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Tactical Preview: RSL vs Vancouver Whitecaps

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Can Mike Petke make the changes needed to see RSL take a much needed 3 points this Saturday?

RSL has a problem. We as fans of the team all know it, and there has been much discussion regarding exactly what the problem(s) are over the last few days. RSL head coach Mike Petke knows there is a problem also. He said exactly that in the after game press conference following RSL’s 3-1 loss at Toronto. He also vowed to make the necessary changes to ensure that the team’s current form does not continue. Coming into this week, it seems like a shakeup of the team in on the menu. Let’s take a look at what we might expect from this match from a tactical standpoint.

Real Salt Lake

Mentality. Mentality has been Mike Petke’s word of choice over the past week in describing what needs to happen for the team to be successful. As I have listened to and watched Mike’s various comments over the past week, I think I have started to piece together a little bit of what I think he is thinking. Reading between the lines, it appears that he has reached a breaking point with a few of the players on the team, and is ready to make some changes to the lineup to get his message across. In this week’s episode of the Mike Petke coaches show, he gave a vague telling of his time with the New York Red Bulls and the decision he made there to bench superstar Thierry Henry for the betterment of the team. The way he told the story seemed to clearly indicate to me that he is seeing the same types of behaviors from a few of the RSL players that he saw from Henry before he was benched. And if Petke has the guts to bench Henry, you can fully expect that he has the guts to bench any RSL players that are having a negative effect on the goals and play of the team.

So tactically speaking, what does this mean for the team and what we might see on Saturday against Vancouver? I honestly don’t think that the tactics of how Mike Petke wants to play the game are going to change. Mike has stated time and time again that he knows how he wants his teams to play soccer. We also know that when the team is playing soccer the way he wants them to play, they are among the best in the league. Formation and tactics are not the issue in my opinion. I expect RSL to come out in their same 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 formation and look to create scoring opportunities via possession with purpose.

What I do expect to change is some of the players who start the game on the field. We have clearly seen over the past few weeks that players like Corey Baird and Brooks Lennon are hungry to come in and give their all on the field. That is the kind of thing that Mike Petke likes to see and I believe that is going to translate to additional playing time for these players. Based upon his performances the last two weeks for both Real Monarchs and Real Salt Lake, I fully expect Corey Baird to start for Real Salt Lake against Vancouver. With Adam Henley returning to full training and not being listed on the injury report this week, I would expect him to replace Brooks Lennon at right back. But given Lennon’s willingness to come in and work his tail off in a position that he has limited experience playing, I would not at all be surprised to see him rewarded with an opportunity to play on the wing again.

I also think that our midfield needs an injection of the heart the Luke Mulholland brings with him every time he steps on the field. He is listed as questionable on the injury report, but if he is fit to play then I think he has a good chance of seeing some minutes in the number 8 box to box midfielder position. This should give RSL a better opportunity of not being overrun in the midfield, and also do a better job of connecting the defense to the offense.

Vancouver Whitecaps

The Vancouver Whitecaps come into this game boasting a 3-1-1 record, good for 10 points and second place in the Western Conference. Two of their three wins are worth particular mention and analysis, both 2-1 wins away from home against Columbus and Houston, who are widely considered pretty decent teams this year. Taking a look at how Vancouver played in those games should give us some good insights into how they are likely to approach playing against RSL this weekend.

In the game against Houston, Vancouver held 32.6% of possession and took 7 shots the entire game. In the game against Columbus, they held 33.7% of possession and only took 5 shots the entire game. Their game plan on the road is that they are willing to give up the ball and then kill you on the counter when they have the opportunity. It has been working extremely well for them so far in 2018, so I don’t see any reason why they would do anything different against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, especially since thus far RSL has proven to be very susceptible to the counter attack.

Another thing to know about Vancouver is that thus far they have been very effective in taking advantage of their opportunities on goal. Through 5 games, the Whitecaps have only taken 14 shots on goal. Of those 14 shots on goal, 7 have resulted in goals, good for a conversion rate of 50%, which is an astronomical conversion rate for any team, and is likely not sustainable over the entire season. RSL will definitely hope that Vancouver’s scoring boots cool off sooner rather than later.

As far as how Vancouver will line up on the field, that is somewhat up in the air. Against Houston, they came out in a 4-1-4-1 lineup and against Columbus they played a 4-3-3. The main focus of either of these formations is striker Kei Kamara, who thus far has been responsible for 3 of Vancouver’s 7 goals. He will definitely be the player that the Real Salt Lake defense will have to keep an eye on at all times. Another player that RSL will need to keep an eye on is young Canadian international Alphonso Davies. He brings speed to the wings that the Claret and Cobalt are going to have to be aware of at all times. If RSL can keep solid control of these two players, it will give them a much better chance to come out of this game with a positive result.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DEF: Henley, M. Silva, Glad, Phillips

MID: Beckerman, Mulholland

MID: Lennon, Rusnak, Baird

ST: Ortuno

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Take advantage of the possession battle. Vancouver will concede possession to RSL and look to counter attack quickly when the opportunity arises. If RSL is going to be victorious in this game, they are going to have to find a way to create scoring opportunities with the possession they have.
  2. Score some goals! Thus far, RSL has scored 1 goal in each of their first 4 matches. If RSL can break through offensively and score multiple goals, it would be a huge boost to the team and their mentality. Sometimes, scoring goals and winning games can be the best medicine.