Real Salt Lake's continued run in the US Open Cup presents its own tactical problems, from the need for rotation to questions about how both the defense and attack will deal with a certain-to-be-resolute Charleston Battery defense.
There are two well-balanced opinions that play into a match like this: In one, the impetus on Kreis should be about rotation and ensuring squad fitness; in the other, the impetus is the opposite, and he should roll out a squad best-fitted to win. The point of balance lies somewhere between the two, but with a weekend off for once, it's difficult to argue if veterans play all 90 (and hopefully a positive 90 and not a negative 90 or a nail-biting 120) against Charleston Battery.
But some rotation will happen naturally. Sebastian Velasquez is a sure-starter in the midfield, and he may just take the place of Luis Gil with no other general changes to the setup. Devon Sandoval might get another chance to start up top after a fine performance in the last round of the Cup. Carlos Salcedo and Kwame Watson-Siriboe, too, may get another chance to partner, allowing Nat Borchers a rest.
Push and Pull
Real Salt Lake has been incredibly successful in moments of transition this season (when, of course, the transition if rom defense to attack) and one might attribute a number of our goals to that fact. But this becomes difficult to manage effectively when the opposition plays withdrawn, and our mode of scoring has to shift. With a tricky midfielder or two — Velasquez and the ever-effective Javier Morales — Charleston's midfield and defense will be kept busy; this leaves important spaces for forwards to run into.
Devon Sandoval could be incredibly effective against this level of side, as well. He's still adjusting to MLS play (though remarkably well, it must be said) but he has a golden opportunity to get in the heads of the Battery defense. With midfield runs occupying some attention, the remainder might be shifted to him, leaving a free forward. His uncanny ability to retain the ball and make a safe if unexciting pass can sometimes be an effect of tentative play, but it's this sort of passing and movement that will have the biggest impact on a less-able defense. He'll push and pull defenders out of position — it's important that he makes the right decisions in that regard.
How many times have we conceded an unnecessary goal at some point in the match simply because it looked like our collective minds were elsewhere? We saw it in the last round of the Open Cup: We can't go around conceding cheap goals and risking a loss or even another overtime excursion. With bodies bursting forward in efforts to score and unlock what may be a staunch defense, the match becomes more difficult to manage.
It'll be vital that, when everyone is forward, the three or so defenders that have stayed back are in good positions to recover and can communicate danger to their teammates. Otherwise, we may be looking at another match where we're on the cusp of something great, but mistakes see us caught out.