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Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake: Three Questions

The Saturday, May 26, 2 PM match is between two bad teams.

Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake: Photos Photo Credit - MikeRussellFoto

What will happen when a bad offense faces a bad defense? That’s the key question to be answered on Saturday, when the Seattle Sounders host Real Salt Lake (2:00 PM, JOEtv). Neither side is living up to preseason punditry and it is possible that the home-and-home series over the next week finishes off the hopes of one of the sides.

Seattle will be without three players attempting to make World Cup rosters — Nicolas Lodeiro, Gustav Svensson and Roman Torres. Injuries are still a major concern as well. Real Salt Lake does not have as significant of an absences list, with Tony Beltran being the key player they will miss the most.

Matt Montgomery of RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions. The questions were exchanged Wednesday and Thursday prior to the signing of Felix Chenkam. His answers are better than my answers.

SaH: What’s going on with Rusnak? How will it impact this weekend’s game?

RSLSB: It’s a good thing I didn’t answer these questions immediately, because my perspective on things has continued changing over the last 24 hours. Basically, I think he’s tired of contract negotiations, and this is largely a kerfuffle that could be just over that. Sam Stejskal reported Wednesday evening that the deal was likely to be completed, so that leaves me thinking everything will end up working out in the end.

As for how it impacts our match together — well, let me just say that I think we’re going to lose the game anyway, and that won’t make a substantive difference. Sadly.

SaH: The defense got quite bad, quite quickly. What happened?

RSLSB: Your questions, Dave. They’re brutal.

What happened? I don’t know. I wish I did. We went from top-tier at the end of last year to decidedly mediocre (or even terrible) this year. On the road, we’re certainly one of the worst teams in the league. There’s no debating it now. I’ve certainly given this question some thought, though. I think there are a few factors, and I’ll list some of them for you.

First, Justen Glad has seemed to regress slightly. I don’t think this is a permanent thing, but he’s certainly not lights-out the best defender on the team.

Second, we’ve had a rotating cast of partners for Glad, including Marcelo Silva, David Horst and Nick Besler. That’s put us in a disadvantaged position, because so much of a good defensive partnership is about consistency and continuity.

Finally, we’re struggling to implement Mike Petke’s tactical approach, and I think this is the biggest thing. We’re trying to play a high-press game (like everyone, really), and we’re finding ourselves caught out frequently as a result. We’re struggling to find the right spacing when doing that, and it becomes easy for teams to counter on us in numbers.

SaH: Is there any specific reason why the road form is bad?

RSLSB: I think it’s down to our approach being decidedly anti-defensive-stance, which is a very interesting trait for a Mike Petke team to have. It’s interesting, really. Under Jason Kreis — a forward by trade — the defense mostly came first, and we defended from the front with startling consistency. Under Mike Petke — a defender by trade — we’ve struggled to get the whole team defending as a unit.

Really, that’s the biggest reason, to my mind. When we’re not defending as a unit, we leave ourselves open, and when we’re on the road, opposition teams are more likely to attack in numbers, taking risks they may not take when they’re at Rio Tinto Stadium.

I think there’s time for some of this to even out, but honestly, I’d be absolutely thrilled with a draw on Saturday. Unless it comes by a late concession, of course. That stuff’s the worst.

Projected lineup

Rimando; Lennon, Glad, Besler, Ruiz; Beckerman, Kreilach; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L. Silva

RSLSB: Hey, wait. I just looked at the standings, and we’ve won more games than you. Is your season really that bad to start? What’s going on over there?

SaH: Not great, Bob. Like, it’s bad. It’s really bad. The light at the end of the tunnel is rather faint, as the World Cup is going to take away two or three players (three for now), a half-dozen players are injured, and there’s little help on the horizon. On top of all of that Clint Dempsey is either in poor form that he’ll break out of (this would be ideal) or he’s finished as a useful player (the most similar player per American Soccer Analysis is Niko Hansen).

Now, there is plenty of reason to think that the Sounders are better than their raw record indicates. But even then this is, at best, a mediocre side with horrendous luck. Maybe when Osvaldo Alonso is healthy; Will Bruin is healthy; and Victor Rodriguez is healthy this team can pull themselves into 5-9 range in the West with the hope of a new DP and TAM player coming in August.

RSLSB: As you watch RSL from a distance, have you had any worries about Saturday’s game? What’s the thing that scares you most about us?

SaH: Considering how poor the Seattle offense is right now? Nick Rimando. Sure, RSL allows too many shots, but Rimando is still capable of magic, is tied for second in the league in saves and can change games. If he has two great moments that could mean the Sounders don’t score.

There are also some fun younger flair players like Corey Baird and Brooks Lennon who can slice through a defense. The defense here has been fairly good. Metrics love it, even with so much depth getting significant minutes, but they consistently give up a goal. The backline is good enough, even with the reduced availability. The defensive mids are also pretty OK, again, without a guy at the World Cup and an injury, yet stable enough. When a team has that many changes there will be communication errors; decent players can take advantage of that.

RSLSB: If you had to trade two players between the teams — in a fair trade, please — what would you do? Who are you envying over here? (Note that you can’t choose Yura Movsisyan, even though he’s technically still our player.)

SaH: I don’t know that there is a great fit for a trade with these two teams. Seattle has some decent depth at centerback and in the attacking midfield, but that’s also where Salt Lake has depth. Lagerwey isn’t going to trade for a DP or TAM level player, though maybe he could swap one out. The intriguing players are Silva, Baird and Lennon. But I can’t put together a package that nabs any of them. Seattle’s best “spare parts” that would help a team without blowing up their cap are Alfaro, Delem and Shipp.

Seattle needs youth. Their championship window this offseason felt like it would be maybe two more years with this core. Now it’s at best one year, and that’s if everything goes right over the next few months. That’s probably why Baird and Lennon make sense here. They would help extend that window, before it slams shut.

Projected lineup

Frei; Francis, Alfaro, Marshall, Leerdam; Delem, C.Roldan; Shipp, Dempsey, Wolff; Neagle

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