At the halfway stage of the MLS Cup play-off semis, this weekend’s action looks very exciting. From whether Columbus Crew can hold out against the Red Bulls to whether Seattle can bounce back against Portland.
However, the game I’ll be focusing on is Sporting Kansas City vs Real Salt Lake. The only teams currently drawing (1-1), this is possibly the best poised second leg. In this tactical analysis, I’ll examine the first leg between the sides and conclude who is in the better position going into the weekend.
Firstly, lets look at most people’s favourites, SKC.
Sporting Kansas City’s Press
With 67% of possession, SKC were in control for most of the game. However, despite so much possession, their best chances came when RSL had possession. This was because of their very effective pressing game. From the off, SKC’s hunger was clear and this was a theme throughout the game.
Here’s an example of that:
Setting traps like this worked wonders for SKC throughout the game. This allowed them to dictate the actions of RSL and even lead to their goal:
— Sporting KC (@SportingKC) November 5, 2018
Real Salt Lake’s ‘Compactness’
Conceding the majority of possession, RSL had to be resolute off the ball. Following the game, head coach Mike Petke praised his side’s compactness. However, when we look at how RSL set up, their compactness was very selective.
Rather than being compact from the off, they became more compact as SKC transitioned up the pitch. Having to change their defensive depth so quickly allowed SKC to take advantage of that at some points during the game. We can see how below:
Although this style ultimately worked, it seems that RSL could use it more effectively. Rather than becoming more compact after the midfield is beaten, having the midfield just in front of the back four could make life more difficult for SKC.
Real Salt Lake Will Struggle Without Albert Rusnak
As I touched on a few weeks ago, Albert Rusnak proved to be RSL’s difference maker. However, picking up a yellow card means he misses the second leg. This will be a huge miss as RSL don’t quite have another player with his creativity in the side.
His impressive creativity and technique were on show for his goal:
However, Rusnak’s importance doesn’t just come in the final third. A player who is constantly on the move, he is a great link between defence and attack. This can be seen in his heat map below. Despite lining up as a #10 he often comes very deep to get onto the ball which helps his team a great deal.
Without this in the second leg, RSL could find it increasingly difficult to break up the pitch. Especially if they decide to defend as compactly as they did in the first leg. However, Petke will believe he can find a solution to this. Either way missing Rusnak, who has 11 goals and five MLS assists this season, will hurt.
On the balance of play, everything seems to be pointing to an SKC victory. They’ll have the home advantage on Sunday and the players they have at their disposal along with their gameplan puts them in a much greater position.
So for me, I’d be very surprised not to see SKC in the MLS Cup final. But anything can happen in football, so let’s see if RSL can defy the odds on Sunday.