It's rare that two sides so perfectly matched meet, but with Real Salt Lake once again taking on Seattle Sounders, a tactical battle was inevitable. With Seattle focusing in wide areas and RSL creating through the middle, the match was more tactical than technical in its nature.
Stopping wide play
There are two sides to this coin: On one hand, we should consider how well Seattle was able to get crosses into the box. On the other, we should consider that those rarely had any real effect.
A six-for-38 crossing rate — about 16 percent success, including corners — speaks to the cross quality. It's a low mark for Seattle, but the number must be a little startling — allowing 38 crosses is a bit dangerous. But by and large, those were rushed, and the central defenders — Borchers and Watson-Siriboe, largely — were able to clear most of the danger.
Understandably, Seattle focused their crossing efforts on their right side. With Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert taking up positions there, RSL relied heavily on Chris Wingert, who performed well, especially given the glut of attack coming on that side.
Flipping the midfield
To clog up the passing lanes in Seattle's attack, Jason Kreis made an interesting decision to switch the sides Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson operated on. With Grabavoy on the left, Rosales and Tiffert were able to pick up play a bit, but we more easily regained possession on that side.
Johnson on the right allowed an excellent partnership with Tony Beltran, forcing Seattle's play outside the final third. Combined with Seattle's generally right-sided play, the other flank was RSL's. With Johnson cutting in just a bit more central than he usually does when playing on the left, clogging passing lanes effectively.
With Grabavoy and Johnson switching sides and playing in channels, Kyle Beckerman was left to control the center of the park. His defensive contribution was largely acting as a body in the center — Seattle's penchant for avoiding the center of the park in attack meant he wasn't called on as he is against other MLS sides.
As a result, Beckerman acted more as a distributing central midfielder, occupying the middle third almost exclusively. It's a stark contrast from the occasions in which he's deployed in an anchoring role and acts as a third center back — on Friday, he was tasked with transitioning from defense to attack.
With Javier Morales taking up his typical wider positions, the connection between the two was strengthened: Beckerman picked the ball up in the middle of the park, pushed it off to Morales, and the attack moved forward. Additionally, Alvaro Saborio, in fine hold-up form, was a vital cog as RSL looked to build in attack.
Real Salt Lake got its Western Conference Semifinal series off to a good start on Friday, tying Seattle Sounders FC 0-0 at CenturyLink Field to set itself up nicely for Thursday’s return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Friday’s first leg:
The amount of goals RSL has conceded in four games against Seattle this year. The Claret-and-Cobalt has kept Sounders FC off the board for 389 straight minutes, last conceding against Seattle in the 61st minute of the second leg of last year’s Western Conference Semifinal on Nov. 2, 2011.
The number of consecutive scoreless draws RSL has played across all competitions.
The number of minutes RSL has gone since last conceding. The Claret-and-Cobalt last gave up a goal in the 17th minute of the team’s 2-1 win at L.A. on Oct. 6.
The number of saves Nick Rimando made on Friday night. Four of those stops were absolutely spectacular.
The number of stitches Rimando got after Friday’s game. Rimando suffered a facial laceration and a broken nose – which was re-set after the match – when he collided with Seattle midfielder Christian Tiffert in the 66th minute of Friday’s game.
The number of postseason minutes captain Kyle Beckerman and Rimando have played for RSL. The pair has played every single playoff minute in the team’s history.
The number of RSL playoff games midfielder Will Johnson has appeared in. Johnson has appeared in all of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s postseason matches.
The number of consecutive sell-outs of Rio Tinto Stadium RSL is shooting for on Thursday night. A limited amount of tickets to the match are still available and can be purchased here.
Of the 13 all-time meetings between RSL and Seattle across all competitions only three - a 4-1 Seattle win in the 2011 U.S. Open Cup and both 2011 Western Conference Semifinal games - have been decided by more than one goal.
The number of times RSL has advanced from a home elimination game in six tries. The Claret-and-Cobalt will be hoping for number 2 on Thursday night.
It seems like it was only yesterday that Real Salt Lake was on their way to Seattle to take on the Sounders on Oct. 17. These two sides just can't seem to stop playing each other, and with that, another entertaining match is likely to ensue in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semifinal.
Stopping wide play
The Sounders are an interesting matchup for more reasons than just historical: With their flank play, they represent a distinct ideological shift from Real Salt Lake's through-the-middle approach. Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy will be forced to step into wider areas to challenge Seattle's full backs, and Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran will be forced to push a bit higher than they would against most sides to challenge Seattle's wingers.
