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Smack Talk, Streaks, and Supporters' Shield, Oh My.. Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus Crew - match preview

The Cup is ours
The Cup is ours

Well if you forgot about this comment from the Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha where he stated that:

Robert Warzycha seemed to take another backhanded slap at the team that eliminated his from the playoffs last season, after saying before the game that RSL "weren't the best team last year."

Then we have the reality of "the streak" 20 MLS matches at Rio Tinto Stadium without a loss, during that time RSL is 13-0-7 and that is the second longest streak in MLS history.  The team with the longest streak is the Columbus Crew, with a 22 match streak, and hot on RSL's heels is Toronto FC, who have a 17 match streak of their own going on right now at BMO field.

There is an element around MLS and their fans that seem to believe that playoffs are simply an "American" thing and has no place in soccer, for those people the Supporters' Shield is the only piece of hardware that matters.  You can count the Crew's Robert Warzycha among them.  Of course part of that might have to do with the fact that the Columbus Crew are the team to have won it the last two seasons.  So this year the LA Galaxy with their 40 points who lead the race for the 2010 version of the trophy, but close on their heels are both the Crew (37 points), and Real Salt Lake (36 points).  I actually am a bit disappointed that RSL were unable to close that gap even more, but back to back road draws instead of wins, keep us 4 points behind the LA Galaxy.

Yup, all of that is just background for what could be one of the biggest matches of the MLS season, of course FSC is going with the other big match of the weekend as the Galaxy will return to MLS action at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, and ESPN well they would much rather cover Little League baseball than commit to MLS (did you catch that great MLS match they covered on Thursday?  Don't worry you won't see one next week either).  

The last time these teams met was a 1-0 win for the Crew in Columbus, a match that had it's fair share of controversy.  A questionable goal for the Crew, a goal pulled off the scoreboard when RSL's Will Johnson was incorrectly ruled offside.  So now they face off as two of the top teams in MLS, and the excitement should be great at Rio Tinto, and we hope that unlike the playoff match last year, that the Crew might come actually to play instead of just looking to get the draw.  This is a match-up of RSL with a 10-4-6 overall record with 34 goals for and 16 against, 7-0-3 at home with 24 goals for and just 6 allowed, and Columbus 11-4-4 overall with 28 goals scored and 17 allowed, they are 3-2-4 on the road with 12 goals for and 11 allowed.

After the jump, Key Match-ups, Wildcards, and my prediction:

Key Match-ups:

Sideshow Bob and Jason Garey vs. Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers

Well now that he cut his hair it is harder to compare Steven Lenhart to The Simpson's "Sideshow Bob", but I still think it is the most apt description of him that I can think of.  Lenhart has come alive a bit in recent weeks with 3 goals in their last 2 matches, including both goals against the Union on August 5th.  Then there is Jason Garey, who may be on the Crew roster for his 4 goals against RSL, if no other reason.  No Crew player has scored more goals against RSL than Jason, GBS has 3, Hejduk has 2, but the RSL killer on the roster of the Crew is none other than Jason Garey.  So far this year, Lenhart has 4 goals and 2 assists, and Jason Garey has 1 goal and 2 assists.

Then you have perhaps the best combination of center backs in MLS this year, if you missed Nat Borchers' effort against the Union on Wednesday, well you missed perhaps the best single performance by a RSL player this year. With a lineup of half bench players, including keeper Kyle Reynish and centerback Rauwshan McKenzie, it was Nat who really got RSL back into the match and slowed down the Union attack.  He kept perhaps the hottest player in MLS this year Sebastien Le Toux from being able to get many quality chances on goal.  Now he will get his normal lineup back, Rimando in goal and Olave next to him.  What can you say about Jamison Olave, by this time last year Olave had found himself in a fairly deep hole with RSL head coach Jason Kreis for his mental lapses that had gotten him red carded in several matches.  This year he only has received 4 yellow cards and nothing close to a red card, and by playing in control he has established himself as one of the very best in the league.

