Seattle Sounders FC
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.
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.
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.
Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando were back. Paulo Jr. was withdrawn from the lineup through injury. Emiliano Bonfigli was handed his first start. With the story lines set in motion, one fell swoop of a red card changed everything.
Cards change games
It's pretty obvious, of course, that a red card changes the dynamic of a match. When Zach Scott was sent off in the 30th minute, Seattle went from thrusting forward in attack with aplomb but losing out in tempo to being further and further packed into its own half, with two reasonably flat lines of four players providing a difficult wall to break down.
Despite throwing on a second and third attacking midfielder (first Sebastian Velasquez, then David Viana), Kreis's side couldn't cut through the mess of players. Sebastian Velasquez had some good moments on the ball and nearly had a goal and David Viana had some great approach play, but without a big man in the box to hoist crosses toward, RSL had to attack on the ground, and Seattle did just enough to get by.
Despite the complaints of Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, the two yellows and subsequent red were both justified. The first came for Scott’s takedown of Fabian Espindola on the flank during a breakaway, and the second came when he crunched into Javier Morales from the back.
Breaking down the walls
It's easy to disparage the team after failing to capitalize on a man advantage, but that stream of thought tends to ignore the surprising defensive solidity of Seattle. By packing eight outfielders into a tight area, Seattle was able to effectively clog the passing lanes and restrict the movement of RSL's midfield.
As a result, Javier Morales was forced to drop deep, and Luis Gil and Jonny Steele were both pushed wide as they tried to break through. The introduction of Velasquez and Viana wasn't decisive, but with three players on the pitch capable of invention and close control, RSL looked significantly more likely to find the gaps. It's no coincidence that the best chances came after the 80th minute, when the method of approach was changed significantly.
Playing in a free role, Velasquez was able to take up positions both deep and in the box, confusing markers and disrupting continuity. It nearly paid off when he had a shot bobble off Michael Gspurning deep into stoppage time.
Kyle Beckerman the pass master
RSL's captain and chief deep-lying playmaker hardly put a foot wrong against Seattle. His efforts can be boiled down into one statistic: 123 passes accurately completed, 137 attempted. It's the first time this season that any one player has completed 100 or more passes in one MLS match this year.
That he did this all after flying into Seattle late Tuesday night after a national team camp is even more remarkable. He may not have played, but match preparation isn't exactly a zero-effort thing.
The captain can hold his head high after that performance. He was in rare form.
Real Salt Lake picked up a valuable point on Wednesday night, moving closer to clinching a top-three seed in the Western Conference by playing 10-man Seattle Sounders FC to a 0-0 draw at CenturyLink Field.
Here are some interesting numbers from the match:
The number of points RSL needs in its season-finale against Vancouver at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 27 to clinch a top-three seed in the Western Conference and avoid the 4-v-5 seed knockout game. The Claret-and-Cobalt would also clinch a spot in the top-three with a loss or tie by fourth-place L.A. in either of its remaining two games.
The number of goals RSL conceded in three games against Seattle this season.
RSL’s record in its last nine games across all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is unbeaten in its last five matches.
The number of goals Real Salt Lake has given up in its last nine games. In all, RSL has outscored its opposition 12-3 in those last nine games across all competitions.
The number of passes RSL captain Kyle Beckerman completed on Wednesday night, the highest single-game total of any MLS player this year. In all, Beckerman – who flew into Seattle late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning on a plane chartered by RSL ownership after dressing in the U.S.’s 3-1 win over Guatemala in Kansas City on Tuesday – was 123 for 137 on Wednesday night. He was the first MLS player this year to surpass 100 passes completed in a match.
The number of career shutouts RSL goalie Nick Rimando has after Wednesday’s clean sheet. That total is second in MLS history, trailing only FC Dallas ‘keeper Kevin Hartman.
The number of minutes RSL forward Emiliano Bonfigli played on Wednesday night, the most he’s played in any MLS game this year. Wednesday’s game was Bonfigli’s first-ever start for RSL.
The minute in which RSL midfielder David Viana entered Wednesday’s match. It was the RSL/MLS debut for Viana, who signed with the Claret-and-Cobalt on Sept. 15.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders are two sides of the same coin: Both are known in MLS for their attacking play, but the former represents a build-through-the-middle mentality, and the latter one more focused on building from wide. As it has so many times since Seattle came into the league, this clash of styles is sure to result in some scintillating play.
But for all the attacking mentality in the world, though, both sides will be suffering from international absences — RSL unarguably more so than the Western Conference rivals.
Coping with absences
The first and most important question is likely how Jason Kreis will deal with the absences of Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, Ned Grabavoy, and likely Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman. It becomes a difficult proposition, replacing five key players, and it leaves the club facing yet another match with a depleted core. It's a far cry from the one missing piece from Kreis's "best eleven," which is sure to create some frustration.
Grabavoy and Johnson are both noted "two-way" players with strengths in attack and defense as well as possession maintenance. Their likely replacements, Luis Gil and Jonny Steele, are less balanced — Gil is a better attacker than a defender, and Steele the opposite. With Beckerman very unlikely to start (though it does depend on USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann's use of him against Guatemala), Yordany Alvarez will need to be doubly aware of the threats presented.
No Eddie, No Cry
However, Seattle will be dealing with absences of their own. Eddie Johnson — a vital cog in Friday's U.S. win over Antigua and Barbuda — gets a free pass from RSL fans for a day, particularly as he's likely to feature against Guatemala, and thus would be doubtful for a Seattle match. Super doubtful. Incredibly doubtful. We're giving him a ride home — a classy move, to be sure — but it's not as if he'll be expected to play.
Without Eddie Johnson's quality on headers and goalscoring ability (he's sitting at 14 goals), Seattle's typically strong crossing (excepting corners) — tied for the best accuracy with Colorado Rapids at 26.4 percent — will undoubtedly suffer. With RSL's Borlave contingent in contention, expect that rate to be a distant goal.
Seattle's passing accuracy, 76.9 percent, compared to RSL's 81.4 percent, and general passing statistics are illustrative of a team that doesn't necessarily build through possession in the same way as Kreis's side. But with passing lanes a bit more open than usual, the flank-heavy Seattle side may be given an opportunity to play a bit more centrally.
Seattle also lists slightly to its right side — 11 percent of its passes move left, 15 percent right (RSL is essentially flipped), but without Adam Johansson, who is away with Sweden, they could struggle to build on that side.