Generally when I write a scouting report I go back and watch the last game or two from the team we're up against to get a look at their tendencies. I'll take a look at the projected roster to get an idea of some potential matchups. I might pull up the last match the Sounders played against them. But in this case that would mostly be a waste of time. Between an array of injuries that would make even a Seattle fan flinch and significant losses to the Gold Cup, the Real Salt Lake roster that takes the field tonight will have a lot of new faces. Likewise, the Sounders' roster has been in a heavy rotation thanks to injuries in the offense and some planned instability in the defense.
One thing we know is that the Sounders will be bringing their weather with them. I noted in the recent post on MLS match weather that the Sounders don't play as well in the rain and Denz of RSLSoapBox was quick to point out that despite not yet playing a single home MLS match in the rain, Real Salt Lake is expecting thunderstorms and showers. Fantastic.
Fortunately for Seattle, the rain may affect RSL as much as it does the Sounders. To be overly simplistic, there are three routes to generating an offense, corresponding to three different ways to get the ball into the opponent's area. You can play directly by getting the ball in there with a few long kicks and then rely on players who are good in the air to bring it down. You can play a fast game by getting players with pace to dribble the ball around and by the opponent and into the danger area. Or you can play a technical, short-passing game by keeping possession and getting the ball into the other end with a series of penetrating passes. The Sounders used to play a hybrid of a speed and technical game, but with the speed players mostly gone or injured, it's now purely a technical offense, which can suffer in the rain. Fortunately, RSL also play primarily a technical game, which is good for MLS, because technical offenses are much, much more enjoyable to watch. But it means they might suffer in wet conditions as well.
Predicting matchups means predicting lineups and at this point you'd either need to be on the respective coaching staffs or some kind of wizard to know who's going to take the field tonight. For the Sounders, I'll go with the 'preferred' lineup that Jeremiah put togather in the match card. That means Fredy Montero withdrawn into more of a midfield role to give him more space to operate. The Colombian's impact on games has lessened considerably from his peak form in the middle of last season. He hasn't been given any space to operate and hasn't found many opportunities to generate his own shots when he's been closed down on by 2 or 3 defenders the moment he touches the ball. Pulling him into the advanced midfield might give him some breathing space to have more of an impact. Playing Mike Fucito and Nate Jaqua in the forward slots ahead of him preserves the big/small pairing up top. Alvaro Fernandez has been hit or miss on the left wing so for this year, but his hits have been big hits and it's worth keeping him out there. A hopefully healthy Brad Evans would slot into the right wing as a reliable midfield cog.
RSL will still have the services of Nick Rimando and Will Johnson despite both being called up to their national teams for the Gold Cup. That's bad news for Sounders fans as Rimando can make a strong case for being the best keeper in MLS right now and Will Johnson is a creative, dangerous player in the midfield. And the continued presence of captain Kyle Beckerman ensures that the core of the team will be stable and well organized regardless of who rotates in.
Without Alvaro Saborio on the field, the Lakers will be even less inclined to knock the ball around in the air, so expect a lot of passes to Fabian Espindola's feet and overlapping attacks along the sidelines. Or maybe not. Who knows? Maybe Kreis and Schmid will take the field and they'll play soccer tennis. Hard to say.
- Montero vs Beckerman - If Montero does indeed withdraw into a creative midfielder position then Beckerman will be tasked with disrupting him. The RSL captain is one of the best central midfielders in the league, as evidenced by how pedestrian Salt Lake looked in the CCL final home leg when he was in the stands thanks to yellow card accumulation. A dangerous Montero could help pin him back and disrupt his ability to play distributor to the RSL forwards.
- Espindola vs Jeff Parke - With a frontline wracked by injury, Espindola is the most dangerous attacker likely to suit up tonight. If Parke (or Patrick Ianni or Jhon Kennedy Hurtado) can neutralize him the Salt Lake offense will be severely blunted.
- Brad Evans vs Chris Wingert - If the Seattle midfielder can start he brings some stability and a high work rate to the Seattle midfield. On the right wing he would be able to help James Riley deal with Johnson as well as attack Wingert on the flank. The big presence of Jamison Olave means that blind crosses into the box probably aren't going to get the job done, but if Evans can get in behind to find a pass on the ground to a late running Montero or sprinting Fucito, Seattle may find its best opportunity to score.