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Scouting Report: It’s now or never

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A helping hand may come from this week’s opponent in Seattle’s quest to turn their season around.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

What You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders return to the pitch after a week off and will host Real Salt Lake Saturday night at CenturyLink Field. This will be the first of a two game series between these two Western Conference foes.

Salt Lake is currently sitting in ninth place of the West with a record of 4-6-1 (13 points in 11 games played; 1.18 ppg) while the Sounders still sit second from bottom in the West with a record of 2-5-2 (eight points in nine games played; 0.89 ppg). The last time out, the Sounders lost 1-0 on the road against the Portland Timbers, while Salt Lake lost 4-1 on the road against the Philadelphia Union.

This will be the 23rd all-time regular season meeting between the clubs. Honors are even with the overall record at 9-9-4. The Sounders have scored 27 goals while conceding 24. Seattle is 8-2-2 at home, scoring 20 goals and conceding just eight.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: W-L-L-W-L scoring eight goals and conceding 11 goals

Leading Goal Scorer: Albert Rusnak, three goals

Assist Leader: Damir Kreilach & Rusnak, three assists

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

Real Salt Lake

Salt Lake has a pretty extensive injury report. They have five players listed as out: Tony Beltran (right knee surgery 11/30, out 9 months), Jordan Allen (knee injury), Alex Horwath (Achilles surgery 5/1, out 6 months), Shawn Barry (knee) and Demar Phillips (ankle injury). Joao Plata (quad injury) is listed as questionable.

Seattle

Seattle, just like Real Salt Lake, has six players out: Jordan Morris (torn ACL 2/22, out for season), Victor Rodriguez (right knee arthroscopy 5/1), and Will Bruin (left heel pain). Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay) and Roman Torres (Panama) are all away with their respective national teams.

Match Officials

Referee: Baldomero Toledo

AR1: Apolinar Mariscal

AR2: Jeff Hosking

4TH: Malik Badai

VAR: Silviu Petrescu

What to Watch

If ever there were an opportunity to feel optimistic about getting points, this — and the upcoming stretch of games — is it. RSL has a number of interesting, threatening offensive pieces, but their defense is straight trash.

The defensive issues start in the band of two of Mike Petke’s 4-2-3-1 (it occasionally gets called a 4-3-3, but relies pretty heavily on a solo forward), and specifically with Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman’s legs are gone; he’s more often barely even fulfilling the role of a traffic cone than he is showing the strong situational awareness that once had him ranked among the best players in the league. It only gets worse when you try to figure out what’s going on with the back four, who seem to each be playing their own game. They’re near the bottom of the league in per-match tackles attempted (27) and completed (17).

The lack of cohesion does an aged Nick Rimando no favors. They give chances to opponents like candy, and have conceded the second-most goals in the league (24 through 10 games). They’ve been particularly susceptible to head-on attacks and corner kicks; even the most ardent Salt Lake fan would be hard-pressed to find positives anywhere back there.

If there’s anything they do decently at the back it’s start the transition, and goodness does RSL seem to hate spending time in the middle third. A combination of balls over the top, multi-line passes and fleet-of-foot attackers gets them into their attacking third as fast as anyone in the league. There are, of course, downsides to this — namely, that there’s very little left behind for defending against the counter.

Despite having played two more games than Seattle, Salt Lake has exactly the same xG total. This probably has something to do with their odd love of the deep shot, a thing they do more often than all but two other teams in the league. In what is likely a concession that the defense is terrible, their fullbacks are used more for interchanges than attacking the goal. There’s plenty of action up the sidelines, but there’s next to nothing out wide once they arrive at the box — they attempt just 13 crosses on average, and connect on just three of them. Lest you think them toothless, they generate the 5th-most key passes per match; the opportunities are there for the taking if they can find a finisher or two.

RSL’s offense has a number of middle-upper level talents, but no real transcendental player to take them from troubling to fearsome. Albert Rusnak pulls most of the truly creative strings, and Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino are quick and technical players who will just as gladly throw down a nutmeg as blow past anyone caught on their heels. Homegrown forward Chris Baird looks like he might be a legitimate threat, averaging .64 G+A in his 555 minutes this season. There are a lot of thorns that can prick the Sounders if they aren’t careful.

Quick Keys

Beware the straggler - RSL’s attackers are loaded up on isolation talent; that is, they thrive on separating defenders from the pack and taking their lunches. They are also quite good at drifting into spaces between defenders in the second line of attack and turning cut back balls into dangerous shots.

Find a balance - It’s wonderful to get a clean sheet. It’s impossible to win without scoring. The time where a 0-0 tie is acceptable is more-or-less past. The Sounders have to find a way to maintain a defense and commit numbers forward to support the limited offensive options available.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday May 26 @ 2:00 PM PT

Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV: JOEtv

Streaming: YouTube TV

Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)