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Tactical Preview: Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Will RSL finally shake off their road woes at struggling San Jose?

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Just about a month ago, Real Salt Lake took on the San Jose Earthquakes within the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium, fully expecting to come away from the game with a win and three points. Despite dominating the majority of the statistical categories in this game, it ended in a 1-1, in what surely felt like a win for San Jose and a loss to the Claret and Cobalt faithful. As we prepare for the rematch tomorrow in California, what might we expect to see from the teams and how can RSL come away with a victory despite their road struggles?

Real Salt Lake

The month of July has been a truly up and down month for RSL, who defeated playoff contenders Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas, lost to under the line Minnesota, and drew with second from the bottom Colorado. The Claret and Cobalt have shown that they can play with, and beat, some of the better teams in the league this year. They have also shown inconsistency in their disappointing showings. So which team are they really?

I think the best assessment of RSL at this point in the season is that they are an extremely talented team. I also think that they are mostly a young team, and that has a lot to do with the inconsistency we have seen on the season. If the Claret and Cobalt could find a consistent run of form, they could quickly find themselves once again climbing up the Western Conference table.

So what can RSL do to get a win against San Jose tonight? Honestly, the simple answer is they just need to finish their chances. In the previous game against the Earthquakes, RSL took 26 total shots, but only 8 of those shots were on frame. They also hit the woodwork at least twice in the game, something that might make some fans feel like their was a little bit of bad luck going against RSL in that game. With the quality of players that we have, if we are able to generate those kinds of offensive scoring opportunities again in this game, there should be more than one goal scored.

San Jose Earthquakes

San Jose have continued to struggle in MLS in 2018. Since the last meeting with RSL, they have gone 0-3-1, scoring 4 goals while conceding 8. The one constant weakness for the Earthquakes is their defense; they have not kept a clean sheet in a single game this season. If RSL can get their attack going today, there is no reason they should not be able to put 2 or 3 in the back of the net.

I would expect San Jose to come out in the same flat 4-4-2 that they have been playing most of the season, with Danny Hoesen and Chris Wondolowski leading the attack. At home they are averaging 49% possession on the season, so I would expect them to try and keep the ball a little more, though I wouldn’t expect them to really try and control the game with possession.

San Jose actually do a pretty decent job of spreading around their offense; 5 different players have three or more goals and 3 assists. Danny Hoesen is their leading scorer with 10 goals on the season, so he his definitely one to keep an eye on. Also, you can never ignore Chris Wondolowski, as he is the master of disappearing and then magically reappearing in exactly the right place to score on you.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando
DF: Lennon, M. Silva, Glad, Acosta
MF: Beckerman, Kreilach
MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata
ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Take advantage of scoring opportunities. Finish your chances! Hitting the woodwork is always maddening, and hitting it twice in one game that you end up drawing feels like bad luck. If RSL can finish a couple more of the quality chances they can create against San Jose, they should be in pretty good shape.
  2. Keep balance and shape to support the midfield. Mike Petke has shown that he most likely will continue to place Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach in the midfield together. This definitely has some positive qualities, but in order for it to work well defensively, the fullbacks have to stay balanced and pinch in to support the defensive midfield. If they can strike that balance correctly, we should see a good game from the Claret and Cobalt.