Here are three observations from Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday from beat writer Alex Vejar.
1. Another change in formation on short rest
With just two days in between games and virtually no practice time, RSL again opted to shift some things around. Six new players featured in the starting lineup Wednesday compared to Sunday’s loss to LAFC.
The last time that many changes occurred out of necessity was last month on the road against Minnesota United. RSL coach Freddy Juarez used 10 new starters in that game due to short rest.
But Juarez also did something Wednesday that he did against the Loons: He changed formations. Against Minnesota, he dusted off the old 4-4-2 diamond. Against Seattle, he went 5-3-2 to give RSL a more robust defense while also allowing his outside backs to join the attack, which they did often.
Midfielder Justin Portillo said he had prior experience with the formation.
“It was a bit different, but I thought we did an OK job,” Portillo said in a postgame videoconference.
Juarez said he knows he put his team in a difficult position with a change in formation and not much time to implement it. But after a halftime discussion, he felt the players adjusted well and became consistent in winning the ball back.
“Hats off to the guys,” Juarez said. “I think they embraced it.”
Juarez has shown that he’s not afraid to experiment with lineups or formations even though the possibility exists that the experiment might fail. Against Minnesota, the diamond worked until it didn’t, and he made substitutions that allowed him to shift back to a 4-2-3-1.
It seems safe to say that with so many games in such little time, Juarez will continue to tweak things depending on the circumstances.
“As you go on in these congested times, you need to do what you need to do to keep the team competitive with personnel,” Juarez said. “And then when you have the personnel, you look at what personnel you have and where you can get the best out of them. And we thought that would be the best way to keep ourselves competitive [Wednesday].”
2. Not enough aggression offensively
It’s well-documented that RSL has struggled to find the back of the net this season. But even in games where the team comes up empty, it still manages to get some shots on target and make the opposing goalkeeper earn his game check.
That didn’t happen on Wednesday. RSL didn’t record a single shot on goal for 90-plus minutes, which hasn’t happened since June 22, 2019 on the the road against Chicago, per Football Reference.
Juarez recalled a sequence where Tate Schmitt, who started at left back but got forward frequently, had a shot at the stop of the box but opted to make the extra pass instead.
“I would say we were a little bit — just not ruthless enough,” Juarez said.
Still, Juarez was pleased with the way RSL created, pointing out that the team earned three corner kicks. The Sounders earned two themselves.
Three corners isn’t that many. But on a night that was bereft of truly dangerous opportunities, three turns out to be plenty.
Midfielder Justin Portillo said RSL didn’t do enough going forward against the Sounders, but suggested it was part of the game plan that there wouldn’t be many chances.
“We kind of played in a low block,” Portillo said. “It was the tactics. It’s just the way we wanted to approach the game. We knew chances were going to be few and far between.”
Salt Lake did get into the final third as the game went on, especially in the second half, but to no avail other than creating a situation that led to an own goal by Seattle.
3. Too many open Sounders
RSL allowed just two goals to Seattle on Wednesday. But it arguably should have been more with the way the team defended.
The second goal in particular was one example of how open Sounders players got. The corner kick comes in and Yeimar Gómez springs free much too easily, getting no resistance from an RSL player as he heads the ball past Andrew Putna.
The team seemed collectively upset giving up that second goal. Putna said the team plays a zone coverage in certain set piece situations and needs to get better at defending those.
“I think we just need to drop as a team better,” Putna said.
The goalkeeper added that on a set piece, it’s “unacceptable” for a player to be as wide open as Gómez was.
But there were other moments RSL left Seattle’s players alone with no one to beat but Putna. In the 49th minute, a nice cross found Cristian Roldan less than 12 yards away from goal. Look at how much space he has in the screenshot below. A few frames after, no RSL player is near him. But his shot, fortunately for Salt Lake, went wide.
In this next screen shot, it’s much of the same. Forward Will Bruin is receiving a cross and about to take a header. As he leaps in the air, Justen Glad and Nick Besler aren’t a position to impact the play. Putna had to execute a clinical kick save to save this attempt.
Both of the above examples came in open play, which is just one area where Seattle excels. But RSL can’t leave players that wide open that many times in a game.