This puts a bit more of an onus on Kyle Beckerman to cut out passes when Seattle transitions from the wide areas to more central areas, focusing acutely on players like Christian Tiffert and Mauro Rosales, the two biggest sources of Seattle's key passes.
On the defensive
Going behind in the first leg of a playoff series makes the second leg more difficult. It is perhaps fortunate, then, that RSL is going into this match with a brilliant defensive record, having conceded only three goals in 990 minutes of play across all competitions. It's a remarkable measure, but it doesn't stop goals from occurring.
Performances on the road have at times been lacking, evidenced by the fact that RSL has conceded 20 goals and scored only 19, leaving them with a negative differential away from home. But going on goal differential can be a bit misleading: San Jose has conceded 21 (+8 GD), Seattle 22 (+2 GD), LA Galaxy 27 (+1 GD), and Vancouver Whitecaps 24 (-14 GD).
Seattle has conceded only 11 goals at home, the best mark in all of MLS. It makes the proposition a bit trickier: Does Real Salt Lake come out and try to nick a goal or two against the team with the best home defensive record? I'm inclined to think that Jason Kreis recognizes this and will instruct his players to worry first about defending — something they've been quite good at in the last month or two — and to look for goals through counter attacking play.
It's been evident before (save in the most recent MLS match against them, though they did go down a man) that Seattle isn't afraid to commit players in attack. It could be an influential factor. I'm not saying RSL should bunker, mind — that's the sort of stuff the team’s never been great at. But if Seattle wants to swing crosses in with reckless abandon, RSL's back line — whoever it may be — will have the ability to deal with it. It's when wingers cut inside that there may be more worries.
A huge thanks goes out to Rancid drummer Branden Steineckert for writing, recording and producing "Believe RSL - Version II." Additional thanks to Isaac Halasima and Deep Blue Films - regular producers of RSL campaigns - for their creative contributions in the shooting, production and editing of this video.
Watch Branden's incredible follow-up to his original "Believe" anthem above. Trust us, you don't want to miss it.
RSL takes on Seattle in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night at 8 p.m MT on NBC Sports Network. The second leg will be at Rio Tinto Stadium on Nov. 8.
Ready for Friday night’s MLS Cup Playoff opener at Seattle?
We are too. Unfortunately, there's still over 48 hours left 'til the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals kicks off on NBC Sports Network at 8 p.m. MT.
You'll just have to let the above 2012 season highlight package tide you over until then. Go ahead and enjoy the doozy of a video with your favorite candy bar. It is Halloween, after all.
Last week, we went in-depth on the various scenarios that would affect RSL’s playoff seeding, chances of hosting MLS Cup and potential qualification for CONCACAF Champions League. In that post, we told you we’d be back with an update after the regular season wrapped up this weekend.
Well, here we are. Let’s get right to it:
RSL secures No. 2 seed
As you probably know by now, Real Salt Lake’s 0-0 draw against Vancouver on Saturday combined with L.A.’s 1-0 win over Seattle on Sunday night gave RSL the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Claret-and-Cobalt will kick off its postseason campaign on Friday night at No. 3 seed Sounders FC (8 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network). The return leg for that series will be on Thursday, Nov. 8 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Claret-and-Cobalt unlikely to host MLS Cup
Unfortunately, it’s not looking very likely that RSL will host MLS Cup should the team advance all the way to the final. The Claret-and-Cobalt would only host MLS Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium on Dec. 1 if it was playing Chicago or Houston. One of the Fire or the Dynamo will be eliminated on Wednesday night, when the two teams play each other in the Eastern Conference knockout game at Toyota Park outside Chicago.
If RSL qualifies for MLS Cup against Kansas City, D.C. or New York, it would play the game on the road.
Cup or bust for CCL qualification
Had RSL won on Saturday, it would’ve finished the season in third-place in MLS and thereby could’ve qualified for the 2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League if: A) The team made MLS Cup or B) San Jose and/or Kansas City made MLS Cup.
Of course, the Claret-and-Cobalt didn’t win on Saturday, it drew. That result left the team in fifth-place in the overall MLS standings, meaning that the only way it can qualify for the 2013/14 CCL is by advancing to MLS Cup.
The takeaway, as always: Let’s just win the whole thing.
Real Salt Lake played Vancouver Whitecaps FC to a 0-0 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium in the club’s regular season finale on Saturday. We’ll eschew taking a look at that game, however, in favor of looking ahead to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle Sounders FC.
The series – a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semi – begins with the first leg on Friday night at Seattle. The return leg will be held at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 8.
Here are a few interesting numbers ahead of the playoff matchup:
Real Salt Lake’s margin of victory over Seattle in last year’s Western Conference Semifinal. RSL beat Seattle 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg of that series and advanced to the Conference Final by limiting Sounders FC to a 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field in the second leg.
