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Tactical Preview: RSL v SKC

RSL take on Sporting Kansas City in a 4th of July matchup that is sure to be a spirited battle between rival squads.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Real Salt Lake vs Sporting KC Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, for the first time this season, RSL and SKC will face off in MLS play. The teams faced each other earlier this year in US Open Cup play using two mostly reserve sides, with SKC coming out with the victory. With the starters playing in this game, what might we expect to see from both teams? Let’s jump in and talk about a few things.

Real Salt Lake

RSL come into tonight’s game on a three game winless streak. Following their 2-1 loss to the Crew over the weekend, where we saw Mike Petke experiment a little bit; electing to start Damir Kreilach as the #9 center forward. The goal was certainly to get Kreilach and Rusnak involved in the attack together, but did not result in much success. The team became visibly more potent offensively when Corey Baird came on the field and replaced Kreilach. As I watched the game I really felt like Kreilach just didn’t have a good understanding of the movement that he needed to have as the center forward, and we saw a lot of that movement that really opened up Columbus’ defense from Baird once he came into the game.

So what does that mean for the team as they take on Sporting Kansas City tonight? What might we see from them? We could definitely see a few different looks from them tonight, depending on what Mike Petke sees in training and what he thinks might work. I am going to continue my advocacy of seeing Kreilach play the #10 role with Rusnak out on one of the wings, probably the left wing. Kreilach has clearly played his best for the club when he was slotted in the creative role. Rusnak has the pace and ability to succeed in the winger role, and having a creative winger who can create something out of nothing is always a positive. I’d also like to remind everyone at this point that Rusnak typically plays the winger role for the Slovakian National Team, and we have seen them perform very well there at the international level.

I believe that having a front attacking four of Rusnak, Kreilach, Savarino and Baird with Sunny and Beckerman holding in the midfield would provide the Claret and Cobalt with their best opportunity to get their best players all on the field. With Plata still returning from injury and getting his fitness back, I would love to see this starting lineup and then have Plata come in the second half to provide fresh legs and an additional attacking spark.

Sporting Kansas City

SKC come into this game with a 9-3-5 record, good for 32 points and current first place in the Western Conference. On Saturday they lost to Montreal Impact 2-0, showing that they are not an unbeatable team and that they may have some weaknesses that can be exploited at the moment. Montreal took advantage of SKC and got their scoring opportunities by working the ball around quickly and forcing the Sporting defense to lose their shape and start scrambling.

On their first goal, Montreal started by working the ball down the wing and getting a good cross into the box. They did not connect on the cross, but they had multiple players in and around the box that were able to keep the play alive and work the ball through the box, pulling the SKC defense all out of shape. The ball was then dropped just out of the box and struck into the goal on a great shot that the Sporting defense could not recover in time to block.

Another thing that I noticed in studying SKC in preparation for this article is that with them currently playing Graham Zusi as their right back, their tends to be a lot of space on the left attacking side. Take a look at this position chart to see what I mean.

SKC Player positions vs Montreal Impact, 07/01/2018

The player position chart measures all of a players movement on field throughout the game and then averages their position and places it on the chart. In this chart Zusi is wearing the number 8, and you can see just how high and pinched in he is as a full back. This is good news for RSL, as they typically try to build their attack down the left wing. That whole pocket of space behind Zusi is exactly what RSL will be looking to exploit as they get forward in the attack.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Lennon, M. Silva, Glad, Acosta

MF: Beckerman, Sunny

MF: Savarino, Kreilach, Rusnak

ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Find a way to get all their best players on the field together in a way that accentuates their strengths. If Petke can solve the puzzle and work this out, we could quickly see RSL go on a great run of games and solidify their playoff position.
  2. Be patient in the attack and then capitalize on chances. If RSL can work the ball around until they are able to pull SKC out of their defensive shape, they will have good opportunities to score goals and win this game.