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Snow Problem: Real Salt Lake Channel "Mentality" in Wintry Classic vs. LAFC

March 2, 2024, by Casey Dunau | Courtesy of www.mlssoccer.com




First, there was a weather delay pushing back the start of Real Salt Lakevs. LAFC two hours.


Then, four minutes after play began, there was lightning in the area and a second delay.


Finally, at 5 pm ET, three hours after the originally scheduled start time, the match began in earnest.


The weather got arguably crazier from there.


Thunderstorms made way for driving snow at America First Field in Sandy, Utah and the home side, perhaps more familiar with the wintry conditions, took the match to their Cali counterparts, scoring three first-half goals to secure a 3-0 win.


“It’s about mentality. You don’t prepare by training in it, right?” RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni told reporters postmatch of the adverse weather. “And I think the team that quickly adapts to the circumstances around them and controls the controllables has a better chance in it.


“It wasn't easy for either team ... so just a real credit to the players and the mindset to not allow circumstances beyond their control to affect them.”


LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo, speaking after the three-goal defeat, was less philosophical, calling the snowfall “impossible” to play in and saying he “felt terrible for the players" who had to endure it.


But from Mastroeni’s perspective, once the two coaches and the referee agreed to play in the snow, there was little chance the game would be called off midway through due to accumulation. And as it became clear the ground cover would only deepen in the second half, he reminded his side to “not play [the ball] backwards” – lest it slow up in the snow for an easy interception – and to “get underneath those forward passes.”


“Obviously, a lot easier said than done,” Mastroeni reflected on those halftime instructions. “I don't know how these guys were able to pass it from A to B. I couldn't even walk in the snow, let alone pass the ball.”


Cherundolo took a more passive approach to his coaching in the second half, frustrated even further by visibility challenges: “You couldn't see anything. I think I threw more snowballs at [assistant coach] Ante [Razov] than I did watch the game.”


Gómez shines


For all the agreed-upon difficulty of the weather, two players hailing from the tropical climate of Colombia made the difference for RSL: Andrés Gómez and Cristian Arango.


Gómez in particular had a breakout performance, tallying two goals and assisting a third scored by Arango.


“[Last year], Gómez was a player that would score four or five goals in training, and it wouldn't translate to the game,” said Mastroeni of the 21-year-old winger who’s now doubled his goal total from 2023.


“And it takes a game like this to build that belief that when he's in front of goal, he is going to score."


By the time Arango slid in to score RSL's third goal before half – an action that took him well past the end line as he continued gliding across the snow long after making contact with the ball – the match was virtually out of reach.


Snow angels ensued, and the joyful celebration summed up much of Salt Lake’s approach to the match: dogged positivity in the face of adversity.


“The guys were kind of just all about vibing. Being up for it,” said RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath of the locker room feeling during the pre-match delays. “We knew that our mentality was going to be huge in the game, and I think we proved that.”




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