otherwise. Of course, that places more emphasis on the defensive line, something Cassar has said he was going to focus on in order to be less susceptible on the counter.

The trouble (that we're at least starting to see) with all of this, is that it overexposes the flanks in a way that we haven't necessarily had to deal with before. Guys like Tony and Wingert are now emphasized to play MORE defense because of the openness in front of them, while still being asked to contribute on overlaps. Against San Jose (more so than against LA), our fullbacks were pinned back so much throughout the match that their offensive duties were largely unable to be carried out. Cordell Cato on RSL's left kept Wingert out of the attack almost completely. Shaun Francis (whom I don't rate very highly) on RSL's right had assistance from Shea Salinas, who gave a clinic on crossing/service on Saturday. Beltran had his hands full, and the few times he was able to get up-field, he service to attacking areas was either cut out or stymied before it came to fruition.

Starting with if it is something that RSL should be concerned with moving forward, I say yes. You can't expect to be able to allow 27 shots a game and think you are going to come away with many clean sheets, let alone points, even with Nick Rimando in goal. I think that we are experiencing the transition from Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar a bit here. Cassar mentioned in the pre-season that one thing that may be a little different is seeing a few more guys getting forward. It is something that I have been hoping for the last couple of seasons to be honest. The simple fact of the matter is with an extra guy or two pushing forward it leaves yourself a little bit exposed at times in the back. With us being just two games in a think things will tighten up a bit and Jeff will find his fine line on when and how to be aggressive with pushing guys forward at a regular rate.

Now, why I think the high shot amount is a little concerning... While I am excited with what I have seen from RSL on the offensive side of the ball they are a bit fortunate to be sitting with four points through two road games. Nick Rimando flat out stood on his head in LA to beat the Galaxy. We saw Donovan with a couple counter attack opportunities, Robbie Keane put one off the post and then obviously the PK save by Rimando. We have come to expect Rimando to come up big like he has but if we are speaking truthfully it was a bit surprising that Keane didn't put away the PK as well as his shot that went off the post.

Last weekend in San Jose I feel like what primarily led to the high shot amount from the Earthquakes is that RSL held a 3-1 lead at halftime. Full credit to San Jose who could have just folded up shop and turned their focus to their upcoming mid-week CCL game. San Jose came out pushing and got RSL on our heels and we couldn't slow the momentum. We knew that Mulholland was not going to be able to 90 minutes and that is the price you pay when you miss a starter and have to adjust your substitution pattern. With Maund getting hurt and Plata subbing off the fresh legs of Grossman, Salcedo and Allen were put in a tough situation of coming on and trying to slow down full throttle pressure. Five minutes of stoppage time was death and the equalizer was inevitable.

This all accounts for the disparity in the crossing stats that Charles tweeted out after the match (SJ: 19, RSL: 0, if I recall). It also makes sense why we've given up so many attempts on goal, and, in particular, shots. We saw it against LA, too. Landon down that right flank was dangerous for about 30 to 40 minutes on that side. Even Samuel and Keane were drawn to that side against Beltran/Maund. Luckily we didn't give anything up as our defense was solid. And the tactical adjustment in the middle of the first half where Ned and Gil switched sides helped to break up Donovan's play a bit.

There was no kind of tactical adjustment against SJ. Gil was at the top of the diamond, Luke on the right. If ever there was a tangible way of measuring what Gil does on the right for the defensive side of the game, this might be it. It's all hindsight, but could Gil have negated a lot of what Salinas and Francis were doing on that flank? Or at least another possible switch with Ned to swap sides might've helped. I'm not blaming Luke at all. I just think we're a bit too open down those flanks, and the defensive approach Cassar is using is more about counter attacks when our shape is not set, as opposed to dealing with straight forward attacking by pretty capable opposing players.

Charles pointed out on Twitter Saturday night how much RSL was missing Schuler. I agree that we missed him greatly and would go as far to say that with a bigger presence in the back and maybe the outcome is different. The Maund injury was crappy timing as well but that stuff happens. Not knocking on Salcedo but we've got to be able to win aerial balls in our box, something Schuler does at a very high rate.

I think that we will see Jeff pick his spots a little more but it is making for wide open and entertaining games. I am loving what we are seeing from Plata. He is creating at times as well as finishing his opportunities. The midfield is pushing up and I love seeing Beckerman floating a bit more in the attacking half. All in all I am liking what I am seeing with the exception of the 2nd half collapse in San Jose but keep in mind that Nick Rimando will be heading to Brazil this summer along with Beckerman and this style could put a little too much pressure on Jeff Attinella.   

I think both of you have made some really great points. To be honest the reason that I wanted to tackle this topic was that I didn't know what the answer was.  By just watching the matches you could tell that there were a lot of shots but it didn't see to me to be record breaking or anything. When I read the tweet by Peter Hirdt I was pretty shocked. That is one of the great things about stats. They point out things that you might miss by just watching the match. 

One thing that I wondered was where were the shots coming from? Was RSL forcing the opposing team into bad shots? I first took a look at some stats (hey, it's what I do). So far this season, 66% of RSL's shots have been on goal. Only 53% of RSL's opponents shots have been on goal. On the surface that sounds pretty good. But keep in mind that in 2 matches that RSL opponents have had 19 shots on goal where RSL has only had 21 shots total. That is a pretty big difference. 

James makes a very good point above. We were fortunate to come out of LA with 3 points. And without some great saves from Rimando we would have given up even more than the 3 goals that we did in San Jose. So while we all feel good about the 4 points that we have or even think we should have had 6, we are not that far away from having 0 points so far on the season. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues this week. 

One thing is for sure. The high amount of shots can not continue if RSL wants to have a successful season. This is something that I will continue to watch for the foreseeable future and will report my findings here. I would like to that Wes and James for their time and thoughts on the subject.