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Preview: Columbus Crew at Real Salt Lake

The Crew can win three in a row and keep up in the playoff chase, but they'll face a stern test and without a couple cogs in the midfield.

George Frey

Two wins in a row were fueled by excellent midfield play. Wil Trapp and Bernardo Anor shielding a revived Federico Higuain and a stout defense. Two of that new midfield combo are out. Anor and Justin Meram are out and the Crew face the blistering offense of Real Salt Lake. A sterner challenge to say the least.
The Lineup: How Robert Warzycha replaces Bernardo Anor is the critical choice in this matchup. Ben Speas, a ball playing midfielder with a mind for attack, might be the best option, but he'll likely replace Meram on the left. That leaves Tony Tchani, Kevan George, or Danny O'Rourk as options. The best remaining option is to slot in O'Rourke as the holding midfield and push Trapp into Anor's role.

Lampson; Barson, Williams, Marshall, Viana; Oduro, O'Rourke, Trapp, Speas Higuain, Arrieta

Crew on Offense: The key has getting Higuain forward and not being the deep lying playmaker. He needs someone adept at playing with the ball at their feet. Without Anor available, that means Trapp is the next best option. Trapp has shown the ability to go forward and link up with the attackers before.

Speas should be able to more than make up for Meram going forward, he cuts in centrally and is good at getting into space. The key will be his defensive responsibilities. Meram's key contribution has been providing help at key times.

RSL will key on Higuain and Kyle Beckerman is more than capable of shutting him down, but the rest of the defense has been struggling. The Crew will need contributions from Jairo Arrieta and Dominic Oduro.

Arrieta has been effective at doing the dirty work of a hold up forward, but hasn't been effective at getting into scoring position. A goal drought can weigh heavily on a forward and Arrieta is pressing a bit.

Oduro's issue is a bit different. Warzycha would like him to get the ball in space, but he's better when he can run on to passes. He's not getting that chance as the wide winger in the Crew's  formation. He also isn't getting a chance to play on the counter. He likely will against RSL.

Crew on Defense: Salt Lake is a juggernaut. Javier Morales is fit and integrated into the team after a busy summer.  He can score and create. He and Higuain are similar in that way. It will take a team effort to clamp down on him as he can float between the lines.

The problem is that RSLs midfield is likely the best in MLS. They have depth and balance. Beckerman is an adroit passer and Ned Grabavoy does all the little things as a two way winger. Luis Gil is constantly improving and is already a quality starter in MLS. The Crew midfield will have their hands full.

The central defense of Chad Marshall and Josh Williams matches up well with the skillful finishers that Jason Kreis can roll out. Marshall can shutdown any player in MLS when he's zeroed in, that includes Saborio. Williams is mobile enough to track the shifty Joao Plata until he gets into the wide channels.

Final Walkthrough: RSL at home is likely the Crew's toughest opponent this year. Warzycha has copied Salt Lake to some extent to get Higuain the ball. The only problem is that the parts aren't quite comparable to the home side's just yet.

Crew 1 - RSL 2