After a disappointing 1-1 home draw against lowly San Jose last Saturday, this week RSL travel to Columbus to take on the Crew in a matchup of two teams that are currently sitting in 4th place in their respective conferences. RSL has struggled significantly on the road this season, while Columbus is currently riding a 5 game winless streak in league play. Which team will make the right plays to come up with a result in this game and how will they do it? Let’s go over a few points that might make the difference in this game.
As mentioned above, and as every fan of the Claret and Cobalt knows, Real Salt Lake has struggled on the road this season, earning only 4 of a possible 24 points away from home so far. The team comes into this game looking to take advantage of the Crew’s current woes and earn a result on the road.
Despite last weeks disappointing draw, the game was actually one of the better offensive performances of the season. In that game, RSL held 64.6% overall possession, had an 86% passing completion rate, and took 26 total shots, with 8 shots on frame. The attacking four of Savarino, Rusnak, Saucedo and Baird have played together a few times in a row now, and are really starting to get comfortable and familiar playing with each other. With Joao Plata still listed as questionable on the injury update, I fully expect to see the same front attacking four in this game. We have seen them break down defenses and get great scoring opportunities, but the finishing has left a little to be desired. If they are able to put their scoring boots on, they have a quality and ability to score 3 or 4 goals in a game.
One of the big talking points this season has been the central midfield pairing of Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach. There has been a lot of talk about how that pairing seems to be incompatible, and that playing such a pairing spells certain doom for the team. Some may even point to the fact that RSL couldn’t pull off a win against lowly San Jose as another example of this. I still think that it is a valid concern to the team, as it appeared that confusion in the midfield about who was going to track a runner led to a disorganized defense on San Jose’s goal. It also appears that Mike Petke is trying to mitigate this at least a little, by regularly reminding Danny Acosta and Brooks Lennon to pinch into the middle of the field a little bit and support the midfield when the other fullback is further up the field assisting in the attack. Earlier in the season we saw both fullbacks getting into the attacking third of the field at the same time, which was causing balance issues at the back. It appears that Petke is trying to keep that balance a little better now, and Acosta and Lennon are starting to figure it out a little bit. I expect to see the same starting lineup again this week against Columbus, and expect to see the midfield support from the fullbacks to be an important point of emphasis from Petke.
Columbus come into this game against RSL with a 7-5-6 overall record through 18 games, good for 27 points and 4th place in the Eastern Conference. As has been mentioned previously, the Crew are currently riding a 5 game winless streak, consisting of 3 draws and 2 losses. Columbus will definitely be looking for an opportunity to right the ship against Real Salt Lake, and will surely come out swinging against them.
The biggest thing to watch for from Columbus in this game is the connection between striker Gyasi Zardes and attacking midfielder Federico Higuain. Zardes has scored 10 goals so far this season, with Higuain has added 4 goals and 5 assists to the campaign. It should be noted that no other Crew player has scored more than one goal this season. It is clear that the offense runs through these two players. If RSL can keep them under control, they should have a good opportunity to get a result in this game.
Another thing to keep an eye on is replacement goalkeeper Jon Kempin, who will once again be filling in for injured starter Zack Steffen. How he connects with and manages the Crew defense may well be the difference in this game.
DF: Lennon, M. Silva, Glad, Acosta
MF: Beckerman, Kreilach
MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Saucedo
RSL’s keys to the match
- Concentrate on shape and balance. If RSL can find a way to keep their proper shape and balance even while attacking, then we will continue to see improvement on the defensive end and scoring opportunities on the attacking front.
- Take advantage of scoring opportunities. In all reality, RSL probably should have scored at least 3 goals against San Jose. If they can fine tune their shooting just a little bit more, we could well see an offensive explosion.