Seattle’s record in MLS Cup Playoffs series since the team joined the league in 2009.
The difference in the number of matches Seattle has played across all competitions this year (44, including one friendly) and the number of matches RSL has played across all competitions this year (39). According to a recent Forbes study, when all other factors are equal – which, it should be noted, isn’t necessarily the case with RSL and Seattle – a team that has played five more matches than its opponent entering a two-legged playoff series has about a five percent chance of winning said series. That's certainly a good omen for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
RSL’s record against Seattle in 2012. The Claret-and-Cobalt beat Sounders FC 1-0 at CenturyLink Field on May 12 and played the Cascadia club to a scoreless draw on both July 4 at Rio Tinto Stadium and Oct. 17 in the Pacific Northwest.
The number of goals RSL conceded in three games against Seattle this year.
The number of goals RSL scored in three games against Seattle this year.
Real Salt Lake’s all-time record when playing Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field. The Claret-and-Cobalt – which won MLS Cup 2009 at the stadium – has a 1.4 points per game average against Seattle at the stadium, the second-highest such average of all MLS teams.
Tuesday night’s scoreless draw against C.S. Herediano may have eliminated Real Salt Lake from this year's CONCACAF Champions League, but the team still has plenty left to play for before the MLS Cup Playoffs begin next week.
RSL will take on Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in the MLS regular season finale on Saturday (Kickoff at 7 p.m. MT on CW30), and playoff seeding, potential MLS Cup hosting and qualification for next year’s CCL could very well all be on the line.
We’ll start with playoff seeding. The Claret-and-Cobalt currently sits in third-place in the Western Conference, tied on points with Seattle but trailing Sounders FC by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker. Barring a big blowout win on Saturday, RSL won’t be able to make up the five goals it trails Seattle by to win the tiebreaker. That means that the Utah side needs to get a better result than Sounders FC does this weekend – the Cascadia club plays at L.A. on Sunday night – in order to finish with the West's second-seed.
Finishing second in the West would mean that RSL would host the second-leg of its Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle. Finishing third would mean the team would host the first-leg and travel to the Pacific Northwest for the second.
Hosting MLS Cup
The league made a change to the MLS Cup format this year, switching the host site from a neutral venue to the home stadium of the team with a higher point total. If RSL should make it to Cup, it would need to have a higher point total than the Eastern Conference champ in order to host the final at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The only team in the East that RSL cannot finish above is Sporting Kansas City, which is seven points ahead of the Claret-and-Cobalt. Things are a lot tighter with D.C., Chicago, New York and Houston, all of which could finish above or below Real Salt Lake depending on how things go this weekend.
Here’s how it breaks down: If RSL beats Vancouver on Saturday, it will finish the season with 59 points. That will automatically put the team ahead of New York and Houston. It won’t, however, necessarily put the team ahead of Chicago or D.C., which play each other at Toyota Park on Saturday.
D.C. would finish one point ahead of RSL if both teams win, Chicago – which right now has one fewer goal scored than RSL – would tie RSL if both win, and RSL would finish ahead of both D.C. and the Fire should those two teams draw.
RSL could finish behind all five Eastern Conference teams – thereby eliminating any chance of hosting MLS Cup – should it lose on Saturday.
Two of the four American slots for the 2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League have already been filled. The first was taken by Kansas City, which qualified by winning the U.S. Open Cup in August. The second was filled by the San Jose Earthquakes, which nabbed a spot by winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
The two remaining American CCL spots will go to the teams that qualify for MLS Cup. Because San Jose and Kansas City have already qualified for the CCL, if either/both of those teams make it to Cup, the remaining CCL spot(s) – one or two, depending on if one or both make it to Cup – would go to the team(s) that finished with the next highest regular season point total.
All of that means that RSL - currently fifth in the league table - can qualify for the 2013/14 CCL by: A) Making it to MLS Cup B) Finishing third in the MLS regular season standings with one of San Jose or Kansas City making MLS Cup or C) Finishing third or fourth in the MLS regular season standings with both San Jose and Kansas City making MLS Cup.
Got all that? Great.
We'll be back next week with a full rundown of how everything shook out.
It will be the second-consecutive year that RSL will face the Sounders in the Western Conference Semis. We all remember last year’s series: The Claret-and-Cobalt turned in a dominating 3-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg and held on in Seattle to win 3-2 on aggregate and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
We’ll be back soon to talk about RSL’s huge, must-win CONCACAF Champions League match against C.S. Herediano at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night.