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Scouting Report: How to beat a Real Salty Club

Seattle needs three points badly, and RSL isn’t going to give them out easily

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

What You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders stay on the road as they travel to Sandy, Utah to take on Real Salt Lake this weekend. This is second and final regular season meeting between the two teams. This is the Sounders’ second-to-last road trip of the season.

The Sounders are in the midst of a 13-game unbeaten streak, but have drawn four straight matches in unconvincing fashion. Real Salt Lake have won three of their last four and are slowly climbing up the Western Conference table.

RSL currently sit in the sixth and final playoff spot in the West (38 points in 30 games played; 1.27 ppg), while the Sounders have slowly slid from the top and currently sit in fourth place (44 points in 29 games played; 1.52 ppg).

Seattle are 9-8-4 all time against Real Salt Lake, but are just 1-6-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real is 7-4-4 at home this season, while Seattle is 3-6-6 on the road. The last meeting saw the Sounders win 1-0 on Harry Shipp’s goal in the 42’.

Current Form

Salt Lake: L-W-W-L-W; 13 goals scored and eight conceded

Top Scorers: Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan, seven goals

Top Assist Leader: Rusnak, 12 assists

Sounders: W-D-D-D-D; five goals scored and four conceded

Top Scorers: Clint Dempsey, 11 goals

Top Assist Leader: Joevin Jones, 10 assists

Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension

Real Salt Lake

Salt Lake has four players listed as out for this match — Chad Barrett (knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee surgery), Omar Holness (knee surgery) and Ricardo Velazco (ankle surgery. Demar Phillips (hamstring injury) is listed as questionable. Chris Shuler and Sunny are both one yellow card away from a mandatory one-game suspension.


The Sounders injury report the last few weeks has grown in the wrong direction. Brad Evans (lower back pain), Jordan Morris (right hamstring strain) and Calum Mallace (left quad strain) are all listed as out. Chad Marshall (left hamstring strain) is listed as questionable.

Referee Assignments

REF: Sorin Stoica
AR1: Jeff Muschik
AR2: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho
4TH: Drew Fischer
VAR: Jon Freemon

What to Watch

It’s been quite a ride since Seattle and RSL last faced off. the not-at-all-associated-with-anything-royal-in-any-way Salt Lake team comes in flying high; after a truly awful first half of the year they’ve pulled themselves into the playoff picture with a pretty great run of form.

The team the Sounders face this week will have little resemblance to the struggling one rolled out back in the 12th match of the season. Since then, Mike Petke has righted the ship via significant changes to the on-field lineup and by instilling a style that aims to take advantage of the technical skill of his roster while covering for its inexperience. It’s a style and structure that will be familiar to Seattle fans, executed in a more direct and upfield manner.

Petke’s system aims to use possession both offensively and defensively, but cedes some of the defensive portion in exchange for additional attacking opportunities. In exchange they’re more than happy to foul, and foul heavily — they’re 6th in the league at 13.4 fouls per game, and tied for 2nd at 62 yellow cards. It gets the job done, though, as they concede 12.3 shots per game (13th in the league and even with Seattle), and lump out the 5th fewest clearances at 17.9 per game (the Sounders sit at 17.2 per game).

The chosen 4-2-3-1 plays close to a 3-5-2, with the outside backs attacking hard and centerbacks splitting wide while one of the two defensive midfielders provides central cover and slows down attacks down the gut. Justen Glad has been strong if inexperienced, and Marcelo Silva has been serviceable at CB. Luke Mulholland and Kyle Beckerman provide the central flow diversion to channel attacks to the outside.

This is not a fast defense. It relies on up-field pressure, recoveries, and chopping the match apart with fouls to keep things under control. It can be split with through balls, and does poorly tracking backwards. If you can break the pressure, opportunities open up; RSL spends the most time in their opponent’s third in the league (32% of each match), and the least amount of time in their own third (25%). When pushed into their own defensive ground they are uncomfortable and struggle with spacing. They are a young team at most positions, and the inexperience shows.

In the attacking third, the triumvirate of Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak, and Jefferson Savarino have really begun to click and shine. Rusnak, after a bumpy start, has taken the reigns and become one of the better CAMs in the league. As a result Plata and Savarino have been freed up to focus more on attacking the goal, and they’ve taken it with gusto. Luis Silva has taken over the point from Yura Movsisyan, providing solid hold-up and pivot work.

Taking enough shots is not a concern for RSL, and frankly neither is location. If the attackers find a yard or two of space within 30 yards of goal, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll just decide to shoot. They lead the league in shots per match at 16 (Sounders are currently 2nd at 14.6) — putting 5.4 of those on frame on average — and take 42% of those shots outside the 18 (6th most in the league).

With RSL on the ascendancy and Seattle struggling to find offensive traction, this has all the makings of a difficult match. So what should the Sounders focus on?

Don’t give them space - Given their propensity for taking — and making — shots from all over the place, it will be extra important to limit space in all areas. Seattle’s top-notch defense will need to be on it’s best spacing behavior to ensure large pockets, like the ones Mauro Diaz occasionally found last weekend, aren’t available in dangerous places.

Take advantage of set pieces - RSL’s love of the attack-killing foul dares teams to beat them on the set piece. Seattle has the talent in Dempsey’s and Rodriguez’s free kicks to threaten a diminished Nick Rimando’s goal. The expected towers of Roman Torres and Will Bruin should be able to generate a few chances off corners and free kick service.

Salt Lake won’t be too concerned about a slow Seattle team running past them, so decisive, quick passing in conjunction with a well-spaced formation will be vital to getting into the attacking third and creating chances that force the pretenders to a nonexistent throne to make hard choices.

Expected Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Danilo Acosta, Glad, M. Silva, Tony Beltran; Mulholland, Beckerman; Plata, Rusnak, Savarino; L. Silva

Seattle Sounders: Stefan Frei; Jones, Gustav Svensson, Torres, Leerdam; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Rodriguez, Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Bruin

How to Watch

Date/Time: September 23 at 6:30 PM

Venue: Rio Tinto Stadium

Television: JOEtv

Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)

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