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Tactical Preview: RSL vs Seattle Sounders

Can RSL find the cure to their road woes against a Seattle team similarly struggling with injuries and aging stars?

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

After yet another large defeat on the road against Philadelphia last week, RSL now turns their attention to the first of two meetings in quick succession with the Seattle Sounders. This game is a matchup of two teams that are both struggling with multiple injuries and aging stars. What might we expect from each team as they take the field for a Saturday afternoon matinee? Read on!

Real Salt Lake

As I mentioned above, RSL still has not found any kinds of answers to their road woes this season. In just 6 games on the road in 2018, RSL has conceded 17 goals, just short of a three goals conceded per game on the road. What is causing them to concede so regularly? Different people have different opinions on that, with some people blaming an inconsistent center back pairing, some people saying it’s because we are playing two converted fullbacks instead of natural defenders, and still others claiming it’s all because of the midfield play. The truth of the matter is it is probably some of all three of those things, combining together at all the wrong times to continually cause defensive issues for the Claret and Cobalt.

I have talked previously about some of the issues that we have had with the fullbacks throughout the season, and I still believe some of those issues are present. Today I want to talk about the midfield. It has been frustrating to me to see multiple goals scored this year by players making runs out of the midfield that are not being tracked by our midfielders. If our midfielders aren’t willing or able to track attacking runs coming out of the midfield, then we need to find someone who is willing and able to do so to play those positions. I honestly think that RSL has done a lot over the last couple of years to upgrade both the defense and the attack, and has done very little to bring in new midfield players to compete for minutes and develop at the MLS level.

To illustrate this point, I want to break down the Union’s second goal against us last Saturday with a few photos.

RSL vs Philadelphia Union 05/19/2018
MLSSoccer.com

Here we see the start of the Union attack. Pablo Ruiz has stepped into the midfield to challenge the ball, all three of the remaining defenders are in good defensive positions against a single forward, and Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach are beginning their recovery runs to help the defenders out. This should be a situation the defense can handle, with 6 RSL defenders working against 4 Union attackers moving forward.

RSL vs Philadelphia Union, 05/19/2018
MLSSoccer.com

Here we see that the ball has been played into some space, forcing the defense to start to adjust. At this point we can see the defensive responsibilities become clear. Marcelo Silva is responsible to shift over and challenge the ball. Justen Glad is now individually responsible to track the striker. Adam Henley is responsible for the runner going down the left wing. Damir Kreilach is responsible for the runner coming through the midfield. Kyle Beckerman is responsible to cover the remaining midfield space from additional runners.

RSL vs Philadelphia Union, 05/19/2018
MLSSoccer.com

And here we can see the breakdown that leads to the goal. Kreilach failed to track the runner through the midfield, leaving an easy ball to be played into space for the eventual goalscorer. Nick Rimando is trapped in no man’s land and tries to come out and make a play, but to no avail. Goal, Philadelphia Union. If you don’t track runs through the midfield, you will get scored on. And that is exactly what has happened to RSL on multiple occasions this season.

Here is what MLSSoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle had to say about this play and about RSL’s play in general in his weekend preview:

“It’s becoming more and more apparent by the week that Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach can not play together without getting carved up because neither has any kind of footspeed. If this was circa 2013 RSL – a team that kept the game small and tight, that constantly used the ball to create angles and meaningful possession – they could probably pull it off.

But that’s not how they play. They’re a “spread the field and run at ‘em” team when they have the ball, which means any turnover is an existential crisis. And while it’s undeniably true that RSL aren’t 2013 RSL, it’s undeniably-er true that MLS isn’t 2013 MLS. Teams are better and smarter and even the bottom of the barrel can go HAM if you don’t track through the midfield.”

What I am interested to see, both in this game and the next two games to come in this three game week, is what Mike Petke’s squad rotation looks like. My hope is that we see some of the younger players come in and make positive impacts on the games that they play in, forcing Petke to make some more difficult decisions on who to play in the future.

Seattle Sounders

Seattle have only played 9 games so far this season, posting a 2-5-2 record good for 8 points and a tie for last place in the Western Conference. They have scored 11 goals and conceded 17 in that 9 game span. Similar to RSL, the Sounders have had a lot of injury struggles. They currently have six players on the injury report, according to MLSSoccer.com:

OUT: F - Jordan Morris (torn ACL), M - Victor Rodriguez (right knee arthroscopy), D - Roman Torres (right hamstring strain), M - Osvaldo Alonso (left quad strain), F - Will Bruin (left heel pain); QUESTIONABLE: M - Nicolas Lodeiro (toe fracture)

There are some hefty names for Seattle on that list. Combine that with a drop in performance from USMNT star Clint Dempsey (0 goals, 1 assist in 2018) and you can understand why the Sounders are currently sitting at the bottom of the table.

As far as formation, Seattle have been playing an unconventional 5-4-1 setup with Clint Dempsey either playing as the point striker or one of the attacking midfielders. Despite this defensive formation, Seattle are still allowing goals as mentioned above. RSL will have their opportunities to score, if they can take advantage of them. On the flip side, Seattle are going to have a lot of runners coming from the midfield in the attack that the Claret and Cobalt are going to have to track in order to keep the Sounders from scoring. How RSL reacts to this formation will be key in determining whether they can come out of this game with a positive result.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Lennon, Glad, M. Silva, Ruiz

MF: Beckerman, Kreilach

MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Track midfield runners on the break. Seattle are going to have plenty of runners coming out of the midfield due to their formation and style of play. Managing those runners is going to have to be RSL’s first goal in defending the counterattack.
  2. Take advantage of opportunities. RSL’s attack has been playing well, and will get opportunities against a Sounders defense that is allowing goals. Key to RSL’s hopes of breaking their road curse and earning a positive result on the road is scoring, and scoring regularly.