Scouting Report: How to depose Real Salt Lake

Salt Lake City

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Sounders return home after a rough two-game road trip that saw them concede seven goals while only scoring one. The Sounders are in need of some serious home cooking as they welcome Real Salt Lake.

Both teams have had a really rough year a third into the season. RSL have played 12 games and have 11 points while Seattle sits on ten points through 11 games. Salt Lake was able to pick up a much needed win on Wednesday as they defeated New York City FC and their former coach, Jason Kreis, 2-1.

RSL has a lengthy injury report as they head into Seattle for this game on Saturday. Chad Barrett (knee surgery) and David Horst (knee surgery) will not be available for this game. Jordan Allen (right quad strain), Tony Beltran (back injury), Demar Phillips (hamstring) are all listed as questionable.

For Seattle, the injury report looks the same as it has the past few weeks. Roman Torres (left hamstring strain) and Henry Wingo (right ankle sprain) are listed as out. Aaron Kovar (groin surgery), Nouhou (left shoulder dislocation) and Osvaldo Alonso (right quad strain) are all listed as questionable for this game.

Real Salt Lake Form: L-L-L-L-W

Top Scorer: Movsisyan, four goals

Top Assist Leader: Rusnak, four assists

Notable Real Salt Lake roster changes:

In: Rusnak, Barrett, Horst, Lennon, Saucedo, Luis Silva

The post-Lagerway/post-Kreis years have not been kind to RSL. The decline has been slow but steady, as age and salary have caught up with various mainstays from over the years. Hopes and expectations that long-time assistant Jeff Cassar would be able to remake a system team on the fly gave way to frustration with increasing poor results and lack of organization on the field.

His extension this off-season seemed to indicate the team was behind him. It turns out, they almost certainly weren’t. He was fired just three matches into the 2017 season, to eventually be replaced by former New York Red Bull’s head coach Mike Petke.

Petke has kept the team in Cassar’s favored 4-3-3, and so far the results haven’t been any better. Kyle Beckerman continues to patrol the field at a decent level, but he’s slowing (even more) and he’s unable to cover the ground necessary to function as a sole DM in a 3-man midfield. Unfortunately, no reasonable replacement for him exists on the roster, and so he soldiers on.

Aside from range issues, the defense has been prone to individual gaffe after individual gaffe. Much like the Sounders defense, RSL commits so many individual mistakes that opponents rarely have the opportunity to beat them through skill (though the skill undoubtedly helps).

The fake-Spanish-royalty are a shooting team, through and through. They spend little time in transition and possession – despite playing the vast majority of the year at big deficits, they still have possessed the ball less than 50% of the time. Like most 4-3-3 setups, RSL uses long balls frequently. The team sits in the bottom third in number of passes per match, but sits very near the top in crosses (2nd) and shots per match (6th). In fact, their shooting issues mirror the Sounders’, as both are at the bottom of the league in their ability to turn shots into a shot on goal.

Talent clearly exists on the team, if it’s not necessarily in a position to succeed. Rusnak, Lennon, Savarino, and Joao Plata all have shown flashes. Movsisyan is a sold CF in the 4-3-3, a formation that allows him to stay centrally and play a role similar to Dom Dwyer (though without all the extraneous bull). New DP Jefferson Savarino is a joy to watch with good speed and touch, though that’s not great to hear this weekend.

The keys to this weekend are pretty short because, well, they’re pretty basic, but we’re at that point.

Minimize individual mistakes, exploit theirs – we’re back to basics here, unfortunately. The Sounders could be not good enough as a team, but who knows – their traveling circus act on defense of late has made it difficult to extract how much stems from mental fortitude, how much is truly a talent/skill issue, and how much is a tactical problem.

The tactics side seems like it may end up working itself out a bit with the return of Brad Evans, hopefully starting this week at RB. Jordan Morris looks like he’s finally fit again – at least 45 minute fit – and can begin to provide legitimate offensive contribution.

RSL will be coming in missing a mixture of starters and reserves, including both OBs. While it may be a bit of projection, having to dig that deep into your roster doesn’t usually work out too well. There should be plenty of miscommunication, mis-positioning, and flat out missing the ball, to give the Sounders the chances they need. It won’t be quite the discordance that was the LA Galaxy, but opportunities will be there, and they need to show they can take the wheel and steer.

Control the counter – of all the things Seattle have been bothered by this year, the counter has vexed them more than anything not called Journey to the Center of the Right Back. The shift to a christmas tree formation, as suggested by Aaron Campeau for us early this week, would certainly help with this, regardless of who ends up starting at RB.

Much of what this comes down to, at this point, is being aware of space and not getting suckered too far up field. Despite RSL’s pressing, they’re unlikely to force Seattle to keep the ball deep, and they absolutely have the speed to get out on the break. A hopefully refreshed Joevin Jones and a more game-aware RB will also help alleviate this.

If it seems like this is hanging a lot of hope on Evans returning, thats because it is. This section could just as easily be “hide the black hole that is RB”. Evans has shown solid contribution in his few minutes this season and reshaped the flow of the game when he’s been on. His balance should help significantly in reducing the pressure counters place across the board.

RSL: Matt Van Oekel; Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Aaron Maund, Schmidt; Beckerman, Luke Mulholland; Rusnak; Savarino, Plata, Silva

Date/Time: Saturday, May 20 2:00 p.m.

Venue: CenturyLink Field

Television: JOEtv, Univision-Seattle

Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)

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