Maybe the most intriguing question that will be answered by this match is "which team is better?" Though that answer will only have meaning in weekly power rankings, a match between the Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake has potential to be among the best soccer in MLS. These are two up-tempo teams that like to play with the ball at their feet. While RSL uses a very conventional diamond 4-4-2, Seattle uses a hybrid the hybrid between 4-3-2-1 and bucket 4-4-2. Salt Lake has a conventional #10, Seattle's is on the wing. The teams pursue similar talents, Alvario Saborio being the most notable, but also Juan Cruz and Andy Rose. This is fun soccer.
The Sounders' +6 in run of play meets against RSL's +3, but that plus three features 9 goals scored in non-cross run-of-play situations. The two sides score at basically the same rate. They defend at the same rate. Their CCL success is comparable in some ways. Saturday's 7PM start should be in the low 60s, sunny and a great day for some soccer. Today's three questions features Denz, from RSL Soapbox. Or as we like to call it MLS blog #2 on SBN.
SaH: How has the change from Robbie Russell to Tony Beltran changed the team's tactics?
RSLSB: There are a couple changes that have had to be made and while I think one has gone really well, one has caused the team some issues. Robbie was 6'2", while Tony is just 5'8" and that means a huge change in marking on set pieces, and we saw several time early in the season that teams took advantage of confusion on set pieces to score goals on RSL. I think that one has been taken care of for the most part, but clearly it really has an impact on both offensive and defensive set pieces.
The second thing is that I think Tony is a bit better going forward, he has really worked on that as part of his game and I think he has become a guy that partners well with Fabi as he makes some good over lapping runs. Tony has some great pace as well which allows him to get back into position quickly, and by being the main guy instead of a part of the rotation, he is getting minutes against some very good players which I think will continue to help him develop into an even better player. I hated to see Robbie go, he is a heck of a nice guy but I think he is probably happier with DC and closer to his family. I also think it will impact RSL as the season goes along, the ability to rotate guys isn't fully here yet but with the addition of Chris Estridge and Terukazu Tanaka to the roster, we might see a different type of rotation as the season goes along.
SaH: Is Alvaro Saborio having season yet? Is he doing anything different?
RSLSB: I think Saborio is just now getting healthy, I honestly believe that he played all of last year hurt. He again this year had off season minor surgery, but this year with no CCL and better depth up top he was able to be rested and brought back into the lineup slowly. I think that he has realized this year that he has to change things up a bit, be a bit more moving, a bit more creative on his own as well as with his teammates. Clearly he has most often been the typical back to goal type of forward, who also is a good target on set pieces, but in MLS you can't be a one trick pony, defenders are too smart for that, so guys have to learn and evolve.
I also think that with Saborio there is some frustration among RSL fans about the perceived effort he puts in at times. We have seen Fabian Espindola become a goal to goal force on both defense and offense, we see Fabi chasing after every ball that comes close and then the next play you see Saborio slowly walking to get back onside after a broken play. For me it is a simple difference of styles and what they are being asked to do, but it is clear that Saborio is doing exactly what Jason Kreis is asking him to do. Jason recently stated after a match that for him the work of Saborio and the RSL forwards isn't just about goals, that he feels there is enough talent in the lineup for goals to come from anywhere it is about applying high pressure and working the opposing half of the pitch defensively when needed.
I do believe that you will see Saborio start putting together better and better performances as the summer goes along, I think RSL making it back into Champions League is important to him and I think he will really step up as the season progresses.
SaH: Luis Gil is generally seen as Javier Morales' backup, but Gil is playing in more varied positions. Is it a case of Kreis wanting Gil on the pitch in any circumstances or is it just a case of him being a useful depth player?
RSLSB: I think it is a bit of both, Luis is seen as the backup and the future point of the diamond for RSL, but he has a skill set that is developing very fast and that means that for Jason getting him minutes even outside of that preferred position is in the best interest of the team. I was very impressed with how in match shape that Luis was this preseason, it was the first time since joining RSL that he wasn't going to be gone with some version of a youth national team or other group. It was also impressive that he has chosen this year to turn down a couple of national team call ups in order to stay with RSL and both help the team but also to continue his development as part of the team, that can be a big sacrifice for a young player.
I also think Jason, Garth and the staff know that Luis is likely going to graduate from Generation Adidas at the end of this season, so ensuring that Luis understands how important of a part he is to the future of RSL is another reason why they have gotten him so many minutes. This will pay off sooner and later for RSL, as Javier Morales deals with another injury, the team has played with and has confidence in Luis at the point of the diamond, but also as the summer progresses and guys like Will Johnson get national team call ups knowing we have depth and options at numerous midfield positions has to be reassuring to the staff.
RSL Soapbox will have the reverse up later today.