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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. Houston Dynamo

RSL continue their three game roadtrip in Houston against the struggling Dynamo. Is this the one?

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight in Houston, RSL continue their three game roadtrip in hopes of finding some kind of solution to their road woes this season. The second half of Wednesday’s game against LAFC was encouraging, showing that the team could stand up and fight back a little bit, even on the road. What might we see tonight against Houston, and how can RSL get a much needed result on the road?

Real Salt Lake

Wednesday night in LA was frustrating. Christian Ramirez was apparently wearing some type of invisibility cloak that made the RSL defenders completely unaware of where he was, and he punished us with two goals. After that, the team seemed to wake up and start to perform better, but they were already in too deep of a hole to ultimately make a difference. LAFC had their two goal lead, and then they sat back and became much more defensive, forcing RSL to try and break them down, which they ultimately were not able to do.

Tonight against Houston, the boys will largely have the same task ahead of them; that is, to find a way to break down an opponent that is playing in a defensive shell. Teams have found that this is an effective way to slow RSL down, and so they are game planning to force the Claret and Cobalt to have to try and break down a deep, well organized defense.

So what is the key to breaking down a bunkered in defense? Different people have different opinions on that, but for me quick ball movement is key. A bunkered in defense is inherently reactionary, so if a team can force the defense to react to a certain situation and then quickly move the ball and attack from a different angle, they create attacking opportunities for themselves. Remember the days when RSL would allow an opponent to play them into a tight space, then play the ball very quickly to each other in close proximity until someone found a way out and then they were in on goal? That’s one way to do what I’m talking about, though not the way I think Mike Petke prefers. He appears to prefer to try and pull the defense to one side of the field, then hit a 60 yard cross-field switch to the other side to get his attacking players isolated one on one with defenders in space. This is also a good tactic, but relies on the abilities of your attacking players to win their one on one battles. Lately, we have not seen our players doing that.

If RSL can find a way to break down the defense, they should get decent scoring opportunities. Then, they have to take advantage of those scoring opportunities. They have been struggling with that a little bit lately as well. Soccer is a team sport, but individual quality still matters and is absolutely needed. If the kind of play that I talked about above is what Mike Petke wants to see from his team, then the team needs their attacking players to show their quality and start winning their one on one battles against opposing defenders and creating scoring opportunities.

Houston Dynamo

Houston come into this game struggling, having gone 0-4-1 in their last 5 MLS matches. They have also conceded 8 goals in those 5 games while scoring just 3. They will surely be looking to right the ship against RSL, who have a reputation in league of not playing well on the road.

Houston will come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation and look to make the game difficult for RSL by playing a compact, well organized defense, and then looking to get out quickly on the counterattack when the ball turns over. Dynamo forwards Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis lead the team with 11 and 9 goals respectively, and are always looking for an opportunity to attack the opposing defense at speed when they get the ball at their feet.

One thing important to note is that Houston did not play midweek like RSL did, so they will be well rested and ready for this game. Expect them to try and take advantage of RSL’s tired legs.

Expected Lineup

GK: Putna
DF: Lennon, Besler, Glad, Herrera
MF: Kreilach, Sunny
MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata
ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Find a way to break down the bunkered defense. Whether it’s a defense breaking pass or winning your one on one battles, RSL have to find a way to break down opposing defenses and put the ball in the back of the net.
  2. Be aware of the speed on the counter. RSL are coming into this game on tired legs, so it will be especially important for them to stay balanced and be ready to defend against the counterattack. Relying on speed and endurance to get back every time is going to be much harder on short rest, so it is going to require the team to play smart and be aware of where they are.