Drilling down on: Real Salt Lake 1, at Seattle 0

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Man of the Match: There’ve been a number of stand out forwards this season, and Fabian Espindola deserves his place among them. On Saturday, his volley from 15 yards was clinically finished inside the right post. It was the match’s best display of individual skill, one that pushed RSL four points clear in the Western Conference.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • It was a playoff caliber clash, and the result is one we’ve gotten used to in recent years. Seattle’s offense sputtered in a big game, failing to force Nick Rimando into a save.
  • That’s not to say Seattle didn’t threaten. They did, continuously pumping balls into the RSL area. But none of those advances ever really scared Real Salt Lake. RSL was able to sit back and absorb Seattle’s attacks, never once seeing their shape compromised.
  • Part of that is owed to Seattle’s tactics. They seemed to play into RSL’s hands by playing wide midfielders Mauro Rosales and David Estrada slightly more narrow than you would expect. With Andy Rose (in for Brad Evans) playing well above Osvaldo Alonso, Sounders were playing very RSL-y (4-4-2, diamond-ish midfield).
  • Another way to put that: Seattle didn’t adequately use their flanks. They didn’t stretch Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy, and when the Sounders did build in the wide areas, they elected to pump in crosses rather than try to get behind (or through) the defense. Perhaps that’s why RSL were never forced out of their comfort zone.
  • Making that approach even more curious, Chris Schuler had to play most of the match at left back after Chris Wingert had to leave after 20 minutes. Schuler’s having a strong season and may have held up well should Rosales and Fredy Montero have tried to take him apart. Unfortunately for Seattle, we never really found out.
  • At the other end, the decisive moment came early in the second, one in which you could see RSL’s players doing the little things to needed to create the winning goal (while Seattle’s defenders failed to step up). Alvaro Saborio’s desperately stuck a heel out to keep a pass from going straight to Jeff Parke. Luis Gil fought harder to get to the resulting ball, lifting it for Espindola. Both Parke and Adam Johansson failed to show the needed urgency to keep Espinola from getting the ball on goal. Had one Sounder showed the same intensity that each of RSL’s attackers exhibited, the goal probably doesn’t happen.
  • Alonso had another very good game. It was tempting to name him man of the match despite his team having lost.
  • Despite some qualms, Seattle didn’t play bad. In fact, they played very well. They just went up against a team that against exhibited why they’re the team nobody wants to face come playoff time. Over a 90-minute period, RSL’s capable of doing this to anybody.
  • And in that way, the game was a statement for RSL. In their previous two games against contenders, they had lost (to Kansas City and San Jose). This was a classic Real Salt Lake performance, affirming the notion that RSL remains as strong as ever.