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Tactical Preview: RSL vs Colorado Rapids

Will a rivalry game bring a better performance from the team as they look to bounce back from another large loss?

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

After taking the time to process and work through the large loss they suffered last week, RSL’s next game on the schedule, a rivalry game against Colorado for an early lead in the race for the Rocky Mountain Cup may be just what the doctor ordered for the team. Nothing brings out emotion in players and fans like rivalry games do, so everyone is going to be expecting RSL to come out and win. How can they do that? Let’s take a look.

Real Salt Lake

Through 6 games in the 2018 season, RSL have 7 points with 6 goals scored and 14 goals allowed. Looking at those numbers, what RSL needs to do is obvious; score more and concede less. So simple, right? Today I want to dive into how the team can work together to achieve those goals and come out with a win.

The first thing I noticed when watching the last game against NYCFC was how poor we were on the ball throughout the entire game. The after game statistics back this up too: RSL had only 36% possession in the entire game, and had a passing completion percentage of 70% according to whoscored.com. This has to change if RSL is going to end up with a successful season.

Another thing that needs to change? Individual commitment to defense and attack. We talked about last week how the tactical change of having Damir Kreilach further up the pitch helped connect the defense to the attack, and how that tactical shift was necessary to helping RSL play better. I still stand by this opinion, though I now have to and a caveat to it; Kreilach or whoever else is playing the #8 position still has to get back and defend when necessary. Nothing displays this more perfectly than NYCFC’s first goal last week. If you watch the sequence closely, you see Kreilach begin to track the goalscorer’s run toward the box from the midfield, but then you see Kreilach just stop following the run and completely ball watch as the goal is scored by the man he was supposed to be tracking back with. Was it just a mistake or was it just laziness? I’ve tried to give Kreilach the benefit of the doubt as he adjusts to the league, but this one looked and felt a lot more like laziness. Is it enough to see Kreilach on the bench this game? Luke Mulholland did train fully all this week.... so we will have to see.

Another important thing to watch is going to be how RSL handles yet another injury to their back line, after word came out yesterday that David Horst is dealing with a knee issue that is going to keep him out for at least this weekend. This puts us in the position to start yet another player at centerback with Justen Glad. Who will it be and what kind of communication and understanding between the centerbacks will we see? My guess is that Nick Besler will get the start at centerback, as he has been playing that position for the Monarchs in recent weeks. He has the pedigree and understanding to play the position, so it will be interesting to see if that is what happens. Regardless, RSL is going to have to buckle down and be committed defensively to help their makeshift back line stand up to the challenge.

Colorado Rapids

Colorado come into this game one point ahead of RSL, sitting at 8 points through five games with 9 goals scored and 5 conceded. Colorado seem to be having a good start to the year behind new manager Anthony Hudson and an excellent run of play from forward Dominique Badji, who has scored 4 goals in 5 games to lead the team.

The Rapids line up in a 3-5-2 formation that give them good ability to play well in the midfield. Given RSL’s recent struggles in the midfield, I would fully expect this to continue. That being said, they have not thus far been a team that wants to control the run of play with their midfield players, as they are only averaging 44.3% of possession in their games. Despite that, they are averaging 1.8 goals per game, which shows that they are doing a good job of creating goal scoring opportunities and scoring goals even without a majority of possession.

I want to talk a little bit more about the play of Dominique Badji, who has truly led Colorado’s resurgence thus far in the 2018 season. He plays fast and smart, and is able to get behind the defense with the ball with an alarming regularity. Against Toronto last week, I counted at least 4 opportunities where Badji got behind the defense with the ball, 2 of which forced good saves from Toronto’s keeper and 1 of which led to the penalty that iced that game. He has been the key to their offensive play thus far, and as such will have to be marked closely throughout the game. Justen Glad has the skill and ability to defend even the best forwards in this league, and he is definitely going to have his work cut out for him on this one.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DEF: Lennon, Besler, Glad, Henley

MID: Beckerman, Mulholland

MID: Savarino, Rusnak, Baird

ST: L. Silva

RSL’s Keys to the Match

  1. Work together to protect the back line. With a makeshift back line sure to be a talking point of this game, RSL are going to have to be committed to playing defensively first before looking to getting into the attack.
  2. Take advantage of scoring opportunities. If RSL hope to turn this season around, they are going to have to find ways to start scoring. If the team can play together to create good scoring opportunities, then we will see the goals come. If they keep playing individually as they have been for large stretches so far this season, it may be a long season yet for RSL fans.