MLS Cup Real Salt Lake Sporting Kansas City Tactical Analysis
I was so excited to get analysing this game. Real Salt Late dominating a game against Houston Dynamo, finishing with 64% possession and 25 shots.
 
In my head, I thought, “Dynamo goes one-nil up in the first half and cling on to the lead until the 90th+three minute, and then Real Salt Lake go on to win the game”. Two goals in added time, one coming in the 10th minute of it. “Oh boy”, I thought, “this is going to be good”.
 
I watched the first half of the game, and I finished it struggling to want to watch the second half. I’m struggling to think of a game I’ve played in myself as bad as that. I once lost 12-0 as a centre back, and I’m convinced I put in a better showing than Philippe Senderos.
 
We are just 15 seconds into the game before a dodgy backpass by Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo fail to capitalise. I should have known not to go any further.

Dynamo Defence

After a turbulent opening eight minutes, where the opening plays had consisted of both sides trading long passes RSL decide to settle down.
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
Houston are pressuring the RSL back line slowly, in the hopes to force a long ball forwards. RSL are not a threat if the ball is around their own box, so Houston are happy to let them have the ball.
 
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
As the RSL centre backs trade passes. However, we see Houston push higher. With little quality on the ball, RSL struggled to break the first line of defence from Houston, and eventually, RSL are forced long.
 
We can see from the next image that Houston are trying to congest the space RSL have in Houston’s half. With seven players in a small space, they are trying to stop RSL playing through their lines. In this instance they are successful. There are danger areas though.
 
#1 The defence is static. If Luis Silva drops off the centre-backs into midfield, and Joao Plata comes inside to the left half-space, one of them will be free. This happens here, but Luis Silva does not receive the ball.
#2 and #3. Houston are susceptible to a cross-field pass. DaMarcus Beasley is torn between keeping his width, and protecting the wide space, or coming inside to keep a sensible distance between himself and the left-sided centre back. If Beasley commits to neither, then he’ll be exposed on both sides.
 
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
We’ve gone through the Dynamo defensive game plan here. Apply pressure to the RSL defence when they are in possession, but once the ball crosses the halfway line, become compact and force RSL back. Each stage of the defensive phase for Houston force RSL to play long, low-percentage passes.
 
Houston comes unstuck very quickly though. Their defensive transition from one phase to another is too slow. They want to force long balls, but the gaps between lines are so big that RSL can drop balls into the gaps like artillery shells – they don’t need to be accurate to be effective.
 

Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis

That image comes off the back of a cleared corner, which went out for an RSL throw-in, which was taken, thrown backwards and then pumped long. Despite this, Luis Silva gets a free touch down for his teammate, with not one player challenging him. The turn around is too slow from Dynamo here and but for a good block by Fuenmayor, would likely have led to a goal.
 
Following this, is my favourite bit of defending of the half. Boniek García trots back in to pick up the guy he was marking originally, who does get a shot in on goal from this cross.
 
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
Also, appreciate no one marking Joao Plata at the bottom of the image.
 
Talking of dropping shells into the Houston defence. Coming from losing the ball from their own throw-in, Houston decides not to challenge Luis Silva once it is dropped between their two centre-backs. He didn’t even bring it down that well, but the Houston centre backs drop off deep, and the midfield was 20 yards behind the play so Luis Silva has time to control it again and turn before being pressured.
 
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
Honestly, the only thing worse than the individuals in Dynamo’s defence was RSLs individuals in the attack. I watched that first half twice, and I still don’t understand how RSL didn’t score.
 
Tightening of the screws
The second half started with RSL beginning to show more patience in their build-up. They stopped the long balls forward and instead began to involve Savarino in the build up more. Between Jefferson Savarino and Plata, they have two quick and tricky players who are good 1v1.
 
This was an improvement from RSL as instead of the devil-may-care attitude to their attacking transition, they instead camped in Houston’s half. Prior to the game, Houston had conceded 1.48 goals per game, and so RSL should have known the chances to score would be there.
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
Houston on the flip side straightened their defence out and stopped leaving big gaps in their team. They began to work back and kept their shape we described earlier. With RSL sloppy in finding space between the lines and killer passes forward, Houston looked solid in defence, and even able to counter-attack.
 
Houston Dynamo Real Salt Lake Tactical Analysis
 
Utilising Romell Quioto’s pace on the counter was Houston Dynamo’s biggest threat. Quioto had looked dangerous in the first half, but the right passes had never been made. In this second half, with Real Salt Lake committing forward, Houston could find Quioto with ease. However, Houston Dynamo’s poor finishing and big saves from Putna meant they could not put any more in the back of the net.
 
Quite possibly one of the only shows of quality in the game, Sunny finally plays a killer ball forward, which eventually lands to Albert Rusnák, who pings it off the far post.

Conclusion

RSL were patient and got the goals they needed late on, but they did not deserve the win. A possibly dodgy penalty and an opposition seemingly allergic to scoring, I’m not convinced RSL deserved three points in what was, for me, the worst game of the year.