Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders

Unwilling to sacrifice an attacker, Schmid never gave Seattle a chance at Real Salt Lake

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Regardless of your feelings for the game’s strategic side, in high-level professional soccer, tactics do matter. The extent to which they matter is debatable, but anybody who seeks to dismiss the influence of a good (or bad) plan need only look to last night’s game at Rio Tinto for an example of a poor plan submarining a team’s chances.

Everybody knows Real Salt Lake is going to play a 4-3-1-2 formation, so their approach shouldn’t have been difficult for Sigi Schmid plan for ahead of Seattle’s visit to Real Salt Lake. That planning was complicated by the absence of Osvaldo Alonso – Seattle’s all-league ball-winner capable of offsetting the numerical advantage RSL was bound to have in the middle. Thanks to Javi Morales and Kyle Beckerman at each end of the final third, RSL were also likely to have an edge in talent. Schmid needed to adjust.

Unfortunately, all of his adjustments seemed to downplay the importance of the midfield. Schmid chose Brad Evans and Servando Carrasco to start in the middle, leaving Seattle without a true ball-winner (let alone enough numbers to win second balls). Staying with his typical 4-4-2 formation, Schmid’s choices of Mauro Rosales and Lamar Neagle wide isolated his two-man midfield, the attack-minded players almost never coming in to help mitigate RSL’s advantages. The way Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins were deployed up top, there was rarely somebody to come back onto Kyle Beckerman, who was allowed free rein to control the game. Whereas it would have been wishful thinking to see a Evans-Carrasco duo competing with RSL’s diamond under normal circumstances, the lack of help from the other parts of Schmid’s set up gave his midfield little hope.

That’s how you can have a game where RSL, not playing especially well (they were fine, not great), can put up a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal. It’s how a Seattle defense who individually played well can still give up two goals. It’s how a Sounders attack that is one of the most talented in the league can go 73 minutes without a shot on goal.

Critics of this view can point to Real Salt Lake’s two goals and note a bit of luck. The first took a fortunate bounce off a wall before falling to Kyle Beckerman. The second saw Alvaro Saborio shank a shot before Robbie Findley doubled his team’s lead. How would a bulked up Seattle midfield prevented either of those?

The answer’s in the buildup. Before Beckerman’s goal, Carrasco committed the type of edge-of-the-area foul that’s to be expected when a team’s not offering sufficient resistance in midfield. It’s too easy for the opposition to get at the defense with a head of steam, often forcing defenders to commit fouls. On the second goal, Real Salt Lake cut open the midfield, were easily able to move through the defense, leaving Findley in position to benefit from a bit of luck.

By now, you’ve probably imagined the potential solutions. With Andy Rose and Shalrie Joseph on the bench, Seattle had enough midfielders to play three in the middle, moving Evans or Carrasco into a position to pounce on second balls and promote a connection to the attack. If Schmid didn’t want to switch from his favored 4-4-2 or sacrifice one of his attackers, he still needed to adjust defensively, be it by having Rosales or Neagle pinch in, Johnson or Martins fall back onto Beckerman, or both.

By failing to sacrifice an attacker (by it by selection or tactic), Seattle was left with an ironic result. Overwhelmed through the middle, the Sounders were unable to control enough of the game to use their talented attacked, leaving the team with only two shots on goal. By failing to choose between his attackers, Schmid inadvertently sacrificed all four.

If Schmid has chosen a different course, there’s no guarantee Seattle would have gotten a result at Rio Tinto. But failing to make a tough decision between his attackers, Schmid left his team’s chances on the chalkboard. Seattle were never set up to compete with RSL.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

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Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]