While I doubt that Garey or Lenhart will get the start against RSL, it is clear that one or both of them will likely get into the match at some point, and the reality is that Olave and Borchers will need to keep a very close eye on them.

Javier Morales vs. GBS (Guillermo Barros Schelotto)

GBS is 37 years old and the reality is that he has been nothing but quality this year and he leads the Crew with 5 goals (2 from the PK spot) and 7 assists, and between those two he is involved with almost 50% of the offensive output of the boys from Columbus.  Sneaky, crafty, dangerous are all terms that you can use to describe the 5'8" midfielder/forward, other will point to his diving, complaining, and whining about everything, but all I will say is if you give him an inch he can make you pay.

Javier Morales is 30 years old, and has become one of the very best creative midfielders in all of MLS.  It was funny listening to the Philly announce team offering their thoughts about him, and they really like Javi, including what they say was the best performance by a MLS player against Manchester United in the All Star match.  His 4 goals are 4th best on RSL, and his 6 assists are best for the team, but his value is far beyond the stat sheet.  When Javi is on, or given even the littlest amount of room, he can make a team pay in a very big way.  Now since he, like GBS, is from Argentina, there are again complaints that he goes down a bit too easily, tends to complain and whine too much.

The reality is this, you will get to see two of the best and most creative midfielders, who will roam all over the pitch go head to head on Saturday, and it should something special to watch.


The Crew Injury Bug

Well it is clear that the Crew are a different team when the players on their injury list are available: OUT: MF Eddie Gaven (3 goals, 3 assists); MF Robbie Rogers (1 goal); DF Gino Padula ; QUESTIONABLE: DF Chad Marshall (1 goal); PROBABLE: MF Adam Moffat (2 goals, 1 assist). Every team has to deal with injuries and RSL has had their share this year, but these are 5 players that are normally starting players for the Columbus Crew.  You have to wonder how much of an impact that these guys being out or less than 100% will impact how the Crew perform on Saturday?

Alvaro Saborio does the Travel Channel

RSL's most lethal offensive weapon so far in 2010, with 8 goals and 4 assists is supposed to be back but considering his travel in the last week it is a real question what impact he might make.  After the match in KC, it was off to his native Costa Rica to travel with the national team down to Paraguay for a Wednesday match, then it was back to Costa Rica on Thursday and hopefully back to Salt Lake City on Friday.  You have to believe that the jet lag will very likely keep Alvaro off the pitch at the start of the match, and may even keep him out of the 18.  

I have to believe that if he is able that Alvaro will petition to be on the bench and trying to get himself inserted into the lineup at some point, helping his case is the fact that Pablo Campos seems to have picked up a minor injury.

Jorge Gonzalez

Yes for another week I will list the officials as wildcards, we saw a rash of yellow cards in the Philly match 6 in total. The upside is the Jorge has 46 previous MLS matches under his belt, he calls an average of 25 fouls per match and issues an average of 3.7 yellow cards.  14 times he has pointed to the PK spot and 13 times he has reached for the Red card in his back pocket.  I again really hope that given the questionable calls in match one between these teams earlier in the season, that everything will be called down the middle this time.

My Prediction:

Well this one is actually a bit simpler than it looks, Columbus is just 0-2-4 on the road against the Western Conference.  They were only a goal and a bad call better than RSL, when we were struggling in May, and now with a number of players rested from the Wednesday match, and in front of their home fans it is clear that RSL will be coming out will both barrels blazing.

A quick start could be the key to the match, consider that Columbus have given up 4 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches, while only scoring a single goal in the first 15.  RSL have given up 3, but scored 4.  Both sides are lethal in the final 15 minutes of halves, RSL has 8 in the final 15 of the first half, while the Crew have 10 goals, at the end of the match RSL again have 8 goals in the final 15 minutes, but the Crew are one better with 9.  Once again this match could simply come down to who scores first, as the combined records when scoring first are 20-1-2, when giving up the first goal the two sides are 1-7-5.

RSL are simply too tough to beat at home, the Crew are simply too beat up.  I am going with a 2-0 win for RSL, with a goal early in the match and one just before halftime.