Matt from RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions, none are about salad.
SaH: Is this now Petke's team?
RSLSB: You know, Dave, it is. Mike Petke has taken the RSL of March and turned it on its head. He’s taken what was a timid, defensive team and made it into a robust attacking team. My real takeaway from this is that this absolutely is the same team in many ways. It speaks volumes about our construction.
But when you look back, we had Joao Plata barely caring, we had Javier Morales clawing his way out from the club, and we had a team that couldn’t play its way out of the back under any circumstances.
Petke has turned the team into one that exudes confidence, on and off the ball. We’re far from perfect, but we are contenders again.
SaH: What midseason additions sparked the late charge up the standings?
RSLSB: Just two: Jefferson Savarino and Marcelo Silva. Both have been immediate first team players, and both have made huge differences. Savarino is a brilliant winger, and he’s gone from an unknown to a truly amazing influence on the team. He works hard, and it pays off.
Silva is a different story, but only in execution. He’s made a huge impact, but he is a calming influence that builds confidence in the players around him. He turns Justen Glad from a talent to a prodigy.
SaH: Is Nick Rimando actually fading, or was that early season chatter without bearing on the year?
RSLSB: That’s a hard one. He truly did have a dip, and the chat was wholly accurate. But he’s come around, and I’d argue his decline was a result of many factors, not least of which was the players around him. Our defense wasn’t working much at all. Now? It’s back to where it should be, and so is Rimando.
Projected lineup: Rimando; Beltran, Silva, Glad, Acosta; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Movsisyan
RSLSB: So... you’ve drawn four in a row, but you’ve also avoided losing for much longer. What’s the key to your success?
SaH: The Mariners motto of 1995, "Refuse to lose." There's a problem with it in soccer, most of them revolve around the ability to draw games. Seattle is riding a defense that is extraordinary. During this 13-game run they have five shutouts and only twice have given up two or more goals. Even with a bad offense that's a pretty simple way to gather up draws, and sometimes wins. The 6-0-7 +12 is good, but there are clearly problems in attack. This four-match draw streak has made that all too clear.
But the only defense that is clearly better than the Sounders is Sporting KC. It starts in the midfield where Osvaldo Alonso is no longer the best defensive midfielder on the team, despite him having one of his strongest seasons. Cristian Roldan is in the USMNT picture because of his range, his ability to read plays, his talent at winning the ball, crisp passing, and ability to enter the offensive phase seamlessly. Those two front possible Defensive Player of the Year Chad Marshall and Roman Torres. The two towers at centerback win everything in the air while also being quite good at the ground game. Stefan Frei is solid, with a spectacular save or two a game. Flanking that pentagon are signee Kelvin Leerdam (who has never seen a Sounders loss) and Joevin Jones (who will be in the MLS Best XI).
There is also depth in defense. Gustav Svensson is TAM level talent at DM/CB but Seattle is only paying him ~200k (thanks China!). Nouhou is possibly a better defender than Jones and even faster, though his crossing and other passes are much worse. It's a defense so strong that Jamaican regular Oniel Fisher is merely a depth piece that sometimes doesn't make the 18.
RSLSB: Tell me: Does RSL worry you? Even a little?
SaH: Absolutely. This Sounders side found ways to tie good teams with late goals and draw against horrible teams while looking awful. Any team should worry Seattle fans right now, but particularly RSL. 6-2-3 is no joke. Mike Petke's Salt Lake side is a playoff caliber team. Only Toronto (duh), Vancouver, and Seattle have been better during your run.
The attack is revitalized, with only TFC scoring more goals from July 4th to the present. There's still the core of a solid defense there too. I wouldn't be surprised to see RSL and SSFC face off in the playoffs. RSL likely belongs in the same tier as Whitecaps, Sporting, Timbers, and Sounders - capable of winning the Western Conference playoffs.
RSLSB: Who is your most dangerous player tomorrow? And how do we stop him?
SaH: Roman Torres.
Normally the phrasing of this question addresses an attacking player. But there are a few things going for the Panama captain. He's actually a really good attacking centerback, and his defense in the past few games is superb.
Torres enters the attack smoothly, offering an outlet to help swing the ball from side to side. Sometimes he will occupy similar spaces to a defensive mid, and other times he will be a secondary right back. From that spot he's notched two assists. Torres will take shots and on set-pieces he offers a huge target easily spotted because of his amazing hair. In defense I've described his as the paddle no a game of Pong, played by a master. He is always in the way of shots, passes. His large frame is surprisingly agile, and quick, if not fast.
The best way to stop him from entering the attack is to not allow Seattle to maintain possession for long stretches, which is difficult. The Sounders are at top five team in possession and pass completion. They love to camp in the attacking third, but a quick counter can force Torres to reconsider his movement into attack. Keeping two or three outlet players up top will do the same thing.
Neutralizing his defense is more difficult. Going around him leads to encounters with Marshall, or crossing into space with Marshall and Torres. Trying throughballs from distance means beating Alonso-Roldan. This is Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz' defense in depth on the soccer field.
Projected lineup: Frei; Jones, Marshall, Torres, Leerdam; Roldan, Alonso; Rodriguez, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Bruin