MLS is Back: Talking tournament tactics – Western Conference

MLS, Seattle Sounders, Brian Schmetzer (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
MLS, Seattle Sounders, Brian Schmetzer (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
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Portland Timbers, Diego Valeri
PORTLAND, OREGON – MARCH 01: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after scoring on a penalty kick during the second half against the Minnesota United at Providence Park on March 01, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Minnesota won 3-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

Portland Timbers

Expected formation: The Portland Timbers will likely line up in a 4-2-3-1. The full-backs pushed up high in the attack against Minnesota in their first game but the team collectively sat back after an early goal in their second game against Nashville.

Team style: Manager Gio Savarese is insistent on his team possessing the ball and controlling the game. In the two years under him, however, Portland have always looked better as a counter-attacking team. Which style Savarese decides to use is unclear, but it will go a long way in determining just how well the Timbers perform in Orlando.

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Potential success/failure: If Portland embrace their inner counter-attacking style, they will excel. Counter-attacking teams tend to find success in knockout style tournaments, as evidenced by their recent run to the MLS Cup in 2018. Portland also tend to rely too heavily on crosses into the box. It can become predictable and they have struggled to break down deep-lying defenses as a result. The Timbers need to find a way to unlock opposing bunkers.

Real Salt Lake

Expected formation: Freddy Juarez lined his team in a 4-2-3-1 in both games to start the season. Real Salt Lake could also use a standard 4-3-3 depending on how the midfield is set up. The Claret and Cobalt heavily use their wingers either in possession or on the counter.

Team style: First and foremost, RSL want to catch teams in transition and counter-attack accordingly. If RSL can’t exploit the opposing team in transition, they will take their time on the ball in possession. Salt Lake also like to defend in a compact block, forcing opposing teams into the wide areas.

Potential success/failure: Real Salt Lake’s success will depend heavily on their defensive structure. After Juarez took over in 2019 as interim coach, they played well down the stretch and secured the third seed in the Western Conference while only allowing 12 goals in the final ten games. Salt Lake even finished third in the league in goals allowed, behind just LAFC and D.C. United. If they perform just as well defensively in Orlando, they should make it far in the tournament.