BRONX, N.Y, — Dishing out three, four or five goals feels good. Eating three, four, or five goals does not.
Just ask Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
“We’ve got to look in the mirror,” said Rimando, “and see what we’ve got to do better defensively and stop letting in goals because I’m tired of picking the ball out of the net.”
Unfortunately for Rimando and RSL, he did plenty of that on Wednesday as the club suffered its third defeat of the young MLS season in a 4-0 rout against New York City FC. The lopsided loss at Yankee Stadium was about as ugly as anyone could have imagined, with a listless RSL giving up an early goal and three before halftime to all but decide the match at that stage.
While some scorelines are not indicative of what transpired on the field, Wednesday’s result was. Real Salt Lake admittedly planned to let NYCFC have the ball and wanted to stay compact to try and hit on the counter, but was no match for NYCFC from the opening whistle. The Western Conferene side fell behind after just 12 minutes when a poor clearance from Kyle Beckerman was rifled home by the red-hot Ismael Tajouri, and the house came crumbling down after that.
With more momentum, dominant NYCFC poured on the pressure before finding two more goals in the 30th and 41st minutes. Notable defensive blunders also allowed each of those goals to happen, with young centerback Justen Glad at the center of both of them. Glad naively tried to make a challenge on the ball while laying on the ground and was called for a penalty kick just before the half-hour, and his decision to step up and challenge Jesus Medina weakly four minutes before the break created a big hole at the back that Jo Inge Berget exploited before scoring.
A second-half tally from Ebenezer Ofori made the night even more wretched for RSL, which has now given up 14 goals in six matches to post a 2-3-1 record at the start of the year. What’s more, the Western Conference team has conceded a whopping 12 times in its three losses to look a shell of the tough team that finished 2017 playing well.
“Somewhere along the way from the second part of last year, we kind of forgot certain things,” said RSL head coach Mike Petke. “It starts with us the staff, of course, about getting that bite back and that mentality, that style of play that made us successful in the second half last year. The good thing is that we have plenty of time left.”
“To me, it’s the little things,” Petke added later. “Recognizing no pressure on the ball and dropping, recognizing there is pressure on the ball when the ball is played back and stepping up. All those little intangibles, very little things, that add up and improve the defense.”
There is lots of time, but also lots to work on. In addition to the defense needing to improve, the attack needs to do a better job after scoring just six times through the first few weeks of the season. The overall play of the midfield also has to improve as well, and the coaching staff needs to identify this team’s best lineup.
Still, getting tougher defensively is likely going to be one of the main priorities in the immediate future. RSL has been inconsistent to start 2018, with the club’s wins overshadowed by ugly losses like Wednesday’s. It has been a hot-and-cold start to the year, and becoming tougher to play against might just be the remedy necessary to smooth things out and start picking up points on a more regular basis.
“For me, it’s always been defense wins games, defense gets you results,” said Rimando. “Once that goes into play and the team buys into that, works that and the effort is there, then you play. Obviously you can’t be two separate sides, a defensive side and an offensive side. We have to be together and we’ve just got to go out there and not take this as a loss but learn from this because we’ve already given up five goals, three goals, and now four goals.
“I’m not happy with that. If you look around the locker room, they’re not happy with that.”