It is just about here, the start of the season that is, and RSL is about to make a trip East to Columbus for Leg 1 of their CONCACAF Quarterfinal matchup with the Columbus Crew. This matchup to me is very interesting. The Crew have made many changes that even some of their fans have questioned but I still expect this series to be a very tight matchup. The Crew have kept the core of their defense together and hope to have their number 1 keeper back in time for Tuesday’s game. The only real question that I see for Columbus is up top, they have added Jeff Cunningham, who always seems to give RSL fits, but other than he their forward line is not very deep and not really too threatening. I expect the forward line to put in hard work and will make things happen but I expect the RSL backline to keep up with them.
RSL has kept just about everything together when it comes to their core. Resigning everyone they wanted and added a future core piece in Arturo Alvarez. Their preseason games haven’t been the most promising but I don’t see that as a worry at all. The last few years have been rough for RSL on the road in Columbus playing a total of 4 games since 2008 and going 1-3, with the only win coming in their magical 2009 playoff run. Scoring early will be important for RSL in Leg 1, after being outscored 9-4 in these games (3 of RSL's goals in the playoff game). If RSL can snag an early goal I think things will come easier for them on the road. The Weather could play a factor in this game, with expected highs of only 40 during the day which means it should cool down quite a bit by game time. Rain/Snow has a chance to fall as well, a good 30% chance for the day.
Prediction after the jump.
Prediction for Leg 1
I don’t expect this game to be high scoring with both teams playing their first meaningful game of the year. I expect a slow start while both teams get a feel for the game. RSL appears to have the stronger team from back to front but the Crew are not a team that will just go away easy. An early goal will be the key for both teams, whichever team can get the first goal I expect them to have a good result for the day. If RSL can get a goal or two and a draw they should be happy, considering away goals are first tie-breaker if aggregate goals are tied after regulation. So, considering all things (weather, line-ups, ECT.), I am going to go with a 2-2 tie for leg #1. Sabo will be important early for RSL, as I don’t expect him to play a full 90. Beckerman will be the key to controlling the hardworking midfield of Columbus. Set pieces will be the best opportunity for the Crew to score so RSL needs to be extra cautious on all set pieces and defiantly need to not give away PK's or too many good looks on set pieces. This will be a great way to start the season as both teams look to get an early edge on the series for the return leg in Salt Lake a week later.
Go RSL!!! Bring us back a lead to Sandy and you know we will continue to give you the Fortress needed to start the pursuit of THE QUAD!!!