SANDY — Over the first two months of the season, Real Salt Lake scored just seven goals in nine matches and was one of the lowest-scoring teams in MLS.
Since the end of April though, RSL’s attack has been spectacular with 14 goals in six matches, tops in the league during that stretch.
The attacking proficiency isn’t a coincidence. It’s all about the numbers, according to coach Jason Kreis.
“I think our midfield has shown a real commitment to be involved in attacking plays, to get themselves into dangerous spots and to even end up in the opponent's box,” said Kreis. “When we struggle, I just don’t feel like we get the right number of players involved in the attacks.”
That certainly hasn't been a problem over the past month. Six of Real Salt Lake’s 14 goals over the past month have been scored by midfielders, including three by Ned Grabavoy.
Grabavoy’s clinical finish against San Jose on Saturday epitomizes the work rate RSL’s midfielders are putting in. When Javier Morales sprinted up the right sideline in the 33rd minute, it would’ve been easy for Grabavoy to casually jog upfield behind the attacking trio of Morales, Robbie Findley and Joao Plata. Instead, he made a 40-yard sprint into the box and was in perfect position to bury Morales’ pass following a dummy step-over by Plata.
“When we score goals, we create chances; we have three midfielders involved in every attack; and we have two forwards; and we typically have one outside back and sometimes two,” said Kreis. “For me it just takes numbers, and in order to get those numbers it takes a massive amount of commitment from our midfield and our outside backs.”
After not scoring a goal in 51 combined games the previous two seasons, incredibly Grabavoy has now scored his three goals in RSL’s past three matches.
He’s had to work for them, but he’s made a concerted effort to do so.
“It was a big priority in the offseason to be able to do those things but not give away anything on the other side,” said Grabavoy.
Morales’ 16th-minute goal was another example of attacking with numbers. The same four RSL players who were in dangerous spots on Grabavoy’s goal were in and around the box on Morales’ goal.
And most importantly, they finished those chances.
Real Salt Lake didn’t put those chances away against Chicago the weekend before and then against Atlanta in the U.S. Open Cup the Tuesday before.
“That’s the difference tonight to the prior games where we struggled. If we just finish our chances we have a lot more points in our pockets. That’s OK. We don’t have to finish them all in every single game. We’ll hope to save all those for the end of the season,” said Kreis.