If there was one game that summed up the final 10 games of the 2022 season, it was the MLS Cup playoff “loss” to Real Salt Lake. The Seattle Sounders seemed very mediocre then; they look quite mediocre now.
RSL returns to Lumen Field on Sunday (7:00 p.m. PT, FOX 13+/Univision Seattle/Prime Video/ESPN+) in even worse form than the Sounders, though still ahead of them in the standings.
Schmetzer’s men just have to behave like they did in the first 10 games after the CCL, or like they did in the CCL, if they want to extend that MLS playoff streak to 14 seasons. , the streak of finishing 4th or more in the West, the streak of 7th or more in the Shield race – a lot of pretty good streaks. Also, if they want to defend their CCL title, they to have to win the MLS Cup, as other domestic routes to the tournament are out of reach.
For RSL Soapbox, Matt answers four questions.
SaH: What happened to the xDawg phase when Real Salt Lake looked more like the scrappy team that could?
RSLSB: Let’s go. I forget who said it – someone on the league site, probably, and I bet it was Matt Doyle – but being a vibe-driven team can work early in the season when teams are still in the process of establishing an identity. The chaos of an early MLS season game – well, you’ve seen it, haven’t you? This snow game here was ridiculous. That’s what MLS can offer at the start of the season, and teams that focus on hyper-motivation can get away with it without having a separate strategic plan on the pitch. It works a lot less well during the scorching days of summer when it’s harder to do amazing runs all the time and when other teams are improving.
This whole idea really does a lot to explain Real Salt Lake. RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni is very clearly not a tactical mastermind – he doesn’t focus on that, by his own admission. He is a guy with heart, mind and hard work. I won’t argue that you need at least some of that in and around a team, but I don’t think you can find real, lasting success without someone providing important tactical instruction on a regular basis.
SaH: Is Aaron Herrera still the key to awkward form?
RSLSB: No, oddly. That shape is gone, and now we play a very traditional 4-4-2 with two wingers, two central midfielders (about two 8s, with a little variation) and two forwards. I don’t know why it was all dropped – even though I wasn’t very interested in it personally, I’d still like to know why it disappeared – and even though we occasionally play a 3-5-2 it makes a good a long time . Aaron Herrera has also struggled this year, but that’s probably more down to not having Damir Kreilach’s header to aim for.
SaH: How is Justin Meram doing again?
RSLSB: I suspect he’s a confident guy – when he plays for a coach who has confidence in him and will play him despite drops in form (Meram’s form is still dropping, as you’d expect from a winger in MLS level), which he definitely does now, he can be an important part of a team. Hew has maturity and a desire to lead. I don’t know how most of his career has been, other than seeing him sometimes against us, but that leadership has been a big part of the team.
SaH Premium: Can RSL give Sounders Rubio Rubin? You don’t use it.
RSLSB: Can we have Joao Paulo? Seems like a fair trade to me. We could use a midfielder. Seriously, I feel for Rubio Rubin. He played for a coach who wanted to play a ground passing game and had significant success. He now plays for a coach who prefers an overhead, crossover game, and he hasn’t had much success. It’s no mystery to me why he struggled, and that struggle just led to him not playing. It’s such a shame, because Rubin was on the verge of a real career blast at the start of 2021.
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