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Defensive Breakdown: How did RSL do against Seattle?

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

After a defensive capitulation the previous week, all eyes were on Real Salt Lake’s back five against a strong Seattle Sounders line-up.

Aaron Maund and Jamison Olave, especially, must have been feeling the pressure at the Rio Tinto before the game, but should be applauded for not letting this affect them too much.

The First 27

The game started off a little slow for RSL, with sloppy passes constantly turning over possession and a lot of ball-chasing going on, enabling Seattle to take control in the first ten minutes, with a pleasant array of passing to please the travelling supporters.

I, for one, expected our center-backs to look a little nervous early on. However, some confident touches and tackles by Olave and Maund helped settle those nerves.

The first notable error came twelve minutes in, when Jordan Morris cut a ball back from the by-line and Kyle Beckerman slid in to clear the ball away in the box. However, the ball was spiked up into the air and fell to Wingert, who attempted an overhead kick to stop it going out for a corner, but only succeeded in setting up Nelsen Valdez, who pulled off an extravagant bicycle kick that, fortunately, failed to challenge Rimando.

RSL began growing into the game, holding onto the ball much better, which helped the defense to remain solid.

Seattle's Goal

In the 28th minute, Seattle played some good passes in midfield. Sunny made a rare error of leaving his man, Andreas Ivanschitz, in order to tackle Alonso, who’s already under pressure from Jordan Allen. Sometimes you have to do this to stop the player advancing, but watching the highlights, I felt Allen was doing well to challenge Alonso here. This left Ivanschitz free, who was able to pick up the ball in space.

Two-on-one

Meanwhile, Tony Beltran was drawn into a very narrow position by Clint Dempsey, leaving a huge space down the left wing for Seattle. It’s hard to criticise Beltran for this because Seattle were playing with three forwards, meaning the full-backs will be playing narrow from time-to-time, and you’d probably rather have someone man-marking Dempsey than letting him roam around in space. That's an upside of playing 4-3-3 in attack.

Real Salt Lake were playing 4-2-3-1, with Beckerman and Sunny at the base of the middle five and Allen at the top behind Movsisyan. With Seattle playing 4-3-3, somebody needs to be watching the full-backs, and in this 4-2-3-1 formation, that needs to be the wide players.

Here, the left-back, Joevin Jones, isn’t being tracked by a wide player, and so has a lot of space down the wing. (Real Salt Lake also managed to exploit this in the 2nd half when Wingert fired in a low cross for Burrito.)

Look at all that lovely space

With six v. six, Beltran did the right thing by sprinting out to Jones, to stop him from getting a cross into the area. But there was too much ground to make up, and Jones whipped in a great delivery.

Ivanschitz used his pace to get across Olave and met the ball first, directing it towards Rimando.

In my opinion, Olave could have done more here to challenge for the ball and get his body in the way. However, in the lead up to the cross (see image above), Maund was marking Ivanschitz, so you have to wonder if there was a failure in communication between the two center-backs. If Maund failed to warn Olave about the on-rushing forward, you can’t really blame him for not seeing the Austrian coming from behind and nipping in front.

Rimando did what he could, palming the ball away from the goal, but the biggest error was leaving Osvaldo Alonso unmarked at the back post to finish the job.

Stealth mode enabled

It seems Beckerman is to blame for this one. He was left spare on the edge of the box when there were two opposing players near him. He failed to pick up either of them and Alonso ghosted behind everyone to tap in the rebound.

It seems odd for an experienced midfielder to ignore the whereabouts of another experienced midfielder. But I’ll put this one down to a momentary lapse in concentration.

A Whole Lot Olave

It looked like it was going to be another day to forget for the Real Salt Lake defenders, but they remained solid throughout the match. The defense allowed only three more shots after Seattle's goal, while RSL went on to have nine. Sunny’s goal and then a winner from that man, Olave, showed that we do indeed have the ability to beat good teams. And I’m pleased for Olave, as I’m sure he’s won back some fans after a few defensive errors over the last three matches.

I thought Beltran also had a decent performance, putting in some good tackles and getting forward as often as possible. I'd be surprised if Philips came straight back into the team following his suspension, as Wingert did enough on the left to warrant another start and, you know, didn't get sent off.

Hot Take Alert

Having Sunny playing in front of them the whole game and not being reduced to ten men helped the back line this week. The win will boost their confidence and we can only hope they carry this form into the Timbers game.