RSL plays host to inter-conference side Columbus Crew SC this weekend as both teams look for a full three points to continue fighting for a playoff spot.
They’ll have to navigate the match without Mike Petke on the sidelines, as his ejection from RSL’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City — which garnered some well-deserved national attention, especially for his epic post-game press conference — will see him suspended for one game.
Real Salt Lake (7-12-3, 24 points) is riding a three-game unbeaten streak, where they’ve managed to outscore their opponents 11-4 as the attack seems to have found its stride to help the club get back into playoff contention. Their recent form has found them sitting in eighth place, just three points out of a playoff spot, and 10 points behind first-place FC Dallas in what is a very tight Western Conference race.
Columbus (10-11-1, 31 points), coming off of a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia earlier this week, holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being while Orlando City creeps up on them only two points back. Previous to the Union loss, Columbus had recorded back-to-back 1-0 shutouts, and have had their fair share of ups and downs all season long.
In the overall series, Columbus seems to have had RSL’s number in regular season play with 11 wins, five losses and three draws while outscoring the opposition 29-23.
Last year’s match-up took place in Columbus and ended in a wild 4-3 win for the Crew as Ola Kamara bagged a hat-trick, and with the help of an own goal from Justen Glad, the home side was able to score four in a row after going down 1-0 in the early minutes. Jordan Allen and Joao Plata both grabbed late-game goals, but it wasn’t enough for RSL to overcome the deficit, and Columbus finished with the full three points.
Key players and absences
Although RSL will be without Petke, the options on the field are looking pretty full, as there are no new injuries to report and they should be able to field the same lineup they did last week against SKC, if that’s what they choose to do.
Uruguayan defender Marcelo Silva got his first MLS start last week, and aside from giving up a penalty, had a great first showing and helped keep SKC off the score sheet in the run of play. He seemed to have a great initial pairing with Justen Glad, so it’ll be interesting to see if the same backline will make the starting eleven again.
The attacking quartet of Jefferson Savarino, Luis Silva, Joao Plata, and Albert Rusnak has all but caught fire lately, being responsible for a combined seven goals and four assists throughout the last three games. They’ve been able to run rampant on defenders, creating chance after chance, sometimes with the woodwork being the opposition’s only savior.
In the last game alone, RSL dominated the shots taken column, outshooting SKC 20-10. In fact, in their three-game unbeaten stretch, they’ve outshot all their opponents 61-39. If that’s not a testament to how good the attack has been lately, I don’t know what is.
In good news for Salt Lake, not only did Columbus just play a game on Wednesday, but they also lost two of their central defenders, Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar, to red cards so they’ll miss the trip to Utah altogether. This makes things very tough on coach Gregg Berhalter, as his choices on the backline are pretty slim.
On top of that, they’re missing a handful of other important players to injury as well, including star midfielder Federico Higuain, who’s missed the last two matches with a right knee sprain.
While things on the injury front don’t look great for Columbus, they still have plenty of solid attacking options like Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, who are in a three-way tie with Higuain as the Crew’s leading scorer, each with nine goals apiece. Recent acquisition Kekuta Manneh is also a speedy option up top for the visitors, while Wil Trapp and Artur have been solid at holding down the midfield.
The bottom line? Regardless of great form and the Crew’s missing players, this won’t be an easy win for RSL. Columbus has shown that when they’re firing on all cylinders, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Kamara alone can come out and have a two- or three-goal game at any time. That being said, if RSL can keep up the intensity and chemistry that we’ve seen from them on both sides of the ball over the last few games, it could be theirs for the taking.
Real Salt Lake: Yura Movsisyan (6), Albert Rusnak (5), Joao Plata (5), Kyle Beckerman (3), Jefferson Savarino (2), Luke Mulholland (2)
Columbus: Justin Meram (9), Ola Kamara (9), Federico Higuain (9), Kekuta Manneh (2)
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Chad Barrett (knee), Omar Holness (knee), Ricardo Velazco (ankle), Jordan Allen (knee), Matt VanOekel (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: Demar Phillips (hamstring)
OUT: Gaston Sauro (PCL), Ben Swanson (ankle), Federico Higuain (knee sprain), Lalas Abubakar (red card), Jonathan Mensah (red card)
QUESTIONABLE: Harrison Afful (thigh strain), Niko Hanson (hernia), Mohammed Abu (ankle sprain)
Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, M Silva, Acosta; Sunny, Beckerman; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L Silva
Columbus: Steffen; Raitala, Williams, Crognale, Jimenez; Trapp, Artur; Meram, Manneh, Finlay; Kamara
When: Saturday, July 29, 6:00PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 78 degrees, partly cloudy
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live
Referee: Kevin Stott