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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. FC Dallas

RSL is set to open the 2018 season against an FC Dallas team struggling to find an identity.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Hey everyone, MLS is back! The 2018 season is here, and RSL will be looking to start of this season with the same type of play they closed the 2017 season with. The team posted an 8-3-4 record to close out the 2017 season, and will surely look to play in much the same way to continue that fantastic form. The first hurdle of the 2018 season? An away date with FC Dallas.

Real Salt Lake

The 2018 offseason has been pretty good for RSL. They were able to sign several new players in needed positions, which look to be good compliments to the starting core from 2017. Key signings include right backs Adam Henley and Homegrown Aaron Herrera, box-to-box midfielders Damir Kreilach and Pablo Ruiz, and forwards Alfredo Ortuno and Corey Baird. Craig Waibel and his team signed these players with Mike Petke’s vision for the team in mind, so the hope is that they will be the kind of players that fit well with the team’s tactical philosophy.

Preseason practice and play saw RSL continuing to build upon the successful attacking play of attacking trio Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak, and Jefferson Savarino. Early in preseason there was a little bit of a scare as both Rusnak and Savarino missed some time due to sickness/minor injuries, but they both recovered quickly and integrated back into preseason preparation. RSL posted a 2-1-1 record in preseason play, with wins against LA Galaxy and NYCFC bookending a draw with the San Jose Earthquakes and a loss to Orlando City SC. If preseason play is any indication, look for RSL to continue the same attack oriented, possession based soccer they were playing at the end of the 2017 season. RSL will come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with attack minded overlapping fullbacks, Kyle Beckerman shielding the back line as a true number 6, Albert Rusnak pulling the strings and Plata and Savarino terrorizing the wings.

It may just be that RSL will need to play at the high level of 2017 in order come out of this opening game with a win. RSL has historically struggled playing in Texas, with losses being the norm. However, RSL fans can take hope in the fact that the team has gotten results in Texas before and will be looking to do so again.

FC Dallas

FC Dallas started out the 2017 season looking good and playing very well. But as the summer months rolled around, things began to change and FC Dallas slumped into a collapse that was described by MLS Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle as “unprecedented”. They ended up finishing 7th in the Western Conference, just 1 point above RSL. It appears that FC Dallas has recommitted to their youth movement, as well as bringing in a few new players in an attempt to hit the reset button and start this season off on a better foot than the 2017 season ended.

In the past, FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja has played his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This preseason, however, the team has been experimenting with different formations, including playing in 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formations. It appears that they might be headed toward a full time implementation of one of these formations for the 2018 season. This appearance is bolstered by the fact that FC Dallas played the 3-5-2 formation from the start of their Wednesday CCL game against Tauro FC. Regardless, the formation they will play and tactics they will use against RSL are somewhat in question coming into the game. If they come out in the 3-5-2 formation that most people expect them to be shifting to this year, look for Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino to be set loose out on the wings, using their speed out wide to take advantage of the FC Dallas defense.

As part of their offseason makeover, FC Dallas went out and spent DP money on a new forward, Santiago Mosquera. There are high hopes in Frisco that he will be able to come in and be the offensive spark they need to pair with fellow forward Maxi Urruti, as well as playmaker Mauro Diaz, who is returning to the team following an injury-riddled season in 2017. Will he be an impact player for FC Dallas? He may well be the difference between a turnaround season and another slump in form. The team started preseason looking good offensively, failed to score and looked poor offensively in the first leg of their CCL matchup with Tauro FC, but then had a better night in the second leg, scoring 3 goals but exiting the competition on away goals. It seems like consistency may be what FC Dallas will be searching for over the first part of the season.

Also on the player front, FC Dallas will be without the services of their outstanding Defensive Midfielder, Kellyn Acosta, who recently underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia and is not expected to return for several weeks. Acosta played his way into the USMNT picture over the past 12 months, so his absence from the squad will definitely be felt in the FC Dallas midfield and defense. Pair this with a retooled back line featuring multiple new defenders that are still learning and adjusting to each other, and it may be just the recipe that RSL needs to start their season off right.

Another factor that will affect this game is the fact that FC Dallas played the second leg of their CCL tie against Tauro FC on Wednesday night in Frisco. They started their projected starters in this game, which brings in possible questions of fitness among the squad. With only 3 days rest, it is quite likely that FC Dallas will either have to play a second choice lineup against the Claret and Cobalt, or risk tired legs against a well-rested and well-prepared RSL squad.

Expected Lineup

Real Salt Lake - 4-2-3-1

GK: Rimando

DF: Herrera, Glad, M. Silva, Phillips

MID: Beckerman, Mulholland

MID: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: L. Silva

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Remain organized defensively. If the Justen Glad-led back line of RSL can stay organized and keep the game in front of them, they may well be able to keep FC Dallas from scoring and give themselves an excellent chance to come home from Texas with 3 points in their pockets.
  2. Exploit the weaknesses and miscommunications that have plagued FC Dallas’ defense in preseason. With multiple new defenders on the back line and Kellyn Acosta’s absense from his usual position of shielding the back line, there will be opportunities for RSL to spring their attack and get great looks on goal. If they can convert those chances, I would expect them to come away with a win in the opening game of 2018.