It is hard to believe that a third of the MLS season has already been completed. What is even harder to believe is that RSL is still undefeated on the season. How can this be? The team came into the year with a new head coach, three new assistant coaches, and an extremely tough opening schedule. But here they stand with a 6-0-5 record and need only one more positive result to tie the MLS record for most games at the start of a season without a loss. No one would have predicted this coming into the season.
How did RSL get to this point? What is the team doing that is leading to their success? While there is no one right answer to this question, there are a few things that truly stand out when looking at RSL’s undefeated streak.
The first area that one must look at is the increase in scoring for the team. This season RSL has been scoring early and often. In the 11 matches that they have played so far they have scored 23 times or a goal every 43 minutes. They are on a pace to smash the club record set just last year for goals scored in a season. Last season they averaged scoring a goal every 53 minutes.
Not only are they scoring at a much higher pace, but they are also scoring much earlier in matches. This season they have scored 56% of their goals in the first half of matches. This is pretty unusual in soccer as traditionally more goals are scored in the second half of matches. Last season RSL only scored 38% of their goals in the first half. They have scored first in 8 of their 11 matches. Why is it so important to score early? This season in MLS, when a team scores first they have gone on to win the match 58% of the time. They have only lost the match 12% of the time.
Not only is RSL scoring more goals, but they have improved on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of that credit can be given to centerback Chris Schuler. Schuler came back from injury late last year and the team’s defense improved remarkably at that point. RSL has only lost once in the 17 matches that Schuler has played since returning from injury. This season the team is giving up a goal every 90 minutes when Schuler has been on the field and every 54 minutes when he has not been on the field.
With improvements on both sides of the ball, RSL has a pretty remarkable run going. Going back to the end of last season RSL has only trailed for 71 minutes in the past 1410 minutes that they have played.
Finally you can’t talk about the success of RSL this season without mentioning Joao Plata. The 22 year old forward has truly had a break out year. He currently has 6 goals (tied for team lead) and 3 assists (second on team) on the year. These numbers are awesome when you consider that he missed three matches due to injury. Not only does he have great individual stats, but the team seems to play much better when he is on the field. RSL as a team is scoring a goal every 34 minutes when he plays. When he has not been on the field, the team is only scoring every 61 minutes.
How long can this undefeated run last for RSL? That is hard to say. The team just had three of its best players leave to go play at this summer’s World Cup. They will probably miss upwards of six matches for the team including a tough matchup in Seattle. The streak will end at some point. But if RSL has done one thing, they have shown that they were much better off than many people thought heading into the season.