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Massive Scouting Report: A West Coast trip begins for Columbus Crew SC

It’s the first of two straight against the Western Conference.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like we’ve said this numerous times, but it’s been a busy week for Columbus Crew SC. The Black & Gold picked up a needed 1-0 win on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union, but fell on the road to the Union, 3-0, on Wednesday night.

The loss came at some cost as Crew SC will be without center backs Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar for a trip out to Real Salt Lake.

Due to the suspensions of the defenders, at least one of Josh Williams and Nicolai Naess are all but guaranteed to see the field Saturday in Sandy, UT. Crew SC sets its sights on a dangerous RSL club. The Royals experienced a difficult start to 2017, but have been through a renaissance as of late.

Salt Lake started the season in dreadful fashion, beginning 2017 with a record of 2-7-2. Head coach Jeff Cassar was dismissed after just three games and Mike Petke was promoted from the team’s USL side to take over an injury-plagued squad.

If the last month has been any indication to how things will for RSL, the future looks bright. Petke and his club hung six goals on the LA Galaxy, held tough in a friendly against EPL power-club Manchester United, won convincingly against the Portland Timbers and drew against a talented Sporting Kansas City.

Let’s take a look and see what you can expect at Rio Tinto on Saturday night.

RSL at a glance:

Record: 7-12-3

Form: L-W-W-D

Goals Leader: Yura Movsisyan (6)

Assist Leader: Albert Rusnak (6)

Terrific Trio

Real Salt Lake has been the beneficiary of terrific play from their threesome of Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak, and Jefferson Savarino. The trio have combined for a total of 10 goals and nine assists in over 2,500 minutes of play this season.

The Claret and Cobalt rank in the top five of Major League Soccer in expected goals with 1.45 per game, but Rusnak, Plata, and Savarino have performed at a much higher clip.

Joao Plata

It’s amazing that a player of short stature can loom so large on the pitch, but that’s exactly the case for Ecuadorian. Standing at 5-foot-2, Plata doesn’t shy away from the challenges of much taller defenders.

Plata’s 8.81 combined expected goals and assists trails only Chicago Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic. Even more impressive is Plata’s 2.49 chances created from open play per 90 minutes.

The attacker is tied for second on the team in both goal (5) and assists (3, showing Plata can not only get into dangerous areas on the pitch, but can find his teammates as well.

Here is how Plata distributed the ball against Portland on July 19th, when he also scored a brace for RSL:

Plata is capable of hurting the opposition from many locations on the pitch.

Jefferson Savarino

Ever since joining Salt Lake in May, the 20-year-old Savarino is a key cog in Petke’s offense. Savarino likes to play on the right side of RSL’s 4-3-2-1 formation, as he looks to stretch the opposing defense. He also is a great distributor of the ball, completing 80 percent of his passes in the final third.

The Designated Player has scored twice and assisted on three occasions in 11 games this season. Combined with Plata and Rusnak, opponents must continue to be cognizant of just how potent this Real attack can be.

This player is still developing and with him learning from talented player like Rusnak and Plata, there is no telling how much Savarino will achieve during his time in Major League Soccer.

Albert Rusnak

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Czech international is the most influential attacking player on Salt Lake’s roster.

Rusnak has five goals and seven assists in 17 appearances for Claret and Cobalt. He leads the team in key passes with 2.9 per game and also averages four quality chances per 90 minutes. He is a great creator who looks to generate a scoring chance whenever possible. Rusnak creates a shooting opportunity unassisted 34.3 percent of the time he is in the attack.

Rusnak is a unique midfielder because he has the gift of a great touch, but can fight through tackles and assert his will on the pitch. Teams cannot miss their defensive assignments when marking Rusnak.

Keys for Columbus

Crew SC must be on top of things defensively if the team expects to get a result on Saturday night. With players like Plata, Saverino, and Rusnak, RSL can offer many different looks offensively. It will be a tough assignment for the Black & Gold defense as they will be coming in shorthanded due to the suspensions.

For Columbus to be successful, it will need to stretch the pitch offensively and work the ball into space. A common tendency for RSL is to pack as many defenders as possible into the 18-yard box and challenge teams to spread them out.

The Black & Gold will need to move the ball with pace and purpose.

Set piece defending will also be critical for Columbus, as Real leads the league with 144 corners and can be creative with how they score.

With playmaker Federico Higuain out for the match on Saturday, Crew SC will need to be creative with scoring chances and find a way to put Nick Rimando under duress. The RSL defense can be defeated, but Columbus will have to limit mental errors and get back to their brand of attacking soccer to be successful.