When FoxSports1 picked Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders for their Sunday 4 PM Pacific match they were likely hoping that it would be a game between two playoff sides. They’ll get something different. RSL is 10-7-7 +1, upholding their side of the bargain. Seattle’s record is a poor 7-12-3 -5, but there is reason for a new hope here. Nicolas Lodeiro’s introduction to the squad has revitalized the team. Sounders soccer may not be all the way back, but at least it’s fun to watch again.
SaH: How should Real Salt Lake defend against the through balls that picked apart LA and Orlando?
RSLSB: Well. We should defend well. That's the hope and desire, at least, but that's one of those things you can never really depend on in these matches.
In all seriousness, expect Luke Mulholland and Kyle Beckerman to pick up the middle of the park, with one of the two stepping up toward whoever is making those passes. And that's what it comes down to for me — the midfield. Sure, we can rely on our center back tandem to read players' runs, but it all has to come from further up the field.
SaH: Cassar should have full selection of his potent attacking four. Is there anyway to shut them all down?
RSLSB: Yes and no. Shutting us down — and stop me if this sounds familiar — requires shutting down our midfield. While we've increasingly been potent from counter attacking play, we're still vulnerable to being shut down in the midfield.
When Burrito Martinez and Joao Plata aren't given opportunities to impress with their quick bursts and dribbling ability, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the team to score goals. Yura Movsisyan will certainly carve out a chance or two on his own, but good goalkeeping and good defending don't make that an easy task.
SaH: Will RSL try to play for a high-scoring match (4+ total goals) even on the road?
RSLSB: No. Simple answer. We haven't done that at all this year — at least purposefully — and the focus will likely be on maintaining a smart, effective team defense. We're more likely to take chances when they come rather than force them.
Having attended two blowouts in Seattle in the past few years, it's readily apparent that it's not the easiest place to play — even if your lot aren't at the same heights.
Projected lineup: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, Maund, Phillips; Beckerman, Mulholland, Morales; Martinez, Movsisyan, Plata
RSLSB: Obviously, this hasn't been your best season. Is there now light at the end of the tunnel?
SaH: The light is there, but can they be fast enough to escape the tunnel before it collapses? That's what we do not and cannot know for a couple months. It's going to take at least another six weeks or so of performances like the last two games to be solidly in the race.
There are several signs that Seattle is back to what they were prior to Spring 2016. Nicolas Lodeiro is a creator on par or better than what the Sounders had in Ljungberg and Rosales, but he's younger and more willing to take the beating that MLS offers. With Torres coming back, Fernandez gaining fitness and Evans' ability to move around the XI the Sounders now have 14-15 players that are legit starters in MLS. A month ago they barely had an 11 and any injury meant an emergency quality guy started.
RSLSB: Are you confident in your side being prepared for a dangerous Salt Lake team defensively?
SaH: Nope. Seattle did a decent job against LA's attack, but still gave up a goal. Even at their best, when they were quite good, the Sounders defense gave up a goal a game. They just didn't get blown away. In the past month that D weakened. Maybe with the improved possession they'll be back to their strong form, but I need to see that before I believe it.
RSLSB: What's the next step for Seattle organizationally? Is Lagerwey in for the long haul?
SaH: Garth is putting his stamp on the team. It's going to be his soccer philosophy that runs the squad with a new coach (or maybe Schmetzer stays) that implements those ideas and theories. His goal is to have a roster with enough variance that the offense is not dependent on two players with an incredible dynamic (Oba-Clint) that falls apart when one leaves. They have a DP spot opening up (Valdez' contract is up) and didn't sign a TAM player this Summer because they couldn't get the proper complement for Lodeiro during the window. So that's two new high quality players coming in without a significant loss. There will be other losses, because MLS, but for now the team looks good and likely to get better for 2017.
Predicted lineup: Frei, J.Jones, Marshall, Torres, Mears; Alonso, Friberg; Ivanschitz, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Morris