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Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders match preview

Rusnak’s return looms — can an injury-riddled RSL beat a potentially rotating Sounders?

MLS: Playoffs- Round One-Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s home opener is here, and a familiar foe is on our radar: Seattle Sounders, one of the West’s top teams, but also one of two teams that RSL moved past on the way to the Western Conference Final last year.

While that last match had a favorable outcome — advancing in the playoffs was quite fantastic — I suspect everyone will hope that RSL has a slightly better showing. No shots in a home opener simply wouldn’t be the sort of start that grants anyone a degree of great excitement, after all.

What RSL needs to do to win

Against Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake was found lacking in two distinct areas: First, they didn’t have a player carrying the ball and maintaining possession (perhaps what Albert Rusnak did best for RSL,) and second, they lacked opportunities to exercise creative force in dangerous areas. Time in the final third was limited, and that was especially the case with just eight carries into the final third and just one into the 18-yard-box. Further, with just 18 passes into the final third and five into the 18-yard-box, it was quite clear that RSL wasn’t providing much attacking threat — and that’s before we look at shots.

Put simply, RSL needs to get the ball into dangerous areas more often. The performance against Houston in those statistics ranked among the worst from 2021, and without an attacking threat to bail you out in rare circumstances, things could look dire. Without an Albert Rusnak replacement, RSL needs to build a system that accounts for that.

Injuries and Absences

Out

  • Aaron Herrera is out with a quad injury — and given we didn’t see him in any of the preseason matches, one wonders how serious it might be, or if it’s instead something newly obtained.
  • Nick Besler remains out with some sort of post-facial-surgery concern, and I haven’t seen a clear timeframe for his return.
  • Rubio Rubin is out, and I suspect we’ll have to wait a few weeks (or longer — who knows) before he
  • David Ochoa is out with a leg issue (quad strain? — it’s unclear,) meaning we’ll almost certainly see Zac MacMath in goal. I suppose it’s also possible we’ll see a youngster, but MacMath did well enough last weekend that I’d expect to see him play.
  • Zack Farnsworth

Questionable

  • Everton Luiz was out last match dealing with visa renewal, but there’s not a direct indication if he’ll be available for this one. The world is in a tumultuous state — as it has been for the last two years, with some additional global concerns — and it does make some traditional timelines a little more obscured.
  • Damir Kreilach was listed as questionable last week, and he started and played 90 minutes. I suspect he plays.

Quote of the Match

Albert Rusnak on returning to face Real Salt Lake:

It’s a place where I’ve been for five years, so it’s a familiar place for me. I know all about the possibility of playing a snow game, the altitude, and all those factors. It’s familiar for me, but for the rest of guys, it’s another away game, and so it is for me. We’re going right now. We had a disappointing start to the season. We know they tied on the road as well, which is probably a positive result. We’re going there, and I’m expecting a tough game, but we definitely have to perform better than we did against Nashville.

On if he’s been talking with RSL players about the game

There are some group chats I’m in with a few guys. We haven’t spoken about it just yet, but there are a few guys I keep in touch with on a regular basis.

Source: Albert Rusnak interview via Seattle Sounders on YouTube

Predicted Lineup and Formation

I suspect we’ll line up basically like we did last week, for better or worse. Here it is in a 5-2-1-2 (or a 3-4-1-2, if you’d like.)

MacMath
Brody, Holt, Glad, Silva, Schmitt
Ruiz, Luiz
Kreilach
Meram, Wood

Big Questions

  • Can RSL cope without Aaron Herrera? The right back was at the center of a lot of what RSL did well in 2021 — often because he’s got a good cross on him and Damir Kreilach’s somewhere around the box — and it remains to be seen if he can be replaced properly in the lineup.
  • Will Albert Rusnak score against us — will he even play? Seattle has a match on Tuesday against Leon in CONCACAF Champions League, after all. We do know he’ll be in Salt Lake receiving some sort of honorifics. I do think he plays, actually. We know his fitness levels are high, and he hasn’t shown any concerning pattern of injury in his career.

Pre-Match Reads and Listens

Watch this space — we’ll include more pre-match reads and listens as they’re published around the web.