RSL's overlooked key to victory: set pieces
LEHI, Utah — In the last 22 matches, Real Salt Lake have lost just once, and they boast a 14-1-8 record during that stretch. A variety of things have contributed to the team’s success in 2010: a stalwart defense, a potent offense and incredible poise when falling behind by a goal.
But one of RSL's keys to victory is often overlooked: their deadly set-piece precision.
RSL have put in 13 goals off of set pieces this season, a league record since the league began recording the stat in 2003. That number represents a whopping 32 percent of their 41 goals, which would easily be another all-time league best if it holds up over the remaining three matches.
So what gives?
According to head coach Jason Kreis, the key to their set-piece success is, first and foremost, "the quality of service.”
Javier Morales (8 assists on the season) is the mainstay on corner kicks and provides good deliveries into the area, but Andy Williams has six assists on the season and is usually the one to fill in whenever Morales is not on the field. But even youngster Nelson Gonzalez has gotten in on the action. The Argentine delivers a good ball, and his lone assist this season is courtesy of a corner kick.
Morales is also dangerous on free kicks, capable of delivering a bending ball to the head of those in the midst of a collapsing wall and picking out a corner of the net from within 25 yards of goal. He has scored two of the team’s seven free kick goals with directly taken bending balls.
But it’s not just the delivery that makes RSL so lethal on set plays.
“The other thing for me is just how willing players are to put their head in dangerous positions and really go after things,” Kreis added.
Alvaro Saborio (10 goals on the season) came to the team with a reputation of having a strong aerial game, and he has not disappointed. He’s crafty with his body, and he’s not afraid to stick his head into a crowd in order to make contact with a ball.
Defender Jamison Olave is also a strong, powerful force in the box and requires a lot of attention from opposing defenders on set pieces. Defensive partner Nat Borchers is also a big, physical player and has scored in each of the last two games, with his most recent tally coming from a free kick.
“We have quite a few players who are starting to show how dangerous they are on set pieces," Kreis said. "If we can have 3, 4 or 5 players that are dangerous, it’s going to be hard for anyone to defend that.”
RSL’s record reflects just how hard it has been to defend against the reigning champs, and their plus-23 goal differential is the best in the league. If they can continue their recent success from set pieces, another deep run in the playoffs seems likely.