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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. LAFC

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RSL look to get their first win of 2018 against newcomers LAFC.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After drawing away to FC Dallas last week, Real Salt Lake return home to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium, in hopes of earning their first win of the season against MLS newcomers LAFC. Let’s jump in and look at a few tactical points prior to this Western Conference battle.

RSL

Now that we have all had the opportunity to relish the fact that soccer is back, let’s take a minute and review how the team performed last week against FC Dallas. According to the stats provided by MLSSoccer.com, RSL had 46.9% possession throughout the game, took 9 shots, and completed 76% of their passes throughout the game.

Those numbers are all things the team is going to be looking to improve upon, especially in a home game. Look for the team to press high to win the ball, and then try to break quickly to get opportunities on goal, similar to the goal scored last week against FC Dallas.

My prediction is that RSL will be focused on improving their passing percentage and total shot numbers from last week, and doing so will naturally bring up their possession percentage to somewhere in the 50-60% range. I would also hope to see our passing percentage north of 80%, and at least 20 shots.

One thing that I found interesting in looking through various different statistics for this article was the shot accuracy charts provided by MLSSoccer.com. Here is the chart from RSL’s game against FC Dallas last week:

RSL vs FC Dallas Shot Accuracy 03/03/2018
MLSSoccer.com

I found it interesting looking at this chart that all of RSL’s on target shots (shots on goal) came from the left side. While a single game’s performance doesn’t really give us a good look at any type of trends, I would expect that the team is going to try and spread out the attack a little further, to try and get more variety of shots on goal.

I would also expect that Savarino, who typically plays on the right side of the attack and had two shots last week (none on goal) will expect more of himself against this week’s opponents and hopefully get a couple of good looks on goal.

LAFC

Last week, LAFC went into Seattle and completed the smash and grab, coming away with a 1-0 win against last year’s MLS Cup runners-up. They scored early, and then held on desperately throughout the remainder of the game. Just how lucky were they? Take a look at the shot accuracy chart below to get an idea.

Seattle Sounders vs LAFC shot accuracy 03/04/2018
MLSSoccer.com

LAFC only took 5 shots over the entire game. Their only shot on goal throughout the entire contest produced their game winning goal. Conversely, Seattle took 22 shots during the game, forcing 7 saves from LAFC netminder Tyler Miller. If you look a little closer, you can also see that Seattle’s shots on goal came from all over the box.

Based upon the amount of opportunities Seattle had and didn’t take advantage of, it appears the LAFC’s defense is still learning each other and will give up opportunities on goal. This is punctuated by the fact that LAFC only had 40.1% of overall possession in their game, according to MLSSoccer.com. Having to defend for 60% of the game is wearing on defenders in any game, and if they have to do that again this week at altitude... let’s just say that I like those odds.

If RSL can reproduce the same kind of attacking pressure that Seattle showed against LAFC last week, they should be able to score. To reinforce this, it is interesting to note that Seattle’s expected goals (xG) against LAFC last week was 1.74 according to MLS Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle. What does that mean exactly? It means that based upon their performance and opportunities on goal, they were statistically expected to score 1.74 goals in the game. Now obviously no one can score a fraction of a goal in any game, but the statistic kind of gives you an idea of how a team performed overall in a given game. To have an xG of 1.74 goals and not score is an outlier, not a normal occurrence. With similar attacking pressure, RSL should be able to score against LAFC.

Tactical Focus: Defensive Midfield

I believe that this game will be won or lost in the midfield. The play of Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach on Saturday are going to go a long way in helping determine the outcome of the match. As has been talked about on the Soapbox throughout the past week, it appeared that Kyle and Damir were occupying a lot of similar positions on the field throughout the game.

I think that this is a testament to the quality of both players and their ability to read the game. As they continue to work together and get to know each other’s tendencies more, I would expect them to be able to combine very well together and strengthen the defensive midfield for RSL. This should also give them both good opportunities to help spring RSL quickly into attack.

After all, it was Damir that sent a great ball through the midfield to Albert Rusnak immediately prior to Rusnak’s assist to Joao Plata on the opening goal last week. If Kyle and Damir can work well together on Saturday, I believe that we all have faith in our attacking players to put a few balls in the back of the net on Saturday.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Barry, Horst Glad, Phillips

MID: Beckerman, Kreilach

MID: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: L. Silva

RSL’s Keys to the Match

  1. Control the Midfield. If Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach can work together as discussed above, they will simultaneously be able to take pressure of of the defensive unit as well as provide early opportunities to spring the team into attack.
  2. Improve passing accuracy. If RSL is able to complete a higher percentage of their passes and therefore retain a larger amount of the overall possession of the game, they should have a good chance to end the day with their first win in the 2018 season.