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Sounders vs Real Salt Lake: Three Questions

RSL likes to attack wide spaces and on the left — that’s going to be a lot of fun for Seattle.

Austin FC v Real Salt Lake
Scott Caldwell is likely to get the starting nod in place of the suspended Jasper Löffelsend.
Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

While Seattle Sounders players finished unconventional goals in their 4-0 win over Colorado, Real Salt Lake gutted out a 2-1 win on the road in Vancouver. On Saturday night (7:30 PM PT, MLS Season Pass/KJR AM) the two sides looking to recover from down seasons in 2022 will try to create a winning streak.

Neither side added a lot of talent. Instead it is tactical shifts and xDawg that will determine victory.

For Wasatch Soccer Sentinel Matt answers Three Questions.

SaH: How will the suspension of Jasper Löffelsend impact the XI and 18?

WSS: Unfortunately, it’ll impact it a fair bit, although if the timing was better, I don’t think he would have played anyway. Pablo Ruiz — the player I think would have replaced Löffelsend in the lineup — is apparently out of contention because he only just received his green card and returned to the United States. RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni has ruled him out, although I’m not entirely sure why. Fitness, maybe? He was in Argentina for a couple weeks.

That all means that we’re likely to see Scott Caldwell in the starting XI, and he’s certainly a less mobile player. Mastroeni (somewhat surprisingly, given who he is) doesn’t play with a dedicated defensive midfielder, instead opting for two ball-winning midfielders (of sorts, at least.) Caldwell, as a result, has plummeted down the depth chart.

SaH: Is this another xDawg season, because it seems like they got away with a result at Vancouver?

WSS: I hope not. Individual games where we win because we “wanted it more” are fine and good, and I will take a few of those a season. They’re a nice bonus on top of sound strategy and tactics. But when they’re the way we play, and our entire goal is to “want it more” and “believe,” I get truly exhausted.

I do think Vancouver played pretty poorly in that game, and they really struggled to finish their chances, of which they had several. I’m pleased RSL won, but I’d like to see a tactical foundation built over the next few weeks, whether that means we win or not.

SaH: Make the loss of Aaron Herrera make sense. How does the shape and tactics adjust?

WSS: Oh, Dave. I wish I could make this make sense. It still doesn’t, unless there’s some non-playing reason he’s left. He told reporters he was surprised to be traded, so I don’t think he asked for a trade. RSL signed Brayan Vera in the offseason as a TAM-level player, and initial indications have him playing a centerback role, though he’s been a left back for most of his career. I would love to make this make sense, but I just can’t. At best, we’ve come out financially level; at worst, we’ve sold a league-leading right back and immediately allocated those resources to a depth signing. It’s so puzzling. Maybe it’ll play out over the course of the season, and I’ll be OK with it, but that’s not how I’m feeling now.

The shape and tactics adjust in an interesting way, though. Herrera weirdly became a right-back-centerback combo player when RSL played in a 3-5-2 (over on Off the Crossbar, we affectionately dubbed that “right wing center back”), and I don’t think we’ll be doing that with our new left back. Unless we do. I think it locks us in more to a traditional four-man backline or a traditional three-man backline, not some weird hybrid.

We’ve replaced Herrera in the lineup with Andrew Brody, who has one pretty good season under his belt at left back. Brody, right-footed though he is, made that left back position work with some more modern attacking forays, cutting inside frequently and popping up all over the attacking third during forays forward. He can’t cut in on his left with anywhere near the same precision, and Bryan Oviedo isn’t the most attacking left back in the history of the game, so our shape necessarily looks a little more rigid. We’ll see how that shakes out over the course of the season.

Check out the Reverse and the rest of their previews at Wasatch Soccer Sentinel.

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