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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. D.C. United

Back at home and with a shortened injury list, will RSL be able to get a win over bottom of the table DC United?

MLS: Real Salt Lake at D.C. United Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

For their tenth game in the 2018 MLS season, Real Salt Lake return home after a disappointing two game road trip in which they failed to gain a single point to take on DC United. What does RSL need to do to get back to winning ways against the team currently at the bottom of the MLS standings? Let’s go over a few points.

Real Salt Lake

Oh, what might have been. Through roughly 60 minutes last week, RSL looked in control, creating multiple chances and standing firm defensively. They had a goal, had hit the post twice, and were continuing to press forward in the attack. And then in a few short minutes the entire thing unraveled, and the Claret and Cobalt could not recover.

The issue in that game was finishing. RSL did not quite have the finishing touch necessary to put balls in the back of the net. With 9 shots on goal, RSL scored one, and forced Orlando’s keeper into 8 saves, a couple of which were extremely difficult. The Claret and Cobalt also put two shots off the post, mere inches from being additional goals.

We also saw that RSL’s young defense played well, but were not able to sustain that play for a full 90 minutes and conceded multiple goals again. At some point a conversation needs to be had about which players are playing in these defensive roles. I completely understand that in Petke’s system, having forward thinking, attacking fullbacks is beneficial. However, I do feel that the “attacking mindset” is taking away from what should be a defender’s first and primary focus: defending. Both Lennon and Ruiz have filled in at fullback fairly decently, but the fact remains that neither of them are natural defenders, nor do they have a lot of experience defending. Thus far, we have seen this burn the team multiple times. Is it time for RSL to think about playing healthy, natural defenders such as Adam Henley and Danny Acosta in their preferred positions? It’s definitely worth the conversation.

On the bright side, we have now seen two games in a row where the RSL attack is right on the cusp of greatness. It appears as if the front four combination of Rusnak, Plata, Savarino, and Corey Baird are really starting to connect and play well together. Those four have started the last two games together now, and as they have done so we have seen a marked improvement in the appearance of play from the attack. Will the third time be the charm tonight? I believe that it will be, and I advocate for the attacking four to remain the same. I know a lot of people are upset that we are paying Alfredo Ortuno a lot of money to not be on the field, but until Corey Baird shows that he doesn’t belong on the field or Ortuno shows that he deserves it more, I agree with Petke that Baird should be playing.

D.C. United

Due to the building of a new stadium that is set to open later this year, D.C. United have started the season with a very road heavy schedule. 5 of their first 7 games have been on the road, and the road trip doesn’t end anytime soon. Through their 7 games, D.C. have complied a record of 1-4-2, good for 5 points and last place in the Eastern Conference. In those games, they have scored 8 goals and conceded 13 for a -5 goal differential.

This season, D.C. has been playing a flat 4-1-4-1 formation with either Patrick Mullins or for Vancouver and Portland speedster Darren Mattocks at the point of the attack and playmaker Luciano Acosta playing centrally underneath them. Mattocks leads the team so far this season with 3 goals scored, and Acosta has added 2 assists so far in 2018. They play a counterattacking game, as evidenced by the fact that they have a season average of only 44.8% possession in games. This is something that Real Salt Lake is going to have to be very away of, as they have been very susceptible to the counterattack throughout the season thus far.

One thing to note is that D.C.’s defense has been giving up goals. Through 7 games, they have given up 13 goals, which comes to almost two goals per game. Their defense can be beat, and their offense has not found a way to cover the defensive lapses. In this manner, they are very similar to RSL so far in 2018.

What do I expect from this game? Based upon how RSL has been playing the last few games, I expect them to come out swinging, looking to dominate possession and get a statement win to show that their offense has arrived. I also expect that they are going to have to work hard defensively to make that happen. We have seen the last two games that our offense is not going to win us games alone. We have to improve defensively, and I believe that will be addressed.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Lennon, Glad, Besler, Ruiz

MID: Beckerman, Kreilach

MID: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: Baird

RSL’s Keys to the Match

  1. Attackers attack, defenders defend, help out when you can. RSL’s attack has been improving, and I believe that they will continue to do so. Against a counterattacking team like D.C., RSL is going to have to be committed to getting back defensively when they lose the ball. Defenders are going to have to remember that they are responsible to defend! Help out offensively when you can, but make sure you can always get back to help with the defense.
  2. Show control of the game on your home pitch. RSL is going to need to continue to play as they have the last two weeks. The common description of the team this year is that they have plenty of talent, and it just all needs to come together for a solid performance. We have begun to see those types of performances, though they have not yet presented in the form of victories. If RSL can control the game and play as they have, I expect that they should be able to secure a victory. I am going to go out on a limb and predict a 3-1 RSL victory tonight. Agree or Disagree? Let us know in the comments!