When push came to shove against Vancouver on Saturday night, RSL came through.
Coaches and players stressed the importance of getting a victory to close out the three-game home stand, and based on the performance of the 13 RSL men to see the pitch on Saturday night, fans should be pleased not only with the effort, but also with development of the various position groups moving forward.
In this week's RSL report card, we look at each position group individually, examining their flaws and showcasing their strengths.
Starters: Devon Sandoval, Joao Plata
Joao Plata was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back in this match. It was almost entirely due to Plata's touches that RSL scored at all; Plata banked two assists on two RSL goals.
Through the first half of the match, Plata showed speed and energy. His tempo allowed RSL to make transition and counterattack plays throughout the entire match. He broke on the ball well, but his passing in and around the area suffered early on.
The difference in Plata's passing from first to second half was almost night and day. RSL head coach Jason Kreis said the team spoke about passing in the final third during the break, and focused on getting that finishing touch. Plata definitely took those words to heart. His assists in the 47th and 71st minutes are a testament to that.
"We weren't clean enough with the ball," Kreis said. "I thought we got better and better and better as the game went on. (Plata) and Devon (Sandoval) started out pretty darn rough, but got better as the game wore on. I think that was Plata's third and fourth assist (of the season) tonight. That's nice."
Devon Sandoval, however, struggled with possessing and positioning. As a forward, knowing where to be is half the battle. Sandoval showed his youth and inexperience as he struggled to maintain the ball and execute plays. Furthermore, Sandoval didn't make a single shot attempt, which is a very troubling statistic when you're a forward.
Man of the Match: Joao Plata
Starters: Javier Morales, Luis Gil, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman
Substitutions: Sebastian Velasquez for Gil, 54th, Khari Stephensen for Grabavoy, 79th
The midfield for RSL has a reputation for being among the best of the league, and with good reason. Morales, as usual, was the focus of the opponent's defense, but he made them pay with his consistent offensive pressure and his smooth 71st minute goal.
Inspired by Morales's performance, the midfield advanced the ball well in spurts, despite difficulties in maintaining solid, continuous possession. One particular sequence in the 22nd minute was breathtaking. A string of seven tight passes put the ball in the danger zone, and though it didn't result in a goal, that sequence involved all four midfielders and both forwards.
During the first half, Luis Gil struggled to control the ball and find good spaces to receive passes. Like Plata's passing, the change from the first to second half was night to day. During the nine second half minutes Gil played before leaving the game due to a right ankle contusion, he made RSL's attack much more multi-dimensional and dangerous. Plus, he scored.
When Velasquez entered the game for Gil, the fans gave him a solid "Rufio, Rufio, Ru-fi-ooooooooohhhh!" mostly because of his hairdo. Velasquez, however, validated the nickname with his footwork. Velasquez was a wizard with his feet. His technical ability and field vision reinforced that there is little dropoff from starter to sub when he comes on the field.
Starters: Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran
Saturday's match showed just how much Chris Wingert's presence was missed, particularly on the offensive end. Throughout the game, he gave the team width, sending in numerous crosses and a first-half 30-plus-yard shot that missed 1.5 yards off the top right angle.
The whole back line showed tenacity and energy down the stretch when RSL began to take heavy pressure from Vancouver. Wingert, in particular, put himself in great position to intercept long passes to the corners and cleaned up plenty of messes.
Speaking of cleaning up messes, Nat Borchers. He completely saved Nick Rimando in the 62nd minute when he cleared a partially-blocked Corey Hertzog shot off of Rimando's line.
Both Borchers and Schuler made their presence felt in the air on both ends of the pitch. Virtually every other defensive touch was off one of their heads, and a 39th-minute header from a Morales corner kick nearly got RSL on the board.
Nick Rimando was seriously tested only once in the match -- the aforementioned shot by Corey Hertzog -- and he passed, thanks to Borchers. In the two instances, including Hertzog's effort, where Rimando was forced to make a play, he did so in a somewhat awkward fashion. Fortunately, his back line was there to make up for any miscue.
Rimando was credited with an assist on Luis Gil's 47th minute goal. His long pass to Joao Plata up the right side allowed Joao to get behind the defensive line, place a perfectly weighted ball on Gil's forehead and begin celebrating.
"He's done it multiple times," Chris Wingert said. "I can't imagine any other goalie doing that multiple times in their career. I can't imagine that anybody is even close to as good with their feet as Nick is. It's incredible."
That said, Rimando was mostly uninvolved in this game. Except for the occasional back pass, no serious effort was required from him, which of course was proof positive of the strength of RSL's back line on Saturday.