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Man-marking the Sounders attacking midfield paid massive dividends for Real Salt Lake

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Multiple man marks from RSL lead to a stagnated Sounders attack that couldn't accomplish anything from deep areas

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Sounders' 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday was disappointing. Mired by injury already with the loss of Stefan Frei and Brad Evans, a tilt in Rio Tinto was always going to be a defensive challenge for the Sounders. However, it was on the offensive side of the ball that the Sounders really struggled, as Jeff Cassar's tactics easily took Clint Dempsey out of the game entirely.

RSL's defensive approach was predicated on two features: (a) man-mark Clint Dempsey into oblivion and (b) keep Andreas Ivanschitz in front of the the defensive duo of Sunny Obayan and Kyle Beckerman. RSL did an extremely effective job at both of those tasks, limiting Dempsey to just receiving touches in wide areas and making him ineffective when he moved inside.

Clint Dempsey's touch map vs RSL via WhoScored

That was mainly a function of the partnership of Tony Beltran and Sunny. Beltran for his part tucked inside, mirroring the movement of Dempsey. When Dempsey or Ivanschitz dropped deep past the RSL holding midfield, Sunny would man mark whichever of the duo was dropping into the playmaker role. If it was Dempsey moving deep, Beckerman dropped off into space to occupy the central zones and limit anything into Ivanschitz. In the opposite scenario, Sunny tracked the move centrally while Beltran stuck with Dempsey between the RSL lines.

Beltran tracks Dempsey inside, before passing the mark to Sunny

For the Sounders' part, this left room up and down the left hand side of the field that Joevin Jones should have been able to exploit. But Jones, for all his pace, was largely quiet because the Sounders couldn't build a deep right-sided attack to save their life. A man-mark job from Chris Wingert kept Jordan Morris at bay the entire match, leaving Beltran and the right-sided attacking midfielder free to almost recklessly double team Jones when he did advance forward.

Much of that came down to the fact that Wingert could cheat the entire match, as the Sounders had no impetus to play the ball in behind the RSL lines from deep. This inability highlights just how much the loss of Evans can hurt the Sounders, while also highlighting the limitations of Zach Scott. While Scott is a good defensive option at a low cost, there are some games where his limitations are going to have consequences. This was one of those games where it showed up in a paltry shot count of just six.