Soccer can be a chess match tactically at times, a reality for Real Salt Lake the past two weeks.
In a home win against FC Dallas two weeks ago, RSL coach Jason Kreis opted to match up against his opponent's customary 3-5-2 formation with a 3-5-2 approach of his own. Instead, Dallas threw RSL's game plan all out of whack by utilizing a surprise 4-3-3 formation.
After scrambling tactically to try to handle Dallas' three forwards with only three defenders, Salt Lake reverted to a 4-4-2 following a substitution just before halftime and ended up with a hard-earned victory.
In a disheartening loss at rival Colorado last Thursday, RSL was once again thrown for a tactical loop when the Rapids abandoned their normal 4-4-2 formation in favor of a 3-5-2.
Kreis thought his players handled the surprise formation well, especially in the first half, but a few players admitted there was confusion being a man down in the midfield and it contributed to an unspectacular attack.
In theory, this Saturday's rematch with FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas, should be pretty straightforward.
Dallas fired coach Steve Morrow earlier this week and it's doubtful former assistant and current interim head coach Marcu Ferruzzi will rock the boat too much by abandoning Dallas' preferred 3-5-2 formation. Based on the past two weeks, though, RSL would be wise to expect the unexpected no matter what the scenario.
"It will be an opportunity for us to focus on the way that we want to play. We've talked to our guys about a couple different systems they could play and how we need to deal with those," said Kreis. "I feel like our guys have a very good understanding of our game plan."
RSL spent virtually all of Thursday's training session working on both attacking and defending a 3-5-2 formation. Midfielder Dema Kovalenko believes the extra work was extremely beneficial, particularly with sorting out responsibilities.
"We've just got to communicate better as a team and get used to it. It's 11 guys on the field versus 11; we've just got to figure it out," he said. "The biggest thing is just communication. We've got to trap at the right time and win the ball at the right places."
That appeared to be one of the biggest problems against Colorado as RSL's midfielders seemed unsure at times where they were supposed to be positioned on the field.
If Dallas does utilize a 3-5-2 as expected, Kovalenko said, it's important he and his teammates clog the middle to try to negate the extra man in the midfield.
"Outside I don't think it will hurt us our defenders are facing the goal and can see it coming," said Kovalenko. "If you give them room in the middle, that's when trouble starts."Along those same lines, RSL can't simply abandon the flanks, either. Dallas striker Kenny Cooper is a towering presence in the box and could be a handful for RSL's defenders if given enough opportunities.
RSL on the air
Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.