Despite appointing Mike Petke as the fourth manager in club history, Daryl Shore will once again be at the helm for Real Salt Lake. Shore lead the Claret-and-Cobalt to a 0-0 draw against the New York Red Bulls last week and he will be hoping he can once again rely on a strong defensive performance.
Playing against an expansion side that has suffered from defensive lapses, could this be the week that the RSL attack finally adds to their single goal tally?
Minnesota United has conceded more goals in their first four matches than any other expansion side - 18 and counting. The Loons have found nearly every scenario difficult to defend against, but have most significantly suffered from counter-attacks down the wing.
Similar to how RSL played in the diamond 4-4-2, Minnesota keep a tight formation down the center of the pitch. The Loons prefer numbers to defensive skill as they clog up the most direct route to goal. Because of their tight, central mass, the Minnesota fullbacks are often left stranded, trying to deal with multiple attackers to either side of their box.
To make matters worse, the Loons lose the majority of aerial duels and make a large number of individual defensive errors.
Bottom line, Minnesota United are a defensive catastrophe.
What to watch
Like the Red Bulls last week, Minnesota is strong down the center of the spine but weak near the touchlines. Therefore, employing natural wide players, the Claret-and-Cobalt should find it easy cutting their way through the Loons’ defense.
While RSL might not need technical genius on the wings to win this match, Real should look to shuttle the ball up the touchlines before getting it to the feet (or head) of central attackers. The play along the touchline should be pacey shuttler type movements more than creative holdup play if the Claret-and-Cobalt want to punish the Loons.
Finding success amidst complications
While Minnesota’s defense have had their struggles publicized by nearly every outlet, their offense play has gone mostly under the radar.
The Seattle Sounders, for instance, have scored six goals and had their attack called the “most dangerous in the league,” but, somewhat ironically, the Loons’ players have scored just as many.
Between Kevin Molino and Christian Ramirez, the Minnesota attacking corps has scored 300 percent more goals than the entirety of the RSL squad.
The Minnesota attackers are good finishers and not deterred by their side being down on the scoreboard.
What to watch
Despite Sunny getting criticized in the Twitter sphere, he did a good job at breaking up attacking play of the New York Red Bulls. With Beckerman out that match, I would expect that he has earned a start against the Loons.
With Kyle Beckerman will be back after serving his one-match suspension, the captain will almost certainly be tasked with breaking up play that could potentially find its way to the feet of Ramirez. That means that Molino, Johan Venegas, and Miguel Ibarra will all be in the cross-hairs of RSL’s own midfield destroyer.
Therefore, Sunny will be re-purposed as the box-to-box midfielder again. That means he will have to cleanup his passing and work in the slightest of space - if he doesn’t do so to the satisfactory of Shore, the interim head coach will certain have Luke Mulholland ready to come in for him.
Keys to the Match
1. Playing down the wings – Once again, RSL will need to use their wide players to avoid a cramped midfield. Both the wingers and the fullbacks should be looking to whip in balls into the opponent’s box when given any space.
2. Keeping defensively compact – The Claret-and-Cobalt played compact against the Red Bulls and should employ the same tactics against the Loons. The RSL defenders should be content letting Minnesota have the ball behind the center circle and not over press the opposition in their half. However, as soon as that ball crosses the halfway point, make sure they are aware of the defensive presence.
3. Building towards a Road win – It is often said that clubs should play for three at home and one on the road. While this is not exclusively used to describe Major League Soccer, road points are increasingly hard to come by in the Western Conference. Having snapped a six match road losing streak last week at Red Bull Arena, RSL might have their best chance of the season to secure three points against a Western Conference foe.
Expected Minnesota United Lineup (4-2-3-1):
DEF: Thiesson, Demidov, Calvo, Davis
MID: Warner, Shuller
MID: Molino, Venegas, Ibarra
Watch RSL take on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday April 1st at 6:00 pm MST on KMYU or listen to Bill Riley on ESPN 700.