Well last week RSL faced the team they beat in MLS Cup, this week they face a team they beat on their path to get there. It is the 4th road game of their first 5, and the 4th against teams that were in the playoffs last year, and while RSL haven't played horribly, they have failed to get results and now sit a 1-2-1.
For Columbus, well there are more questions than answers. First why did MLS give them two of the first 4 weeks of the MLS season off? Which result is more reflective of their actual potential, the opening day win at home 2-0 over TFC, or their 2-2 draw against FC Dallas? Will that two week break cause them to exhibit a bit of rust this weekend, if so will RSL take advantage of it?
The Crew have dominated this matchup over the years 6-3-1 but of late RSL has been the better side, winning 3 of the 4 times the two faced each other last year, including the huge 3-2 2nd leg win in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. These two teams were the very best in MLS last year when playing at home, 9-2-4 for the Crew and 9-1-5 for RSL, each won their home leg of the regular season matchup in convincing fashion. RSL won 4-1 at Rio Tinto in early April, while Columbus got a 3-1 win in mid July.
So my key matchups, wildcards, and my prediction are all waiting for you after the jump
After an opening day win on the road, RSL failed to close the deal (with the help of the officials) in Houston, the found a way to get a result against Seattle in their home opener, and then last weekend two mistakes cost them a win against the Galaxy. Now they get to face Columbus, and in a week that already has been tainted by poor calls by MLS officials, they get to have Steven DePiero. DePiero has a total of 10 matches in his MLS officiating career, he issues an average of 2.6 yellows and only once has pulled out the red card, but twice he has pointed to the spot. You have to hope that the teams get to decide this match, so far this MLS season there have been 13 PK goals from 15 attempts, at this pace we will easily pass the 49 PK goals scored last year. So what will be the difference maker in this match?
Sideshow Bod (Steven Lenhart) and Jason Garey vs. Borchers and Olave-
In regular season action last year it was these two who scored all the goals against RSL, but Garey seems to have been relegated to the bench so one of the most prolific scorers against RSL (3 goals in 176 minutes) could be lucky to see any action. Lenhart really needs a haircut but despite the funny hairdoo he was productive against RSL with a goal and an assist in just over 100 minutes of playing time. The two account for 1/3 of all the goals Columbus have ever scored against RSL (5 of 15).
Olave is a bit banged up but a 80% Olave is an impressive thing and still one of the best central defenders in MLS, he will likely have to stay back more in a defensive role to ensure he doesn't injure his knee any further. Last week Nat Borchers made a couple small mistakes, the problem was he made them against Edson Buddle and RSL got punished. The reality is that mistakes from Nat are rare and I look for him to bounce back against Columbus in a big way.
GBS vs. RSL complacency-
We saw it last year, when a normal free kick that should have been easily cleared bounced past everyone and into the back of the goal. RSL was able to rebound then, but it is these momentary lapses in concentration and focus that has cost Real. GBS is an opportune player, he looks for weakness, he looks for others to make mistakes and he simply punishes them. 12 goals and 3 assists last year propelled Columbus to the Supporters Shield, and GBS followed his 2008 MVP season and MLS Cup win with another solid season.
It will take a very solid effort by Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson, who I expect will be the primary players ensuring that Schelotto doesn't punish RSL. I would have loved to watch the matchup between him and Javier Morales, but I think Javi may be another week or so away from getting back into the mix. Focus will be needed from every RSL player if they are going to shut down any opportunities for GBS.
Saborio vs. Marshall -
Alvaro has looked better and better each week as he adjusts to the style of both RSL and MLS, now he will get to match up against the two time MLS defender of the year in Chad Marshall. While Saborio will be giving up 4 inches to the 6'4" Marshall, we have seen that Alvaro is dangerous in the air. Marshall has seen almost every player in MLS and I have a feeling these two may have crossed paths while on National team duty with for their respective homelands. They have never matched up in MLS action and with the sneaky and deceptive abilities of Fabian Espindola, Nelson Gonzalez and Andy Williams in the creative role, it may just create some openings for Saborio to add to his goal and assist that he has already picked up in limited playing time.
Andy Williams -
Every MLS player knows who Andy is for one reason or another, but none of them know what he is going to do next. He could fire a shot from the midfield line to beat a keeper, we have seen that before. He can fire a free kick past a keeper, we have seen that many times. He is the guy who scored the 5,000 goal in MLS history, he is the guy with a heart so large it is enough for two people, he is the guy who in the worst of times will find a way to smile and fight on. Andy was one of the difference makers last year down the stretch for RSL, and his goal at Columbus in the 2nd leg of the playoffs last year was surprising. That is what Andy brings when he is on the pitch surprises, you never know what he will do, but almost always it leads to good thing for Real Salt Lake.
Robbie Rogers -
It has been just over 3 years since Columbus won the rights to Rogers in a lottery, and since then it has been a mixed bag of results, 2007 he only saw limited action but was able to put up 3 goals and an assist. 2008 many people thought that he had arrived as he scored 6 goals and added 3 assists, but that production dropped off to a single goal last year but he was able to get 5 assists. It doesn't matter if it is with the Crew or with the USMNT, everyone has been waiting for Robbie Rogers to arrive and deliver on the potential that almost everyone agrees he has. Could 2010 be that year? Hopefully RSL won't find out this weekend.
MLS Officials -
OK, we all have seen blown calls over the years, but it seems that already the chaos has reached new levels, as I stated before there have already been 15 PK's issued. We saw two issued in minutes against RSL in Houston, and just this week there was the phantom call against Seattle that cost them a win at FC Dallas. Each week US Soccer does its review of the officials, but it always is too late and way too little. Here is hoping that every official got a little talking to before this weekends matches and that play on the field will dictate the winners and losers.
So with a number of nagging injuries impacting RSL, it will be tough for them to put together a win against a team that over the past two years has been the standard for all MLS teams. Crew Stadium is a place that intimidates most teams, but not RSL, at least not anymore. This could be one of the most exciting matches as talented players fill every slot on both sides of the ball. This one like most matches will come down to who can take advantage of mistakes, no matter how small, made by the other team. I have to believe that the extra 2 weeks without a MLS match will probably cause Columbus to be a bit rusty, can RSL take advantage of it while not making mistakes of their own? I would not be surprised to see this end up in a 1-1 draw but I am going out on an edge and picking RSL to pick up their second road win of the year 2-1.
OFF MY SOAPBOX