SALT LAKE CITY — Coming into Seattle with a 3-0 lead over the Sounders, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has some tactical decisions to make. As expected, he’s not revealing much about the game plan, but perhaps we can predict some of what we’ll see in Wednesday night’s match.
Captain Kyle Beckerman believes his side will go out with the same mentality that served them so well in the first leg when they take on the Sounders on Wednesday (10 pm ET, ESPN2/TSN2).
“We’re not going to bunker in at all,” Beckerman said before departing for Seattle on Monday. “We’re going to try and be the better team just like we were on Saturday. There are going to be times when we’re going to have to weather the storm. They’re going to throw everything at us, and we know that. But we’re going to try and dictate the game, and do what we do with the ball.”
In other words, RSL will take an aggressive approach to the game. That’s not always the case for teams who have a significant lead going into the second leg of an aggregate-goals matchup — and especially not on the road.
Kreis is will aware of that, and said on Tuesday that he expects it to be more difficult to command the midfield in the second leg.
"I think that some of how we were able to hold the ball was due to Seattle not being quite as tight as they typically are defensively," Kreis said after the team's final training session. "I credit our guys for what they did, but also say this game won't be the same, I'm pretty sure."
While the Seattle defense is likely to look different thanks to what should be a livelier performance, the RSL backline is almost guaranteed to have a new look as well.
RSL Insider Brian Dunseth told ESPN700 Sports Radio on Tuesday he suspects that defender Jámison Olave is not going to be available, and that Nat Borchers is also looking doubtful to get the start. This will obviously force Kreis into personnel switches, and could also force his hand tactically.
The alternative personnel options include Chris Schuler to fill in at one spot, and the team are quite comfortable with his presence in the lineup. But the options at the other spot include the fullbacks Chris Wingert or Robbie Russell sliding in centrally, or utilizing reserve player Rauwshan McKenzie coming off the bench. However it falls out, RSL will probably be fielding a back line that's never played a competitive game together before.
The other option is a formation change, which seems a long shot at best. The team could play a 3-5-2, which could be defensive in nature despite only three in the back — looking more like a 5-3-2. They are comfortable with new addition Yordany Álvarez playing the holding role as he did in Beckerman’s absence, and the two of them paired with three in the back could provide a solid defensive unit. But that would completely change the style of play the team is so accustomed to the diamond 4-4-2 formation, and virtually concede the midfield to Seattle.
If RSL can hold off the inevitable initial barrage — Kreis said he expects the Sounders to come out flying in the first 20-to-25 minutes — it will likely be as a result of an orchestrated game of keep-away keyed by Beckerman and Javier Morales. The outside backs will stay closer to home, participating in the passing game in the middle of the park and doing their best not to allow break-outs on the wings.
If they can't hold off that initial barrage, and the Sounders find a goal that brings them back into it, then things can get very, very dicey. But Kreis feels like his team will be able to keep that from happening.
“We’ve typically been a team that plays well with the lead, and have been able to not only sit with that lead, but raise that lead,” said Kreis. “That will be a bit of our mindset to not let this game finish 3-0, but I’d prefer 4-0.”