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MLS Playoffs: Sounders at Salt Lake Leg One - Tactical Breakdown

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 10:  Fredy Montero #17 of the Seattle Sounders FC battles goalkeeper Nick Rimando #18 of Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on September 10, 2011 in Seattle, Washington (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 10: Fredy Montero #17 of the Seattle Sounders FC battles goalkeeper Nick Rimando #18 of Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on September 10, 2011 in Seattle, Washington (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Getty Images

With the red cards, penalties and an own goal in the last two matches there isn't much that can be taken from the previous two meetings between these sides. Even the issue with the 2010 contests has been addressed, as the Seattle Sounders substitution patterns have dramatically improved in 2011 over previous season. And due to injuries to Real Salt Lake's number 10 there is little guide from their recent games. Instead this is a two leg series that can only be previewed within a mental realm that attempts to look at the ideal way these two teams operate rather than specific incidents.

In short both teams are technically gifted that use possession in different ways. Both use a defensive midfielder. But similarities will end there. Sigi's side tends to attack from the flanks while the narrow diamond in use by Kreis focuses energy in the middle channels. Salt Lake's forwards tend to play a little wider, while for Seattle the two forwards can wind up stacked when Fredy Montero drops back into a creative role. Defensively the Claret and Cobalt center defense usually work in parallel while the Rave Green are more willing to have one step higher. Neither side has a clear tactical advantage that isn't offset by the other club.


Seattle Key Players Advantage Key Players Salt Lake
Offense Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez SEA Jamison Olave, Nick Rimando Defense
Possession Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans RSL Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman Possession
Defense Jeff Parke, Kasey Keller SEA Alvaro Sabario, Fabian Espindola Offense
Set-Plays Montero RSL Beckerman Set-Plays

When looking at Seattle's likely use of the offensive third play will come in a technical manner from the right through Alvaro Fernandez. The Uruguayan national teamer can also lurk far post for a long ball from Wahl. Both of these techniques will pull the defense slightly off-center. Fredy Montero's development into a stellar trequartista has him sitting back off the backline. He can dive to either side for a quick passing interchange with either the wide mids, through the second forward or with Alonso. This use of space and lopsided shape will change how Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers typically operate. They will have to communicate with their full backs for defensive help more often, and it may force Beckerman to drop further back than he usually would. Nick Rimando will be tested more often than usual, particularly from distance with poor site on the shot. Advantage: Seattle

Differing shapes are the biggest influence over the central third. Salt Lake uses a very traditional pinched in diamond. The will have four men in that central space at almost all times. Kyle Beckerman's defensive abilities are well noted, but like Seattle's CDM he is great at starting an attack and joining it late. Though he and Javier Morales haven't played together much this season they have a long history and should settle in quickly. Osvaldo Alonso will have to be the one that stops Morales. It is a challenge that he will welcome, and though likely to succeed the support from the two other midfielders will help RSL control possession. Brad Evans will be tasked with controlling the outlet passes while also being aware of the Beckerman runs. Seattle will at times bypass their possession in midfield for flank play from Lamar Neagle, but he may be more pressed into defensive duties than usual. Advantage: Salt Lake

In the defensive third Seattle's pairing is big/quick. This can cause a bit of problems agains the generally wider forwards used by RSL. Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola can both be dangerous with the ball at their feet, making denial of service important, but also granting time to close down. Jeff Parke can rise up and deny lofted entry balls and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is solid at collecting second balls. The Sounders biggest question here will be mental focus and not having a single sloppy pass, but the line led by Kasey Keller should be in strong shape. Advantage: Seattle

Past seasons Seattle have seen exactly how strong service to large centerbacks can result in scoring against them. Beckerman's service is among the best in MLS this year and he can have three large bodies up front and able to score. This does result in both CBs and their CDM being in the attack and so a quick counter through guys like Mike Fucito, Lamar Neagle and Montero can be a good response. The Sounders will be without their best service provider since Rosales did not travel. Tyson Wahl likely moves into the role of primary service for corners and indirect free kicks, while the direct frees probably go to the potent Montero. Seattle will be diminished in assisted set-piece goals, but do provide danger. Their typical corner formation leaves James Riley and Alonso back as safeties from the counter. Advantage: Salt Lake

Leg one looks to be a tightly held contest, one where the possession and passing numbers favor Real Salt Lake while the Seattle Sounders should come out ahead in shot differential and duels won. Scorelines like 1-1 or 2-2 would seem likely with set-play success or failure shifting that number to one side or the other.

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