Real Salt Lake: What combination is RSL's best pairing at forward and center back?
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Editor's note: These statistics were compiled strictly looking at combinations of two. So if RSL played only one forward or also three forwards, those minutes and goals were not included. The statistics were also calculated across all competitions, including U.S. Open Cup matches.
With just two games remaining in Real Salt Lake's regular season, the team still has no consistency pairing players at a couple different positions.
During the course of the MLS season, RSL manager Jason Kreis has used eight different forward pairings and nine different center back combinations. Injuries, international call-ups and position group depth have been the primary challenges motivating the moves.
It is likely that more consistency and identifying a go-to starting eleven would have been beneficial for Real Salt Lake. However, Kreis is not necessarily at fault.
Injuries have caused many of the woes at the center back position. At the start the season, veteran center back Nat Borchers was recovering from a nagging quad injury. A couple of months into the season, Chris Schuler joined the inactive list. Schuler's foot injury turned out to be much more serious than expected and he has missed the majority of the season.
Borchers and Schuler were expected to be the regular starting center backs prior to the season. Their long-term absences forced Kreis to look to his bench. He called upon the young, 19-year-old Carlos Salcedo and he has started 16 games for the Claret-and-Cobalt thus far. Salcedo and Borchers have played a total of 1,260 minutes side-by-side at center back, the most of any pairing used at that position.
The Borchers-Salcedo combination hasn't performed nearly as well as the Borchers-Schuler pairing. The communication between the veteran and the rookie progressed through the season, however they still allowed 16 goals —one goal per 78.8 minutes played. The Borchers-Schuler combination played 630 minutes together this season and allowed six goals. That averages to one goal per 105 minutes played.
Real Salt Lake is glad to have Schuler back from injury, as Kreis expressed last Saturday.
"He was Johnny-on-the-spot on a few crosses in the first half, and in the second half, he was calm enough to adjust the ball back to his keeper in the [six-yard-box]. He looks like the old Chris Schuler," Kreis said following his team's 1-1 draw with FC Dallas.
Real Salt Lake also struggled to find a regular starting pair up top. The club's offseason trades were aimed at adding depth to its forward position, which it clearly achieved by adding four excellent strikers to run with RSL veteran Alvaro Saborio.
Kreis wanted a dangerous group, and that is precisely what he has now. The problem is deciding who to start, as each of them score goals, perform well each week and vie for playing time during training sessions. Of the eight different pairings, Saborio and Robbie Findley shared the most minutes as a combination.
Although the Findley-Saborio combination have tallied the most shared minutes so far, it is not the most productive. It ranks fifth, with RSL scoring a goal every 63.1 minutes played when Findley and Saborio are paired up top.
The most productive pairing in the goals scored per shared playing time is Saborio and Joao Plata. The Saborio-Plata combination has played 398 minutes together and the team collectively has scored 10 goals — one per every 39.8 minutes played.
That combination is followed by the Devon Sandoval-Plata and Olmes Garcia-Sandoval pairings.
As Real Salt Lake nears the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, Kreis will have some tough decisions to make regarding lineups. If RSL wants to be a contender for the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup, a fairly consistent starting 11 from here on out would likely help its cause.
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow on Twitter at @whitney_oban.
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