While I’d love to sit here and opine over RSL’s win over Portland Timbers, we’ve got something bigger and more exciting in front of us: Seattle Sounders.
We’re on the road, and no team in MLS is better on the road than at home — there’s some variation, certainly, but we’re pretty much right in line with the rest of the league, outside that team.
Let’s turn our focus now to Seattle. I think there are a few interesting things to discuss ahead of this.
Justen Glad vs. Marcelo Silva: Who starts?
One of the biggest mysteries circling around Real Salt Lake right now is why Marcelo Silva occasionally — in big games, mostly — is handed a start ahead of Justen Glad, who is generally the preferred starting center back alongside Nedum Onuoha.
Freddy Juarez had an interesting comment about this, describing it as solely about match-ups. That’s a pretty good answer, and the fact that he answered it in a straightforward way was, as always, a refreshing change from our recent past. He cited Jeremy Ebobisse as part of that. Going to the numbers reveals a couple interesting things.
First, Ebobisse had fewer passes than Diego Valeri, who came in fairly late. While Ebobisse’s passes tended to be in a good position, he had no key passes, meaning no shots directly resulted from a pass he made. His passes also tended to be backward rather than forward, or sideways at best. The pressure that came from Silva certainly played into that.
Facing Seattle Sounders, we might be in a position to see Justen Glad again. Does he match up better against speedy forwards in Seattle? The Sounders play at least somewhat differently than the Timbers.
How vulnerable are the Sounders?
So this could be a fun match for a lot of reasons, but one of those is that Seattle gave up three goals at home in their match against FC Dallas. Let’s take a look at those goals to see what we can come up with.
Here’s a crucial frame from the first goal Dallas scored after going down 2-0 inside the first half. (Let that be a warning for us, too.)
There’s a bit of luck here as Reggie Cannon’s first touch careens off Roman Torres’s arm, and he’s able to turn that into a goal-scoring opportunity. It’s actually a poorly timed clearance from Kim Kee-Hee that puts the ball in Cannon’s grasp, too. You can’t learn everything from that, but it’s something to consider.
Another frame from the run of play here is particularly interesting for Real Salt Lake.
Do you see here how narrow Seattle’s playing? Their defensive line has to recover to deal with a winger on the edge of the box, and that’s upset their whole play. The midfield has also collapsed in on itself, leaving runners from Dallas’s left side with acres of space. While the goal here came with some luck, there were other opportunities available.
Dallas’s other two goals came from corners, which aren’t necessarily RSL’s strong suit. However, they’re similarly not Dallas’s strong-suit, and that should give us something to think about, too.
Home field advantage in the MLS playoffs
I do wonder: If home field advantage wins out throughout the end of the playoffs, has it swung too far? Or is that a positive effect, as the regular season becomes more prioritized through that process?
Is there a golden opportunity here?
I actually think so. Seattle certainly has players that can create magic, and we need to be aware of them. Their attacking four are as lethal as (almost) any in the league. They deserve their second-place spot in the West.
But I do think they’re vulnerable. No team gives up three goals at home and comes out of that feeling defensively confident. While their attack did whir along well, we’re also good at not conceding goals.
I think we also match up well against Seattle. Our wide play can disrupt their defense in some unusual ways, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out.
I don’t know that this is a golden opportunity, but from my admittedly optimistic perspective, it’s close.
Nearly off-topic: “Since the Gold Cup”
We’ve seen a lot of numbers floating around describing RSL as the best team in a number of areas since the Gold Cup break. One specifically came up in an MLSSoccer.com preview of this match about how we’re the best in the league in goals-against-per-game. With the Gold Cup break ending on June 22, and with Mike Petke’s last match in charge of RSL on July 24, a lot of that time is falling following his tenure. This isn’t a “Freddy must be our coach, full stop” statement, but I do think it’s an interesting point that we’ll be addressing further down the line.