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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. Portland Timbers

In RSL’s final regular season game, the Claret and Cobalt travel to Portland with their playoff fate to play for.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday afternoon in Portland, Oregon, Real Salt Lake will stop on the field at Providence Park for their 34th and final regular season game of the 2018 season. We all know what is at stake: Win, and you’re into the playoffs. That is certainly the mentality that the club and players are projecting in the run-up to this game, which is good to see. What lineup and tactical adjustments will we see in this game? Let’s talk about a few thoughts!

Real Salt Lake

As I went back and reviewed the last RSL-Portland game, I noticed a few things that I wanted to point out. First and foremost, I felt that the team came out flat and didn’t play with a lot of energy through large portions of the game. Secondly, it seemed like we had a particularly difficult time tracking runners, especially later runs coming out of the midfield.

As far as reasons for the team coming out flat, I can’t really speak to the cause of that. I’m sure that the players and coaches can address that among themselves, so I will just mention it and move on.

On the topic of tracking runs, I do have a few thoughts. On Portland’s first goal, the defense started to track the goalscorer’s run, but slowed up and got beat to the ball. On the second and third goals, it was runs out of the midfield not being tracked that led to conceding. In all three situations, it appeared to me that RSL just got turned around and lost track of their defensive responsibilities for a moment. I am confident that Mike Petke and Co. will have gone over all of the game tape and addressed the issues they have identified. Petke himself admitted that he got outcoached in that game, which happens to everyone sometimes.

One of the things that I like about Petke is that he seems to learn very quickly and come up with good game plans to respond after losses. I know there is a lot of doom and gloom out there about how he does some things, but I believe that he will have the team tactically ready to go out and defeat the Timbers. The onus is going to be on the players to execute the tactical plan and to play with heart. If they are able to consistently execute the tactical plan for 90 minutes, I believe that we will see them come out with a win.

One of the things that I think we will see as a part of the tactical plan is the same kind of fast interplay on the left wing that led to Savarino’s goal. The Timbers seemed to be playing pretty narrow for most of the game, and most of the action out on the wing became 1 on 1 defending. If we can overload that wing and get more good interplay going, I believe that we will see more goals scored.

Portland Timbers

The Portland Timbers have the struggle of having to prepare for this game feeling like they have a distinct advantage. Mentally, it is going to be easier for them to let up a little bit in the run up to the game because they will feel like they should win easily. They just defeated RSL 4-1 at the RioT and now are at home on good rest against a team that played two days prior. It very quickly becomes a trap game for them. I will be interested to see what their body language looks like through the first 10-15 minutes of the game, as I believe that will be very telling for the rest of the match.

Tactically, I don’t expect to see Portland do much different from what they did at the RioT. They are going to play a little deeper, concede a little bit of possession and then look to pull us apart on the counter. Our midfield is going to be key in properly defending the counter. Our defenders typically do a good job of heading off the initial counterattack, so I really think the battle is going to be won or lost based upon our midfield. If the midfield can stay on top of their defensive responsibilities throughout 90 minutes, we have a great chance of winning this game.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando
DF: Lennon, Onouha, Glad, Herrera
MF: Beckerman, Sunny
MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata
ST: Kreilach

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Balance in the midfield. Staying balanced and being prepared for the inevitable counter attack from Portland should allow our midfielders to have much better success in tracking late attacking runs.
  2. Score early, score often. If RSL can go out and get 1 or 2 early goals, much as they did against the Revs on Thursday, then they likely could just put this game to bed early. Look for the attack to be aggressive and force Portland to scramble defensively in the first 10-15 minutes of the game.