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RSL vs. DC United: How to watch & tactical preview

How will RSL line up against a solid DC team?

MLS: D.C. United at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Following Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend, we have now seen Mike Petke use the same starting 11 players in both games. Barring something major happening in training this week, I don’t expect to see any changes in the starting 11 on Saturday against DC United, either. What I will be very interested to see is exactly where those 11 players line up on the field.

How to watch

  • TV: KMYU (2.2 over-the-air)
  • Live Stream, App: KSL TV app
  • Live Stream, Web:
  • Where: Audi Field; Washington, D.C
  • Kickoff Time: 6 p.m.
  • Radio, English: ESPN 700
  • Radio, Spanish: 107.1 FM

Real Salt Lake

In our first game against Houston, we saw RSL line up in a 4-2-3-1 attacking formation with Kyle Beckerman and Everton Luiz holding down the central midfield, Corey Baird and Jefferson Savarino patrolling the wings, and Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach given a lot of freedom to interchange between the number 10 and the number 9 roles. On defense, this translated to what looked more like a flat 4-4-2 formation, with Baird and Savarino leveling up with Beckerman and Everton to form the midfield defensive block, and Rusnak and Kreilach defending near midfield. Here is the best picture I could capture from the highlights to show what I’m talking about:

RSL v Houston Dynamo, 03-02-2019

In this picture you can see the two separate defensive blocks from the midfield and the defensive line, and also see Rusnak and Kreilach defending higher together.

I actually really like this tactic, as it seems to give the team a better overall defensive shape that is more difficult for opposing teams to break down. It also frees our number 10 from some of the defensive responsibilities, which translates to better counter-attacks in transition following a midfield or even defensive third turnover. It appears that Mike Petke and his staff have done a great job throughout preseason and the first two games of the year with focusing on defense, and it has definitely shown in the team’s play so far this year. This play is the kind of tactical shift that shows Petke and his staff know soccer tactics than some fans want to give them credit for at times.

We also saw that when this defensive shape broke down, it left us exposed and that is how Houston got their goal. Take a look at this screen shot:

RSL vs Houston Dynamo, 03-02-2019

In this picture you can see that Brooks Lennon vacated his position in the defensive block to step up into the midfield, opening space on RSL’s right defensive side. A simple through ball into that space, followed by a cross into the box, led to Houston’s goal.

If RSL is going to continue to have defensive success against a dynamic DC United team, they are going to have to be disciplined to the defensive game plan and make sure that they don’t get pulled out of position.

Offensively, RSL is going to have their work cut out for them in attempting to break down a United side that has not yet conceded a goal in MLS play in 2019. DC do a good job of clogging up the penalty box, making it difficult to work good combinations inside the box. On the flip side, they are often slow to step up and challenge shots outside the box. A well struck shot from outside the box could be the key to pulling apart United’s defense and ruining their season-long clean sheet. Who could it be? A rocket from Rusnak? A drive from Dami? The return of the #BeckerBomb? Hopefully we will see at least one of these to get RSL on the board early in DC.

DC United

DC come into this game with a 1-0-1 overall record, good for 4 points and second place in the Eastern Conference, with 2 goals scored and none conceded. Their first game of the season resulted in a 2-0 win over defending MLS Champions Atlanta United, followed by a 0-0 draw with NYCFC last weekend.

United typically play in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Luciano Acosta at the 10, Paul Arriola on the wing, and Wayne Rooney leading the line at the #9. They typically do a great job of combining for interplay in and around the box, leading to quality chances for quality attackers to finish. RSL is going to have to keep a close eye on all three of these playmakers if they hope to come back to Utah with a positive result.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando
DF: Lennon, Onouha, Silva, Herrera
MF: Beckerman, Everton Luiz
MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Baird
ST: Kreilach

RSL’s Keys to the Match

  1. Keep proper defensive shape and balance. In keeping with Mike Petke’s defensive priorities, the game plan is going to be defend well first, then look to attack.
  2. Make your chances count. Last week against DC United, NYCFC took 21 shots, including 6 on target. If RSL can continue to pepper United’s goal in that manner, they may just score the first goal that DC concedes this year and come back to Utah with a positive result.