Real Salt Lake have not one but two big games against western conference teams this week. They have the advantage of facing those teams at home, but the distinct disadvantage of those teams being the Seattle Sounders and LAFC. LAFC is in first in the west on a ridiculous 55 points, and the Sounders are in second on 39 points. RSL is all the way down in sixth place, but are only 2 points behind Seattle. We reached out to Sounder At Heart to hear the sage wisdom of Mark Kastner ahead of the match.
The Sounders are second in the west but are coming off a draw and loss as home in their last two games. What went wrong in those matches for the Sounders?
It’s even worse if you go back 1 more home game, which was a loss to the Portland Timbers. So, that’s 1 point in 3 home games. Not great.
The Sounders aren’t playing well in any area of the pitch. They’re giving away the ball cheaply, they’re not defending well, and they’re not finishing their chances. Oh, and they’re carrying some key injuries too. There’s some things they can’t change, like the injuries or some pretty incredibly lucky goals (see PDX’s two goals, or the penalty call against NER), but a lot of what’s going wrong for Seattle has to do with things they can control. They simply need to hang on to the ball in key areas. They can be exposed on the counter attack, but if they stop giving the ball away in transition, they’ll fare a lot better. Hopefully they can do that against Real Salt Lake.
Nicolás Lodeiro has five goals and eleven assists this season – how, if at all, has his game changed since his early days with the Sounders? What does the team do to create when he’s guarded closely?
Lodeiro is and always has been the focal point of the attack for Seattle. During his first year and a half here, some guy named Clint Dempsey also played for the Sounders. That meant Lodeiro would start from a wide position, but still play very much as a #10 would. Since Clint Dempsey retired, Lodeiro has slotted in as a nature #10 in the middle of the park, with the freedom to go just about anywhere the ball is to create offense. Obviously, he’s good at it.
When the Sounders are at their best, Nico has partners in the offense. He obviously draws a lot of the attention from the defense, so having runners off the ball has been a strong feature for the Sounders. Enter Brad Smith. Nico will usually look to combine with Smith to get Smith into good crossing positions.
Another weapon the Sounders have this year that they didn’t have last year is Jordan Morris. When teams are pressing the Sounders deep and pinning them back, Morris can be an outlet over the top. His pace and ability to score keeps teams honest and gives the Sounders another look offensively.
It looks as though LAFC will win the west and likely Supporters Shield this season. What are Sounders fans’ expectations for the end of the season?
At the beginning of the year I think Sounders fans (including myself) thought this team was capable of challenging for the Shield. Poor form, bad luck, and injuries meant that by June that just wasn’t a possibility. An even rougher summer met that shipped sailed. Right now, the Sounders have to finish the regular season strong and finish no worse than 3rd place in the West. The talent is there. With the new playoff format, anything can happen, and the Sounders need to put themselves in a strong position to take advantage of the chaos that comes with the playoffs.
You can read our responses to Mark’s questions at Sounder At Heart.