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Three Questions with Wasatch Soccer Sentinel

Real Salt Lake has a strong defense that likes to quit late. We learn that and more talking to our old friends at WSS

Last Updated
5 min read

Preseason predictions didn’t think Real Salt Lake would be one of the best teams in the league nor did they think the Seattle Sounders would be in the bottom third. Here we are now, a third of the way through the season and RSL looks capable of dominance, while the Sounders struggle to be competitive.

6-2-4, +9 on the season, Salt Lake is overperforming their underlying numbers, but they still belong at the top of the West. As usual, they are dominant at home, 3-1-1. The Claret and Cobalt haven’t lost in eight matches.

Seattle is also on a streak, though shorter, with three straight unbeaten league games and four overall. A middle of the road 1.00 ppm on the road, the Sounders need to right their path at home to have a hope at the second season.

Wednesday night’s match (6:30 pm PDT / MLS Season Pass) is one where both teams are riddled with injuries, on short rest and at significant elevation. Don’t expect anything pretty as Mastroeni and Schmetzer try to manage minutes and take points.

Answering Three Questions for Wasatch Soccer Sentinel is Matt Montgomery.

SaH: Midweek, short rest, injured —how will Pablo rotate the squad to deal with this?

WSS: I have no idea. I wish I did have an idea. Honestly, the injuries are getting a little ridiculous over here, and the results somehow keep coming. I don’t get it. Injuries to Marcelo Silva and Erik Holt leave us expecting Brayan Vera and Justen Glad at center back, with Philip Quinton on the bench. Our full backs are in a bad state — Bode Hidalgo, Alex Katranis and Bryan Oviedo are each “questionable,” whatever that really means. Expect Andrew Brody and the non-Chicho standout Emeka Eneli back there, I suppose.

As for general rotation — I don’t think Pablo Mastroeni is really likely to do too much of that, which comes with its own set of risks. After making an array of substitutions against LA Galaxy on Saturday, then dropping two points after holding a two-goal lead, I think there might be some nerves about switching out the first team. (And don’t even start me on the U.S. Open Cup result preceding that one.)

Real Salt Lake has five out and three questionable. Seattle has four out and four questionable.

SaH: Please let this mean no Arango, because he’s on the same plane as league MVPs. What’s up with his hot start?

WSS: Oh, he’ll start, I think. His hot start is a little confounding, because he’s not just been good — he’s been, like you say, a league-best player. I knew he was a good striker, but is he this good? Is it a run-of-form type thing? Here’s the thing — some of the most important metrics for a forward are very much in his favor. The always-excellent McLachApp has him with 3.4 open play shots created for others per game. That’s wild. He has 0.31 expected assists per game. 0.70 non-penalty goals per game. 4.3 shots per game. He’s overperforming his expected goals, and maybe there’s a glimmer of hope for you there. But really, I’m just astounded at how we’ll he’s done in 2024. It’s been a position of very real need since the days of Alvaro Saborio, and I can’t believe how well he’s been playing.

Of course, that makes me worried, too. You know how it is.

Cristian Arango is tied with Messi in non-penalty xG+xA on the season with 9.3 (that's good for 4th). He's averaging one expected goal contribution a match and has 14 real goal contributions on the season.

SaH: The defense has been fine for y’all. Is this powered by tactics or a particular player? I’d appreciate it if you could point out a flaw Seattle can attack. They need help.

WSS: I think it’s the midfield making the biggest difference. Braian Ojeda is quietly having a very nice season, and his partner, Emeka Eneli, is having a great one. They’ve formed a good partnership in the midfield; they complement each others skillsets, and that’s paying early dividends for RSL. One flaw of note: Brayan Vera is really good at picking up yellow cards. He’s got five in nine games already, and just served a suspension in league play and in U.S. Open Cup play. I bet you can make him get another.

I do think there are some gaps of note. The team is very heavily slanted to the right, and accounting for that probably will pay off. Also, this team loves to give up goals in leading positions, especially at home. So there's always that.

Salt Lake is 8th in non-penalty xGA/90. Of their three scoring draws or losses with a goal all involved giving up a late goal or two to drop the available three points.


WSS: Early season MLS is weird. How worried are you feeling about the Sounders’ form? Does finishing second in the Western Conference last year buy some patience for the coaching staff?

SaH: If 2022’s awful regular season hadn’t happened, maybe. But the Sounders are in a three-year stretch of offensive struggle that is punctuated with a few stretches that included positive results with poor performance. Adding on more poor performances isn’t going to be acceptable too long. On Nos Audietis a couple weeks ago Jeremiah and Aaron seemed to think the end of May, the halfway point, would be a solid time for a change if one is going to happen. Brian Schmetzer & Staff don’t have to turn the season around to be safe at that point.

They merely need to be better. Over the past seven games they have a 1.57 ppm. That’s not Shield contention, but it’s basically last year’s second place in the conference and typically puts a team hosting home games in the playoffs. If they can maintain this pace for the month, win another Open Cup game and get healthier :fingers-crossed: they’ll be in a position to charge forth in the second half for a noisy playoff run – or the coaches will watch from somewhere not on the sidelines. 

WSS: It can’t be easy with Pedro de la Vega out. Is he getting close to fit? Any chance he’s nearing a recovery?

SaH: He could be back this weekend! Which is great news for RSL fans. De la Vega looks every bit like Nico Lodeiro when he first came to Seattle, except younger, faster. He’s a creative force, which was expected. A solid dribbler who can use multiple channels, Pedro should become an exceptional talent. What leads me to thinking he could be Nico 2.0 is the defense and ground covering. He’s more disciplined than Nico, but just as active. Seattle’s defense-first posture will be even better with PdlV on the field.

But you won't need to worry about it. 

WSS: Our old friend Albert Rusnák — how’s he doing? I’ve seen some grumbling from Sounders fans about him. Is there something afoot there?

SaH: Last year he finally moved to the 10 and looked like a great withdrawn forward capable of threatening goal and earning secondary assists from the role. This year he started injured. When he finally was playing again he was back at the 10, mostly. But, his counting stats aren’t good. FBref loves his underlying metrics, but when a team is struggling to perform underlying metrics are frequently overlooked by fans. With only a single losing season since 2006 (and that’s the only one since ’94) Sounders fans aren’t used to struggle. The lack of big numbers from the most expensive free agent signed within the league is a significant focus of ire. He’s not performing up to the standard of his salary. There are reasons – he was used as an 8 during the CCL run and early last season, and now the Sounders are quite bad at shooting effectively.If he can be what he was in the second half of 2023 for the remaining 2/3rds of 2024 the offense will look much better.

And the offense needs help, because Raul, Jordan and Musavski aren't performing at their levels either.

Head on over to Wasatch Soccer Sentinel for more previews and reviews.