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Tactical Preview: RSL vs Colorado Rapids

What will we see from each team as RSL looks to solidify their playoff standing and return home with the Rocky Mountain Cup?

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow night in Commerce, Colorado, Real Salt Lake will step onto the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with two goals in mind: solidifying their playoff position and winning the Rocky Mountain Cup. They can achieve both of these goals with a win against the Rapids, but it’s definitely not going to be easy. What kind of play will we see from Colorado and how can RSL adjust and come out with that much needed win? Let’s jump in and look at a few things!

Real Salt Lake

Despite some struggles, I would definitely say that last week’s game against Houston was RSL’s best road performance this season. The Claret and Cobalt took 25 shots in that game, and put ten of those shots on frame, forcing 8 saves from the Houston goalkeeper. This was more than double of the 12 shots per game that RSL have been averaging on the road this season. Simply put, they came out to win the game and took their play to a Houston team that has been struggling in recent weeks. And yes, it did take until second half stoppage time, but in the end the team was able to pull out a massive win that should hopefully continue to boost their confidence moving forward.

Carrying that confidence into tomorrow night’s game against Colorado will be absolutely necessary. Colorado has not done very well this year overall, but their form has been improving in recent weeks following the acquisition of midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has come into the side and made an immediate positive impact for them. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

For RSL, I expect them to come into this game with much the same mentality that they came into the Houston game with. Go out, take the game to the opponent, and take advantage of their weaknesses. Of late, the Rapids have been playing in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, which certain RSL players will certainly be familiar with. As such, they should have a pretty good idea of how they need to play in order to break down the diamond and creating scoring opportunities. Typically, the diamond is played narrowly, which means that the team playing willingly gives up space on the flanks and forces you to wade through a higher number of defenders as you attack toward the center of the pitch. One way to play against this is to get wide and whip in a lot of crosses. Having a true #9 to target with those crosses is a large benefit, but we don’t have one of those so we have to look elsewhere. I think part of the game plan will be to look to get crosses into Damir Kreilach making hard late runs out of the midfield. Not only are midfield runs harder for defenses to track, they are also not as frequently the target of crosses from out wide, meaning that there is an opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary and hopefully confuse the defense.

To this end, I think we will see Plata and Savarino trying to work to the outside a lot, and then working to find a way to work back inside or cross the ball. These two are always dangerous going one on one with defenders, and they should be able to create some good scoring opportunities from out wide. As we have seen a lot recently, I truly believe that RSL’s finishing rate will directly affect the result in this game. If we finish our good chances, I believe we win the game.

Colorado Rapids

Colorado come into this game with a 6-13-6 overall record, good for 24 points and 11th place in the current Western Conference table. In the 24 games they have played, they have scored 31 goals while allowing 42.

The big news for Colorado in recent weeks, as mentioned above, has been the arrival of Kellyn Acosta and the formation change to the 4-4-2 diamond formation. The implementation of this system as well as Acosta’s play have helped to improve Colorado’s stock, though they are still well outside the playoffs at the moment. RSL fans will remember the familiar shape of the diamond midfield when they see the Rapids play it tomorrow, but they will notice some differences. Notably, when RSL played the diamond under Jason Kreis it was all about possession, and we often saw that RSL had 55%+ of possession in games. That is not the case with this Colorado team, who are still struggling with possession and average only 48.6% of possession at home. In essence, they are still mostly a counterattacking team, so that is what RSL is going to have to be aware of. Keeping their balance correct should go a long way towards playing for a shutout.

The other thing that Colorado does well is get their fullbacks involved in the attack, particularly left back Edgar Castillo. The battle between him and RSL right back Brooks Lennon should be a great one for everybody to keep an eye on.

Expected Lineup

GK: Putna

DF: Lennon, Besler, Glad, Herrera

MF: Beckerman, Kreilach

MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Take the game to the Rapids. I want to see RSL come out swinging in this game again, just like they did against Houston last week. If they can pin Colorado back early, and maybe even get an early goal, then the game should become much more manageable for them.
  2. Use knowledge of the diamond to your advantage. Players such as Kyle Beckerman played in the diamond for years, and are going to be very familiar with its inner workings. I expect Kyle to have a good game in this one, and that can only be beneficial to RSL.