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USOC Tactical Preview: RSL vs Sporting Kansas City

The first meeting in 2018 for these two rival teams comes in the single elimination US Open Cup Tournament

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

As MLS teams enter the 4th round of the US Open Cup tournament, Real Salt Lake prepare to take on the team that is perhaps their biggest rival: Sporting Kansas City. With a congested schedule surrounding this game for both teams, it’s a bit of a toss up to know exactly which players we will see out on the field tonight. Nevertheless, it’s an elimination game against our rival, so whoever plays better be up for it, because you know the fans will be! Let’s talk about a few things that might help RSL emerge victorious over “the powder blue team from Kansas.”

Real Salt Lake

For the Claret and Cobalt, the two biggest questions coming into this game in my mind are these: Who is going to play, and how are we going to play? Luckily, Mike Petke was in a soccer talking mood on this week’s “Mike Petke Coaches Show” and gave us a little bit of insight into his mindset regarding both of these questions. Sidebar, if you haven’t been watching the “Mike Petke Coaches Show” every week you have been missing out! Now, let’s look at these two questions.

Who is going to play?

“We’re gonna put a team out there tomorrow night, because I want to win, the players want to win, that’s gonna both give us an edge, hopefully, to get a result, but also not sacrifice an injury, which we have plenty of right now, and the game on the weekend.”

From this quote, it seems as if Mike is taking a very practical approach to his starting 11 for this game. My interpretation of this quote as well as some of his other comments on the show is that Mike plans on starting mostly younger players, with a few veteran players mixed in. My guess is that Petke has already decided what he wants his starting 11 to be on Saturday against the LA Galaxy, and most if not all of those guys will be rested or named to the bench for the Open Cup game tonight. The veteran players who will not be part of that starting 11 will play against SKC, with the remainder of the starting 11 being made up of younger players. You’ll see my guess at the starting lineup in the “Expected Lineup” section below.

How are we going to play?

This becomes a very interesting question when we see that the starting lineup is going to be a mix of veteran and younger players. My best guess is that the guys are going to be well drilled in how Mike wants to see the game played. They will have the basics drilled into their heads, and then if that goes well then they will start to play a little more freely. What are the basics of Mike Petke’s tactical approach to soccer? Lucky for us, he told us exactly what they are! He was talking about the approach that the team took to the away game in Seattle in this quote below, but I believe it is very applicable to how RSL are likely to come out and play tomorrow.

“...we really focused on it. Here’s where we have to be in these situations. Here’s where we’re looking to trap them. Here’s what we want to do in transition. And if it doesn’t work out, if we can’t press them, get back to this spot right here and deny anything centrally, force them wide, defend the crosses, look to break in their areas their outside backs vacate.”

Petke has always been a big believer in “starting points” as opposed to really structured formations. This approach has its positives and drawbacks, but when the team is playing well, this approach really allows the ability and quality of the players to shine through. If the team is struggling a little bit, returning back to the basics of the starting points as mentioned in the quote is how they can get their feet back under them and start playing a little more solidly and with a little more confidence, which then allows the team to start building back up to the quality of play that we all know they are capable of.

I expect in the Open Cup game tonight that the team is going to really focus on their “starting points” for the first part of the game, and then adjust as the game goes on to what the game gives them. Even our young players have plenty of talent to make Petke’s system shine; and as they play and build up their confidence, they will play confidently as well and show exactly what they are capable of.

Sporting Kansas City

Thus far in 2018, SKC has been one of the most consistent teams in MLS. Through 14 games, they have accumulated 28 points, which is currently good for 2nd place in the Supporter’s Shield standings, only 1 point behind current shield leaders Atlanta United. They are also owners of the league’s best goal differential, having scored 28 goals while only conceding 14 goals. Facing them is going to be a tough challenge, but one that I believe that RSL can come out on top of.

Historically, SKC have taken the Open Cup very seriously, playing their starting 11 players even in the early rounds. This approach has paid off for them in the past, as they are the current US Open Cup reigning champions. But having played a game just 3 days ago on Sunday, and with multiple injuries and a road trip to Portland to face a good Timbers team just three days later, they may be forced to bring in some of their younger players as well. Exactly how they decide to approach the match will have to wait to be seen, but regardless of how they come out, if RSL sticks to their game plan and executes for the full 90 minutes, I believe that they will be able to knock out the reigning champions and advance to the next round.

Expected Lineup

GK: Sparrow

DF: Herrera, Horst, Besler, Henley

MF: Ruiz, Kreilach

MF: Brody, Hernandez, Lopez-Espin

ST: L. Silva

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Don’t be dazzled by the moment. It is likely that the majority of the players taking the field tomorrow night will be players that haven’t seen many (or any) minutes for Real Salt Lake so far this season. It will be important for all of the players to come in prepared and ready to play to the best of their ability. Being able to stay calm despite the moment and execute Mike Petke’s game plan over the course of 90 minutes will likely determine if the team will advance.
  2. Have some fun and show what you can do! On the flip side, this is the opportunity for some of the young players to come in and make even more decisions difficult for Mike Petke to make in regards to who gets playing time. A player who comes in and makes the most of the moment is exactly what Mike Petke would love to see, and I’m sure the fans would as well!