SANDY — With leading scorer Alvaro Saborio out the past two weeks with an injured calf, Real Salt Lake hasn’t missed a beat offensively, scoring seven goals.
After training Thursday, RSL coach Jason Kreis said Saborio will be available for selection in some capacity against visiting Portland on Friday — but does it really matter?
RSL leads MLS with 48 goals this season, and it’s scored no matter who's started up top.
“I’m extremely happy with the forwards. I’ve never even been close to coaching a team that I have five forwards that I literally believe in as much as these guys. On any given day I think we could put two new fresh ones out there and probably get a very consistent high level. We’ve never been anywhere close to that,” said Kreis.
Seven different players have scored at least four goals this season, and that production isn’t really an accident either. It’s the result of a carefully thought-out plan by the RSL technical staff in the offseason when it elected not to re-sign defender Jamison Olave, who is making $325,000 in New York.
By electing to redistribute Olave’s salary into more attacking options, Kreis and his staff knew they wouldn’t be as stout defensively, but that they would be a better attacking team as a result. Things have certainly played out that way.
With seven games remaining, RSL has already eclipsed the franchise-record 46 goals it scored last season. Conversely, it's given up 33 goals, which is just two shy of the 35 it gave up all of last season.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy acknowledges that his team isn’t as sharp at the back as in past years, but it’s more than capable of making up for some of those defensive shortcomings.
“You talk about the depth at the forward spot, five guys deep, and it can give us different looks, especially off the bench at the end of the game, whether we’re down or up,” said Grabavoy. “Getting extra numbers in attack, attacking with five or six guys, having the numbers going forward to give us a different look a little bit that maybe we didn’t have as much last year.”
In 2012 RSL was built to be a team that could grind out results, which it did plenty of times with 14 shutouts. This season Real Salt Lake has only notched eight shutouts, and has been involved in more high-scoring games, such as a 3-3 draw at Portland two weeks ago.
That result will be fresh on everyone’s mind this Friday at 8 p.m. when the two teams square off yet again.
Real Salt Lake heads into the match with a four-point cushion in the Supporters’ Shield race, but every team chasing it also has games in hand. A victory over Portland would widen that cushion, and Kreis believes with or without Saborio his team is capable of earning three points.
“A lot of how effective we are in attacking comes down to not necessarily the forwards always scoring the goals, but the forwards making the right tactical decisions about when they should be taking players on and taking a lot of risks, and when they should not, and they just hold the ball up and involve more numbers going forward,” said Kreis. “As of late they’re making fantastic choices involving more players and involving more numbers from deep areas, and those guys have benefitted from that.”
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