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MLS Post-Mortem: RSL's growth and other week 12 observations

Real Salt Lake's learning process and other impressions from week 12.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that's it for rivalry week. Everybody's played the team that is sort of their rival, but not really. Here are some thoughts on the games:

A learning process

Real Salt Lake started this season on a tear. On the back of MVP-caliber performances from Joao Plata and other attackers, they compiled 14 points in the first six weeks and didn't lose until a run-in with the red-hot Galaxy late in April. They were the ones being called the "Leicester of MLS."

But their run of success has faded out since that 5-2 dismantling at the hands of LA. After from a narrow victory at home against the lowly Houston Dynamo, they lost two straight 1-0 decisions against Western Conference rivals, first against Colorado and then against the Dynamo. RSL quickly became overshadowed by their Rocky Mountain rivals.

Going into Saturday's away match against Sporting Kansas City—a chance to get some good points against a Western Conference competitor—they had almost dropped out of a playoff spot. Needing to get some semblance of momentum back heading into the final two games of a road trip, they scored three times in Kansas City and picked up the full amount of points, vaulting them back up the tight Western Conference standings.

They did it by going back to their opportunistic, clinical finishing, disciplined self. Actually, no. They weren't like that before. They just became that against mistake-prone SKC.

All three of their goals came from some bad defensive play by Sporting, rather than a Plata or Burrito Martinez skill run. The first came after Matt Besler gave the ball away and allowed RSL to send a ball across the box to a wide-open Martinez, who tapped it in 30 minutes into the game. The second was scored when a rocket Yura Movsisyan cross after a corner kick bounced off a helpless Brad Davis and into the net. The third wasn't explicitly a defensive mistake, but I think it's fair to say Sporting could have done better here:

A giveaway in midfield, a miscommunication between the center-backs, and some really bad 1v1 defense by Nuno Coelho; that's a bad goal to allow if you're Kansas City—Tim Melia and Coelho knew it, judging by their reaction—but it's indicative of what RSL were able to do against their rivals. They took advantage of mistakes and escaped with three road points despite mostly failing to generate a ton of offense, something they were unable to do over their last couple games.

RSL got shut out in each of their last two matches—one of which against Houston, one of the worst defensive teams in the league—and in both, they struggled to generate chances that they could realistically finish. Against the Dynamo, they didn't register a single shot on goal and completed just two passes into the box.

At one point during the SKC game, Salt Lake hadn't scored in over 200 minutes. They needed a spark.

To be honest, they never really found one. They just scrapped out a couple goals en route to a solid away victory when they were struggling to do much else. The ability to do that is something all good teams have, and it's something this young RSL team is learning how to do.

Other notes:

1. The New York Red Bulls laid an absolute beating on their New York rivals, NYCFC. There's not a whole lot to analyze from this game aside from NYC's utter lack of defense, offense, goalkeeping and everything in between. Not sure there is anything more to take from this game than this:

New York gave up four goals off of corners and managed to lose 7-0. Well, New York is red, guys. Very red. Crimson.

2. The Colorado Rapids remained on the top of the league with a 1-0 victory away at Seattle. They just keep plugging along, while the Sounders continue to struggle.

3. A few weeks ago, I preached that Toronto FC would win the Supporters' Shield. I still think they will, but they've encountered some recent problems over the past couple weeks that they will have to fix.

Sebastian Giovinco hasn't scored a goal in four of the past five games. That shouldn't be all that much of an issue, but TFC has struggled to produce much offense outside of their star Italian. Giovinco had a role in each of Toronto's first ten goals, so when he stopped producing at a ridiculous rate, Toronto fell out of the sky. Of their last four matches, all at home, they've drawn two, lost one and won one, and that can be attributed to a lack of offensive depth.

With Giovinco not scoring every two seconds and Jozy Altidore out injured, TFC have failed to produce much in terms of a final product on goal. Daniel Lovitz, Tsubasa Endoh, and Mo Babouli just won't cut it.

4. The Chicago Fire bunkered their way to an ugly 1-0 home victory against the Houston Dynamo. Going on the back of a third-minute Arturo Alvarez goal, the Fire sat deep and defended the Dynamo, who struggled to do anything other than commit turnovers.

I don't think either of these teams can make the playoffs without some sort of late season push, and I don't see that happening. The Dynamo especially are quickly falling out of contention.

5. The Cali Clasico finished 1-1. While Cobi Jones and whoever Fox's third-string play-by-play guy is hyped up the rivalry like it was El Clasico all game, the LA Galaxy struggled again to put all the pieces together.

Sometimes all of the Galaxy's incredible offensive pieces work together and put together a performance that makes everyone think they'll win MLS Cup. Sometimes they play like they did on Sunday, where all of those stars seem uncomfortable and out of place in the system. It's a mystery that Bruce Arena will have to fix.

6. Sporting Kansas City are in a serious drought right now. The problem is goal-scoring.

They don't have enough players who can produce goals, plain and simple. The wingers don't make the diagonal runs in the channels needed to stretch defenses, while none of the midfielders have the ability to put it in the net themselves aside from the occasional Benny Feilhaber screamer. Once Graham Zusi, Soni Mustivar, and Matt Besler leave for the Copa America, the issues will only rise for Peter Vermes and co.