Real Salt Lake currently sit in third place in the Western Conference, though they’re tied on points with LA. They’ve played more matches and have a significantly worse goal differential than the Galaxy, but they have the lucky tiebreaker win to give them the edge. Salt Lake is in a nervy position with LA, who will likely blow past them by season’s end, pushing them down to at least fourth. On the road, RSL is 4-7-2; in Toronto they went for the draw, but they shouldn’t do the same thing in Seattle with every point starting to be critical even for the clubs in “safe” positions.
Led by Javier Morales and Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez, RSL’s offense should be electric. They have two great playmakers feeding speedy forward Joao Plata and clinical striker Yura Movsisyan but as their +1 GD tells you, they have trouble scoring enough goals to make up for the lack of tracking back by the majority of their attackers. Plata will be the only one of the attacking quartet who actively (and often) tries to defend. Burrito tends to track back pretty slowly, while Morales and Movsisyan usually end up fouling the opposition instead of trying to get the ball.
Under Jeff Cassar, RSL are less likely to press but more likely to utilize the offside trap, making the field very tight and short as all 11 players will likely be within 35 yards of each other when the opposition has the ball. Teams that can’t operate in small spaces have crumbled against RSL while teams that excel in that (Toronto with Giovinco, Dallas with Diaz, etc.) have taken advantage and punished them. Clint Dempsey is not bad at operating in those spaces, nor are Jordan Morris and Osvaldo Alonso—but who cares about them. Nicolas Lodeiro will be the one doing that, because he loves and thrives in that area. Lodeiro will likely use his ability to put short and long balls past a high RSL defensive line, trying to get Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey in on goal.
Orlando pushed up their defensive line rather high against Seattle last weekend, which was new for them because they didn’t play that way under Adrian Heath. But it’s a key part of RSL’s usual strategy, and they’ll be much more efficient with it than Orlando was. The question is not if, but how many times Lodeiro can take advantage and burn Salt Lake’s defense. Seattle’s newly acquired high pressing tactics will likely encourage and accelerate Lodeiro’s ability to do it. The three goals in Orlando will be the benchmark for Seattle, especially against an aged and leaky RSL back line led by master foul-er Jamison Olave.
Where RSL is often most successful is when they can get Burrito or Morales the ball and just let them create magic. They’ve been playing their own version of a 4-3-3 with Plata out left, Movsisyan in the middle, and Burrito out right. Behind them is usually a midfield triangle with Beckerman and Mulholland holding and Morales doing the attacking. Without the ball, they often compress into a very tight 4-5-1—but in attack it will look more like a 4-1-3-2.
Movsisyan and another striker will stay up top; one will make an opposite-side run, while the other (likely Movsisyan) will stay in the middle. Plata or Martinez will slide back as either Beckerman and Mulholland push up to make an attacking band of three. Someone sending a ball for Plata down the left flank is usually RSL’s most efficient attacking route. His speed will often stretch the defense, usually drawing the RB and a CB towards his flank.
Movsisyan and Burrito will make runs to the near and far posts with Morales sitting at the 18 for Plata to get something into the box. Mulholland and Beckerman’s ability to get into the box late, along Demar Phillips and Tony Beltran providing average service from the wings means that as many as eight RSL players can get into the attack and overwhelm their opponent’s defense. RSL averages about 1.5 goals a game for a reason—they average 1.5 points per game and concede 1.5 goals per game because they apparently love 1.5 as a stat.
Seattle lost 2-1 earlier this season to RSL because, without an individual to take control in tight spaces, RSL suffocated their attack. This time around, Lodeiro will change that. If Tyrone Mears can do enough on both offense and defense to force Morales and Burrito to think twice about playing everything down the left to Plata, then Seattle should be able to win it. Perhaps even another 4-0 drubbing at CenturyLink is in the cards.
Real Salt Lake: Rimando, Beltran, Maund, Glad, Phillips, Mulholland, Beckerman, Morales, Martinez, Movsisyan, Plata
Sounders: Frei, Mears, Evans, Marshall, Jones, Alonso, Roldan, Lodeiro, Dempsey, Ivanschitz, Morris
Unlike Dave, I think Torres is a sub appearance as a replacement for Roldan or Ivanschitz, pushing Evans into the midfield later in the match. If Seattle needs a goal, expect him to come in and make a three-man backline with Evans and Marshall—though they shouldn’t need to do that.