Eye on the MLS: RSL vs CO (9/25/10)

COLUMBUS, OH - AUGUST 21: Marvell Wynne  of the Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Columbus Crew on August 21, 2010 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Defending MLS champions Real Salt Lake (RSL) looked to extend their record home unbeaten streak versus Rocky Mountain Rivals Colorado Rapids (CO) in a high-altitude clash that saw a physical rivalry culminate in a stoppage time equalizer by RSL. To unlock the keys to this relatively entertaining draw, let’s take a look at each team’s strategic approach to the match. Refer to the attached diagram, which shows the two formations superimposed (CO-light blue/RSL-maroon). We’ll end by highlighting some USMNT implications based on a few key gringo performances.

CO relied on a traditional, disciplined 4-4-2 formation that kept its shape in all sectors of the pitch. Unusually, the two strikers—Casey and Kandji—both played as true forwards, with Casey only occasionally dropping to link up with the midfield. These two made a threatening combination for RSL’s backline. The tall, quick Kandji possesses an Adebayor-like paradox: despite being lanky and awkward he displays a surprising amount of speed, force, and ball control. Combined with stocky, tenacious Casey’s ability to hold up balls and serve out the occasional visionary pass, these two kept the RSL backline on its toes.

Two committed forwards meant the CO midfield line of 4 had to be less ambitious going forward, and throughout they played a very disciplined wall that closed down most RSL outlets through the middle of the pitch, thus dampening the effectiveness of the “RSL Diamond” (more on that below). Outside midfielder Smith served up some effective free-kicks, but it was a well-placed cross in the 36th minute from Kimura—the only fullback in the game who seemed to have a true offensive inclination—that found Casey in the RSL box. Casey finished with a convincing, if not well-defended, header.

The most noteworthy CO performance, however, came from the center back

CO vs RSL's "diamond midfield"

duo of Wynne and Moore. Wynne, now back to full health after a hamstring injury, had an inspired performance, using his pace and power to snuff out drive after drive and cross after cross by RSL. He displayed a Lucio-like ability to be in several parts of the pitch simultaneously—making a tackle near the corner flag one minute and cutting off a pass at the top of the box the next. Moore, as well, was effective in helping shut down RSL’s 6’4” Castro in the air, as well as stifle the zippy and energized Espindola.

Real Salt Lake
RSL’s formation is a little more difficult to pin down. You could call it a 4-3-1-2, but that doesn’t do justice to the dynamic “midfield diamond” they play with their 4 midfielders. RSL skipper Jason Kreis was quoted last year as calling his team the “Barcelona of the MLS.” I don’t know I can go that far, but when the diamond is working, it’s easy to see a resemblance to the Xavi-run midfield of the Camp Nou. Colorado’s midfield wall discussed above, however, made it difficult for RSL to build up through the middle of the pitch, as the bottom player of the diamond was always isolated, and the other three points nearly always found themselves on the OTHER side of the CO midfield. Instead, RSL had to go outside around the middle and then search for the already mentioned targets of Campos and Espindola. Campos did well receiving crosses and got his head on the ball in the box at least 3 times in the first half. If Campos was the stationary air man, then Espindola was the ground force whose darting runs on either side of the CO centerbacks were a constant test for Wynne’s pace. Having more players goal side of the CO midfield did give the top of the diamond several chances to set up for long distance shots, and Williams and Alexandre did present worthy tests to keeper Pickens throughout the first half.

Another missing link in the RSL diamond was the spark of creativity of a quick-thinking playmaker. This point was proven with the introduction of Beckerman for Alexandre in the 55th minute. Beckerman tended to “quarterback” from the bottom of the diamond, and from the moment he entered the game a new sense of danger and possibility existed for RSL. RSL’s equalizer came in stoppage time on a cross from Williams that found center back Borchers in the box, who headed it past Pickens.

Memo to Bob Bradley
Bob, I know with your hair situation you tend to avoid the colder climates, but Connor Casey has proven if you’re tough enough, you can handle the high-altitude with a bald head. Either way, you didn’t have any excuse not to tune in to the Rocky Mountain classic this weekend in Salt Lake City. Anyhow, as you requested (OK, technically, ignoring our phone calls, emails and texts doesn’t constitute a “request”) here’s the quick scoop and scouting report on implications for USMNT.

I know just a week ago I was singing the praises of Omar Gonzalez as a potential center back, but now I have no choice but to recommend another for your radar. Marvell Wynne had a spectacular performance and appears to be back to full health. I know he hasn’t had the most consistent history, but maybe work with him? If Gonzalez is our potential Gringo Pique, then Wynne is our Lucio. The thing is, he’s FASTER and possibly stronger and almost as crazy as Lucio!!! He plays with power and intensity back there, and if you ever find a fullback who can push up the wing, Wynne can definitely swing out and cover that empty space.

Speaking of fullbacks, it was a tentative performance, but 21 year-old left back Wallace of Colorado is worth watching.

Regarding Casey…I know he drives defenders crazy, has great power and compensates for his lack of pace with cleverness and/or meanness, but at this point I can’t see him contributing at the international level. Unless maybe he could just wait on the USMNT bench for a brawl to break out, at which point you could send him immediately over to protect Donovan, who I don’t think has ever thrown, or taken, a punch.

Finally, got a problem with dreadlocks? If not, please don’t forget about Beckerman. He’s clever, creative and fun to watch. He may not be as effective in your structured 4/4/2, but if you get creative with formations in the next 4 years, there might be a perfect spot for him to contribute as a holding midfielder.

Happy Strategizing.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    I haven’t actually watched Colorado this season, so I haven’t seen any of the Wynne-at-center back experiment. His physical talents to do translate from fullback to CB. He’d certainly be an interesting candidate to fill-in for Gooch.

    • bensten says:

      Yes, we’ll have to see if Saturday was just a fluke. I was very pleasantly surprised. Maybe that move to the middle was just what Wynne needed–he certainly seemed right at home.

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