For most of this MLS season, we’ve seen one team definitively take the title of ‘worst team in the league.’ Vadim Demidov-era Minnesota started the year with that title, before they benched him and stopped allowing five goals a game. Philadelphia followed, having not won since August of 2016, and after them, it was a some combination of LA, Real Salt Lake, Colorado, and Montreal.
Right now, that one obvious ‘bad team’ is RSL, and it’s not close. Even D.C. United, who have scored one goal in their past six games and haven’t scored at home since April 8, can’t beat them for this infamous title.
RSL are not in last place — they’re in second-to-last, one point ahead of the Rapids, who have three games in hand — and they have actually picked up some good results recently. RSL has had recent home wins over Philadelphia and NYCFC and remain within (long) shouting distance of the red line. Since they fired Jeff Cassar three weeks into March, Mike Petke has made some good decisions.
Their last two games, though, have plummeted them back down to the bottom of every power rankings you’ll see for the next two weeks. On Wednesday, they were blown out of the water by the merciless Houston Dynamo in south Texas, and on Saturday, they drove three and a half hours up to Frisco, where they got shellacked by FC Dallas to the tune of 6-2. The combined score between the blowouts was 11-3, including a whopping 8-0 in the first half.
Houston are the best team in the league at home, and FCD are the top Western Conference club. But getting absolutely saturated like this in two straight games is unacceptable no matter the opposition, and RSL do not have a bad Scandinavian center back to blame it on. They have poor personnel, poor coaching, and poor effort to fault for these results.
Petke knows it, and he ripped into his team postgame like you will rarely see a coach do:
“They are going to be fighting like dogs for positions because it’s not good enough.” pic.twitter.com/jMmRk3j0YV
— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) June 4, 2017
I recommend watching that through, because it’s bold, honest, and telling. I would not want to have been in the visitors’ locker room after that game.
It’s true: there was little effort and little talent shown by that team in the last two losses. Against FCD, they got to the point of simply watching Dallas walk through their team. They looked completely turned off mentally, often choosing not to chase runners or track back defensively. Not only did they lose the stats game, but they also lost the ‘heart’ and ‘spirit’ games.
Expect changes from Petke in their next game — which is not until June 17, due to the international break — at least judging from his above comments. At this point, no one is safe, and that’s the way it should be. It’s hard to think of anyone who can be absorbed of blame at this point, other than the squadron of players injured and on international duty.
And that’s the one place where Salt Lake can claim an excuse. RSL has spent much of this season decimated by injuries, and they were hit hard by multiple US U-20 national team call-ups. Right back Demar Phillips, potential starting attacker Jordan Allen, backup center back David Horst, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, starting center back Justen Glad, defender Danilo Acosta, and wingers Sebastian Saucedo and Brooks Lennon were missing on Wednesday and Saturday. That hurts, especially when you have a midweek game and need depth to step up.
Still, it wasn’t like they were playing with scrubs. Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan started both games, and the center back pairing of Chris Schuler and Aaron Maund, which had been good previously, played all but 11 minutes together on the backline. Kyle Beckerman also started both matches. These are solid, starting-caliber MLS players who simply have not been good enough.
Plata and Movsisyan are not producing goals, or even chances. Yura has just four goals in over 1000 minutes this season, and Plata has two goals and two assists in 12 games. That’s not close to what RSL need out of their stars. Only DP No. 10 Albert Rusnak (three goals and five assists in 14 starts) is producing at a quality level.
Adding to this, Beckerman’s age (35) seems to be finally catching up with him, as he has not been mobile enough in protecting the backline and has slowed down his ambitious distribution forward. Luke Mulholland and Sunday Stephen, who have rotated between starting next Beckerman, are not adequately filling the former USMNT starter’s gaps.
A lot is going wrong in Salt Lake City, and it’s possible that even the return of many players will solve their woes. Petke needs to put a jolt into his team (that interview may have been it) and the stars need to start helping Rusnak before they can think about pulling out of their rut.
And most importantly, they’re going to need to win some heart and spirit battles. That could be the ultimate key to dropping the title of MLS’s worst team.