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Tactical Preview: RSL vs. Chicago Fire

RSL return to the RioT looking to “extinguish the Fire” and boost their playoff standing.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, RSL return to the RioT to face the Fire. The Claret and Cobalt are currently sitting in the sixth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference, and will be looking to bolster their playoff hopes against a struggling Chicago side. What might we see tonight? Let’s talk about a couple of points.

Real Salt Lake

I have heard multiple people say this year that they feel like Albert Rusnak has been invisible on the field for most of the season. After watching how much RSL struggled against San Jose last week after Rusnak was subbed off with a neck muscle spasm, I think that it is safe to put those sentiments to rest. Albert is the conduit for most of the creative play that RSL finds itself in, and having him in the lineup makes a huge difference. It will relieve you all to hear that Rusnak is expected to play tonight. One more stat to back this up: RSL have averaged just under 14 shots per game on the season. Against San Jose, one of the worst defensive teams in the league, they only managed 8 shots without Rusnak on the field.

With Rusnak back in the side and the attack otherwise pretty healthy, I would expect to see RSL try and impose their will on the Fire at home. RSL average 54.9% of possession at home this season, and I would expect them to try and meet or exceed that number again tonight. If anything, I would expect tonight’s game to look like what we saw against Sporting KC and FC Dallas, offensively speaking. Quick sharp passes in transition will break down the defense quickly, and long switches across the field will open up the field to play in more space. Those are a few of the things I expect to see from RSL tonight.

Chicago Fire

Chicago come into this game on a 5 game losing streak in MLS play. In that run, they have been outscored 15-7. Overall, the Fire currently sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference table with 23 points from a 6-12-5 record.

In their last match against Toronto FC, Chicago came out in a 4-3-3 formation with aging star Bastian Schweinsteiger sitting in the middle of the park. This didn’t work out the best for them, as they lost 3-0. In times of struggle, Chicago have also been known to play in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation with Schweinsteiger sitting deep as a sweeper. They did have some success with that formation earlier in the season, so I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Chicago come out in this formation in an attempt to stop the bleeding and right the ship.

Most of the Fire’s offense have come from forwards Aleksander Katai and Nemanja Nikolic, who have scored 9 and 10 goals, respectively. It will be up to Nick Rimando and the RSL back line to keep them from getting their names on the score sheet tonight.

Statistically, Chicago are averaging 48.2% possession and 10.9 shots per game on the road in MLS this season. These numbers are pretty close to their overall numbers for the season, showing that they play similarly on the road and at home.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Lennon, M. Silva, Glad, Herrera

MF: Beckerman, Kreilach

MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: Baird

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Play creatively and to the strengths of your players. If RSL can get the ball at the feet of Rusnak going forward with runners available, he is capable of orchestrating solid attacks that generate good scoring opportunities. Getting the ball to Plata or Savarino in space to take on defenders one on one also creates good scoring opportunities.
  2. Beware of the Fire’s ability to score. While Chicago has been outscored 15-7 in their last 5 games, they scored 5 goals in just two games. It will be important for RSL to keep the game in front of them and stay balanced defensively.