Well this is the first time I can say that I am almost relieved that Real Salt Lake will be playing on the road, after a 3 match losing streak at home, a change of venue might be exactly what the team needs. Still heading to Columbus is never an easy task, you can ask the players and staff who flew into Cincinnati on Thursday and then had to endure a fun 2 hour bus ride up to Columbus. That is just the start of what will be a tough weekend against the Crew, the heat and humidity are always tough during the summer but the forecast is for a high of 96 with a chance of thunderstorms, but it is the 40% or better humidity that simply drains you when the temps get that high, something RSL will need to be on the lookout for this weekend.
The Crew dropped 3 points at home last weekend as they were unable to overcome two early goals by the Chicago Fire, despite having a man advantage for 60 plus minutes. The Crew took and amazing 21 shots with 9 of them on goals but they were only able to find the back of the net once in the 2-1 loss. The Crew are an interesting team after a lot of rebuilding last year, they managed to make the playoffs but then again this off season they did even more rebuilding. Gone are players like Jeff Cunningham, Robbie Rogers, Emmanuel Ekpo, and Andres Mendoza, and in their place are guys like Olman Vargas, Milovan Mirosevic, and Nemanja Vukovic. How has this worked our for the Crew this year? Well they are 5-5-4 after 14 matches with 14 goals scored and 15 goals allowed, that sounds fairly average to me, they are 3-2-1 at home but I can't make fun of anyone's home record after last week.
For the Crew this will be their 7th match against teams from the Western Conference, they are currently 2-2-2, it will also be the 7th match against the East for RSL who has found great success in the intraconference matches with a 4-1-1 record so far. Real Salt Lake will again be facing a 3 matches in a week scenario as they will head home for a July 4th match against Seattle and then July 7th they will host the Portland Timbers. The Crew will return to action on July 8th when they will head north to take on the Montreal Impact.
My Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more after the jump:
Key Match Up:
Real Salt Lake Opportunities vs. Real Salt Lake Mistakes -
I think Jason Kreis hit it on the head when talking about the last two RSL losses, it isn't as if we are being out played by our opponents, it simply is them taking advantage of our mistakes. I would add in our inability to capitalize on some of our offensive opportunities, as well. For RSL the key will be getting our first goal against Andy Gruenebaum, who has posted two clean sheets against RSL in both matches he has faced them. RSL has to capitalize on their chances, we have seen RSL look for better chances in the area a lot in recent weeks and for me the way to force a mistake from the Crew will be to take your chances when you get them and force the Crew to stop them.
The bigger issue will be can RSL limit both the number of mistakes that are made, there will always be mistakes made in a match, and can they then keep the Crew from cashing in on those mistakes. The Crew haven't scored a goal yet this year off a set piece but they do have 5 goals from shots that came from outside of the area, by comparison, RSL have just two goals from outside of the area this year.
I know it sounds very cocky to say that this match will be more about how RSL plays than it is about the Crew but I think based on what I have seen of both teams this year it is a fair assessment of the situation.
Justin Meram - The 23yr old was taken with the 15th pick in the 2011 MLS draft, a pick that the Crew got along with allocation money for Steven Lenhart. While he has just seen limited action last year and this, with his 4 starts and 6 overall appearances so far this season he has found the back of the net 3 times in just 326 minutes of action and is one of just 3 Crew players with multiple goals so far this season. Those 3 goals came in 3 straight matches earlier in May, but since then he hasn't been able to repeat that magic. Here is hoping that at least for another week that he remains at 3 goals scored.
Yordany Alvarez - Kyle Beckerman leaves big shoes to follow but in the past we have seen that Yordany Alvarez is more than capable of stepping in and keeping things tight at the back of the diamond for RSL, while he has just 1 start so far this season, he has played in 6 matches. One risk that you take with Yordany is his very physical style of play that sometimes can lead to early yellow cards that impact what he can do later in matches. Still I think he will relish the chance to get some minutes in Columbus and I expect good things from him.
Geoff Gamble - My oh my, here we go again. So now with 14 matches under his belt the still very rough around the edges official will be in charge of what I expect will be a rather physical match. I expect that we could very well see him hit the over on his average of 22.4 fouls per match as well as his 3.3 yellow cards per match. What I hope for is that we don't see him add to his 2 red cards or his rather outrageous 9 PK's given. RSL has to also worry about Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales both who are in yellow card peril and will sit on Wednesday if they pick up a yellow card in Columbus.
My Real Salt Lake Starting XI:
Well as I highlighted in my Key Match Up, the question is can RSL take advantage of their opportunities without falling victim to the mistakes that have cost them points in recent weeks? We know that the Crew will likely play a defense first mentality despite being at home, due to their lack of quality offensive weapons (only 3 players have multiple goals, and none has more than 3). The question is how will the injuries of Ned Grabavoy, Jamison Olave, and suspension of Kyle Beckerman impact RSL's efforts on both sides of the ball. Can we expect the same quality of passing from Yordany Alavarez, and Johnny Steele?
For me the other big question for RSL will be can we finish, Andy Gruenebaum has played some out of this world soccer in goal for the Crew this year. Will RSL who knows they can get goals from a variety of players, 10 players have scored, 5 have multiple goals this season, and 7 have game winning goals, be able to get the ball over the line and into the back of the net? RSL has only been stopped from scoring at least one goal 3 times this year, and 9 times we have been able to score multiple goals. The Crew have 5 clean sheets, but have given up multiple goals in 4 of their matches.
For RSL to get back on their winning ways the reality is rather simple, they must not allow the Crew to capitalize any mistakes that might be made. That might mean a team much more focused on the defensive side of the ball than in most normal matches, but what used to be taken for granted with RSL has become something that needs some renewed focus. Even with the changes we should be able to keep a lot of possession and leverage our outside backs to come forward and support the attack, but we know that the Crew are a much faster team than in years past so keeping an eye open to stop any counter attacks will be a key.
I am going to say that RSL will battle back after giving up an early goal, and leave Crew Stadium with a 1-1 draw.
What do you think is going to happen on Saturday?
OFF MY SOAPBOX