Thursday Tactics 'n' Things - Set Pieces

Today's TTnT is brought to you by the letters R, S, L, C, and K and by the numbers 2 and 3.

RSL, of course, is Real Salt Lake, who have the most Euro-poser name in the league, at least until Garber announces the introduction of Bayern Milwaukee. CK stands for corner kick, and two is the number of goals that RSL scored off corners in their last game, played at home against the Philadelphia Union. And last, but emphatically not least, three is the number of points those two well-worked corners reaped for the Royal team of Utah.

All of which is another way to state the blindingly obvious: set pieces are important. Various studies at various times from various competitions have shown that around 30-40% of goals scored are from set pieces. Interestingly, the Sounders and RSL have scored and allowed an identical tally from set pieces, 15 for and 8 against. For RSL, that works out to around 43% of their goals scored and 38% of their goals allowed. The Sounders have more goals scored and allowed, so it works out to 36% of their goals for and 28% of the allowed.

It would be great to see an actual, in-depth analysis, and if anyone has a good source of data for set pieces in MLS, please put it into the comments. In any case, that RSL has what seems to be a higher than average proportion of set piece goals feels right, because RSL plays a fairly conservative style, which works to limit their exposure, but also somewhat limits their attack. They're not a team to commit a huge number of players to the attack all at once, especially not since losing Javier Morales.

Their play in the game against the Philadelphia Union provided excellent examples of this dynamic at work. While RSL passed the ball around fairly well, and got some opportunities, their attack didn't look especially threatening. That was largely irrelevant, however, because of two really well executed corners by Kyle Beckerman, who has stepped up to fill Morales' kick-taker role.  The first was a short corner to Paulo Jr.  He immediately played the ball back to Beckerman, who then took the ball around to the front of the penalty area and found a couple of free yards to rifle a shot in from about 20 yards. The second was a well placed corner to Chris Schuler, who had come up from defense.

That match was at home for RSL and they can be expected to be even more conservative at CenturyLink. For the Sounders, this will likely require even more emphasis than usual on set pieces on both defense and offense. My feeling is that Saturday's match is likely to be a low scoring affair and it's not hard to imagine that a well placed kick over a wall or a well taken corner will be the difference.  

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