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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. Houston Dynamo

Can RSL begin to find consistency and earn back to back wins for the first time this season?

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday felt good, didn’t it? Seeing Real Salt Lake come into a road game and execute their game plan for a full 90 minutes was something I was very happy to see. Earning the full three points and a shutout away from home was an added bonus. The players came in, worked hard, stayed sharp tactically, and emerged victorious. The next step in the team’s progression of improvement? Consistency. What can RSL do to stay consistent and start their first win streak of 2018 against the Houston Dynamo? Let’s look at a few thoughts.

Real Salt Lake

There is something to be said for a group of players that know each other and have played together for a long time. They learn each other’s movements, tendencies and quirks, and they use that knowledge to move together as a unit. Take a look at this photo:

RSL’s youngsters have played together for a long time.

That’s a photo of Danny Acosta, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Brooks Lennon and Bofo Saucedo all playing together on the US U20 National Team. All told, these five players have been playing together since at least 2013, when they were all contributors to the RSL-AZ Academy team that won the USSDA National Championship that year. The great news for RSL fans is that all 5 of these players that have seen a lot of success in their young careers saw time on the field this week, and it made a big difference. The only goal of the game came from a two man game played between Danny Acosta and Bofo Saucedo. Let’s break this one down!

Here you can see the start of the play. Acosta has the ball in the middle third of the field, and you can see that there is a large pocket of space between Danny and Bofo and the rest of the team.

Acosta passes the ball out to Bofo, and then immediately makes a hard run into the open pocket of space. This shows Danny’s tactical understanding of the game, and how he can use his movement off the ball to create more space for Bofo. If Danny had done the typical overlapping run that we often see/expect from the fullback, then he would have drawn a second defender to Bofo and limited their opportunity. Thankfully, he was smart enough to recognize what was going on and made an excellent run.

Here we can see that Acosta’s hard run into space has drawn the other defenders away from Bofo, as they had to account for the run being made instead. This gave Bofo the opportunity to beat his man 1 on 1 and get into the pocket of space that is still there for him thanks to Danny’s underlapping run.

By the time Seattle’s defense realizes that Bofo is about to take the shot from distance, they have left themselves no time to react. The rest is a great display of individual skill from Saucedo, as he is able to curl the ball enough to get it past the keeper and into the back of the net.

Two things about this goal stood out to me. First, the tactical understanding from Danny Acosta is something that we have been missing. I was glad to see him back on the pitch for us, and I was even more happy to see that he appeared to be taking his shot at earning back his starting position seriously. His efforts were not unnoticed by others either, as he was named to the MLS team of the week for his performance. I hope and expect to see him in the lineup against Houston tonight based upon his last outing.

The second thing I thought about as I broke down this goal is how well Danny and Bofo know each other’s playing styles, like I mentioned above. Do I know for a fact that the only reason the goal was scored was because they know each other so well? Of course not. But I believe that their familiarity had a lot to do with it, and anybody would be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

For these reasons, I expect that we will see Acosta, Glad, Saucedo, and Lennon in the lineup again. I believe in these kids and their ability to play well together. With Rusnak’s absence due to an international call-up, if it were up to me I would move Savarino to Rusnak’s spot in the midfield, move Lennon up to the winger position, and bring Aaron Herrera in at right back. Is that the look we will see from Mike Petke? Only time will tell!

Houston Dynamo

Houston come into this game looking good following a 3-1 win over NYCFC last weekend. Through 11 games, the Dynamo have played to a record of 5-3-3, good for 18 points and 5th place in the Western Conference standings. In their 11 games, they have scored 26 goals, which is tied for the league lead, and conceded 18 goals.

The Houston attack has really found its groove in the last few weeks. In 3 of their last 4 games, they scored 3 goals. In the fourth game, they scored 2. That’s 11 goals in 4 games! Their attacking front 4 of Alberth Ellis, Tomas Martinez, Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas have accounted for a total of 18 goals and 12 assists. They are working very well together, and are going to present a big challenge for RSL’s defense in this game.

The good news is that the Dynamo defense has been allowing goals. Right now, they are playing a lot of wide open soccer, and are trying to just simply outscore their opponents. If RSL’s defense can do a good job of keeping them in check, then we might just have a chance to snag a few goals from them and get the win.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Lennon, Glad, M. Silva, Acosta

MF: Beckerman, Sunny

MF: Savarino, Kreilach, Saucedo

ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Score the first goal. Taking the lead at home puts a lot more pressure on the visiting team, forcing them to send more players forward in an attempt to get an equalizing goal. This is turn leaves them more open to the counterattack, and a second or third goal to put the game away for good.
  2. Defend as a team. In the game against Seattle we saw RSL working very well together and defending as a cohesive unit. This will be especially important against a team like the Dynamo that score a lot of goals. If the Claret and Cobalt can play with the same level of dedication and teamwork that they displayed against the Sounders, then they have the talent they need to win this game.