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Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew - match preview

Well over the last couple years the Crew have become one of those teams that RSL has seen enough of to just not like them much, but this Crew team bears very little resemblance to the team that RSL faced in the 2009 playoffs, and heck it has little in common with the team they faced in Feb/Mar in Champions League action.

So the first time RSL faced off with Columbus this was the lineup (and if they are projected to start on Wednesday): Burse - no, Miranda - yes, Balchan - yes, Iro - no, Gardner - yes, Gaven - yes, Grossman - no, Ekpo - no, Rogers - no, Mendoza - yes, and Renteria - no this would have 6 players from the first match no in the starting XI.  That of course doesn't surprise me knowing the number of changes that they made to their roster in the off season it was only natural that their lineups would change as the season progressed.  I am not sure if the fans of the Crew would consider their 3-3-6 start to be something they could tolerate after 3 very successful years, but in the East they just one point behind DC United for 3rd place and a playoff spot.

Real Salt Lake finally got back to looking like the team that started the year on so many positives, their 2-0 win over Vancouver came with a huge boost in shots (25), it was  the first time in 6 matches where they scored multiple goals, and was the 7th clean sheet in 10 matches.  The fact that they did it without Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio, Arturo Alvarez, and Will Johnson, shows that their depth may be able to see them through a busy June.

The key match up, wildcards, and my prediction after the jump:

Key Match up:

Inexperienced midfield vs Inexperienced midfield

So RSL has Kyle Beckerman (250 matches played) and  Columbus has Eddie Gaven (220 matches played), but beyond them are guys who simply don't have a lot of MLS experience.  For Columbus their projected lineup in midfield will include Emmanuel Ekpo, Josh Gardner, and Dejan Rusmir who have a combined 115 MLS matches they have played in.  The RSL midfield will likely see Ned Grabavoy, Nelson Gonzalez, and Collen Warner, who have a combined 182 MLS matches played in, with a majority of them going to Ned.

So if you look at the 4 Columbus midfielders you find a total of 2 goals and 2 assists so far this year, while the RSL midfielders have 2 goals and 4 assists this year, so it really is a fairly even match up.  It will be interesting to see how the two groups will do on Wednesday, in the Crew matches I have seen they have lacked a real creative force in the midfield, as there simply hasn't been anyone who has even come close to filling the big boots left as GBS (Guillermo Barros Schelotto) left the club.  

In an interesting twist, Josh Gardner returned to MLS after several years years playing in USL, he had one MLS goal back in 2006 when he was with the LA Galaxy, that goal came against RSL on April 29th, 2006 at Rice Eccles Stadium.  He is one of 4 Crew players to ever score against RSL, they are lead by Jeff Cunningham (5 goals, 2 assists), Eddie Gaven (1 goal, 2 assists), Chad Marshall (1 goal, 1 assist).  I think I have to give RSL a slight edge in the midfield as depth of being able to bring in an Andy Williams or Luis Gil give some extra depth that might be the difference.

Wilcards:

Tommy Heinemann

As Robert Warzycha was looking to round out his roster, he found himself turning to Tommy, a 24 year old striker who spent last year with the Charleston Battery and the Carolina Railhawks.  He is a 6'4" striker who has gotten starts the last 3 matches for the Crew, he hasn't scored his first MLS goal yet, but clearly the staff see something in him to keep him in their starting lineup.  Here is hoping that his first goal doesn't come against RSL.

Jean Alexandre

If at any point over the last 2 seasons you would have told people that Jean Alexandre would have won MLS Player of the Week last week, they would have probably laughed, if you had told them he would win it for a goal and a assist while being forced into action at forward, nobody would have believed it.  Yet that is exactly what happened, the 24 year who normally is counted as a backup at d-mid simply has stepped up for the team and in a couple weeks surpassed what most people expected.  It will be interesting to see if the success he had both in scoring and with a great pass will give him the confidence to do even more.

Ricardo Salazar

Well last week we saw an very inexperienced official, who did and OK job and wasn't the deciding factor in the match.  On Wednesday it will be an very experienced official who has often been a very controversial official, with 131 matches under his belt Ricardo Salazar averages 26.9 fouls per match, and issues an average of 3.5 yellow cards.  Red Cards have been shown 40 times (31% of his matches) and he has pointed to the PK spot 49 times (37.5% of his matches).  Last year when these teams played in Columbus it was a soft PK that gave Columbus their only goal of the match, and a bad offside call that pulled a RSL goal off the scoreboard, I can only hope that we don't get a repeat.

My Prediction

Well RSL has just one win in MLS regular season play at Crew Stadium, but they were able to get a huge win there in 2009 on their way to winning the MLS Cup.  I think perhaps the most telling difference between these two teams i the fact that the Crew have given up 3 goals in a match 3 times already this year, while RSL have given up just 4 goals all year.  That 14 goals allowed vs 4 goals allowed is a huge gap between the two teams who both have scored 12 goals this year.  The Crew have a bad habit of giving up goals early in halves, 3 in the first 15 minutes of matches and 5 in minutes 46-60, the upside for the Crew is they have scored 6 of their 12 goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half.  I do think the Crew spend a lot of time looking for the officials to make calls for them, they have 4 PK's this year that account for 1/3 of their scoring.

RSL will need to do a few key things to get a win on Wednesday, first is get a good start, the first 15 minutes could be a difference if they can use their normal high energy start to get an early goal it could be the difference in the match.  Take advantage of Will Hesmer, RSL have been good against him as his GAA is 1.29, so RSL knows they can score against him, if they can keep up the high number of shots like they did on Saturday they should force him to make a lot of saves and that could mean loose balls in the area which could provided scoring opportunities. Finally I think it will be a match where completing passes will be a key, on Saturday RSL completed 85% of their passes, a similar effort should allow them to control and dictate the match.

RSL will need to take advantage of the momentum they got on Saturday to get a road win, they are 2-1-1 on the road with 3 goals for and just 1 goal against.  I expect this match will end up 2-1, with RSL getting a huge 3 points on the road.

OFF MY SOAPBOX