So after RSL's record breaking 2010 season, they still have a bitter taste in their mouths after losing to Dallas in the playoffs. Our quest to rid ourselves of that disappointment starts on Tuesday, when the Claret & Cobalt make the trip to Ohio to face the Columbus Crew.
The two-legged tie against the Crew is our reward for a stellar group stage in the Concacef Champions League, where we topped the group after two memorable matches against Cruz Azul. If there's ever I time for RSL to have a real go at winning the CCL, it's this season. We face a Crew team that, like us, is just starting their season off, and all four of the Mexican teams have been placed in the same bracket, away from us. So a result against the Crew is crucial.
More after the jump...
Columbus and Robert Warzycha are coming off the back of a complete overhaul of their squad; gone are veterans like Frankie Hejduk and Guillermo Barros Schelloto. Gone are forwards Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart. Their replacements are practically unheard of, but cannot be taken lightly.
RSL have done basically the opposite of Columbus, keeping nearly all their players with the team. The only notable loss if Robbie Findley, but with the signing of Arturo Alvarez, and the re-signing of Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio, Nat Borchers and Paulo Jr. among others, it's still a team that is very much to be reckoned with, and certainly good enough to make a run for the CCL.
Columbus' key players:
Will Hesmer: As we saw against Dallas in the playoffs, a great display from a keeper, in that case Kevin Hartman, can make a world of difference in the final scoreline. RSL, despite playing on the road, is likely to have some good chances, and with the away goals rule in effect, it's up to Hesmer to make sure that Real don't score a crucial goal or two.
Jeff Cunningham: His first game back with the Crew, the man who is tied for most goals in Major League Soccer history punished RSL in the playoffs last year, and will look to do so again, but with a different team., .With 133 goals to his name it's obvious that he can finish, so RSL must close him down or face the consequences.
RSL's key players:
Nat Borchers: Recently extended his contract with RSL and it's a good thing that he did. The sign shown at the North Goal of Rio Tinto, "Borchers Tortures", could not be more fitting. Him and Olave formed the best defense in MLS history in 2010, and Borchers especially was a rock at the back, also scoring twice, including a last-gasp equalizer against the Rapids to keep our home unbeaten streak alive.
Arturo Alvarez: It's unknown if he'll play, but all eyes will be on him if he does make his RSL debut. Our new #10 has the potential to rip apart the Crew's defense, but he's still unproven at Rio Tinto. If he can buy into the defensive philosophy that Jason Kreis has instilled into his squad, then he can be a real success. We can only hope that that success starts on Tuesday.
When all is said and done, I envisage a pretty even game at Crew Stadium. I don't RSL will play their best seeing as it's their first game, so I think Columbus will score first. However, I think RSL will wake up and pull one back, and grab an important away goal as well.
Columbus 1-1 RSL