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Crossing the Touchline: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake

The Black & Gold head out west for a one-off in Utah.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s Major League Soccer, Columbus Crew SC doesn’t get to spend much time in in the western half of the United States. But the next two Saturdays, the club faces Western Conference opponents.

That begins this weekend with a date with Real Salt Lake.

The Royals had a rough start to the year. So much so that the organization fired its coach three games into the season. Mike Petke took over and it remained rocky for a bit before players returned from injury.

Recently, RSL has begun to turn things around. Unbeaten in three matches, Salt Lake has large wins over both the LA Galaxy and the Portland Timbers on the road and tied Sporting Kansas City 1-1 at home in the last match.

Crew SC appeared to be on a hot streak of its own, winning two on the hop. That is until Wednesday’s 3-0 debacle at the Philadelphia Union.

But you know about Columbus, let’s talk RSL. We turned to our friends at RSL Soapbox to learn a little more about the Sandy, UT side. Matt Montgomery, take it away.

Questions for RSL Soapbox

Massive Report: Given that these teams only see each other once a season, could you give Crew SC fans a brief recap of the season so far? It appears to be a bit of an up and down, with RSL appearing to be moving in the right direction now.

RSL Soapbox: Oh, boy. I guess we start at the beginning, right?

First, we controversially lost Javier Morales at the end of last season. Juan Manuel Martinez had his contract mutually terminated. We were adrift. Our 2017 preseason went well enough, and we brought in some promising young players: Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon, mostly. The season started, and we were poor. After three games, we were without a coach, with Jeff Cassar getting the axe very early into the season. We hired Mike Petke not long afterward. We continued to play badly, and we got worse. We imploded in Texas. We came out of that tailspin, though, and we smashed through LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers. Here we are.

So, yeah, it does look like things are moving in the right direction, but we're going to need to see continued improvement to really feel good about it.

MR: Looking just at the stats, I see 42 goals against for Real. What has gone wrong defensively this season? Can new addition Marcelo Silva help shore that up?

RSLS: Perhaps a better question might be to ask what things didn't go wrong with Real Salt Lake — like I said, we were adrift. We brought on Petke, and his changes took time to implement, and getting the squad to respond to his coaching took time. We played basically every combination of a back line we could, simply because injuries decimated us defensively.

Really, though, that wasn't the only thing that went wrong. We struggled to have a real midfield. Our defense was constantly stretched. We played on the back foot constantly. There were systemic tactical changes necessary, and I think we've started to see those play out. The addition of Marcelo Silva will be helpful if he's of the quality we think he is, but he's definitely not the only thing we needed.

MR: In your eyes, is Salt Lake a playoff team? If so, what needs to happen the rest of the year? If not, why?

RSLS: Yes.

But... no. We're a playoff quality team now, but that's going to be some run of games for us to make it. We'll need to average something like two points per game to even really have a chance, and that's going to be difficult to achieve.

Watching us now, we're playing like we really know what we want to do on the field, and that's a tremendous improvement from earlier this year. But getting to that point will take everything we have — and maybe it'll take more than that.

We just need to continue the rate of improvement we've seen over the last few weeks, and we have to do it in a sustainable way. We also need to start finishing our chances, because not every match will go as well as the thumping of LA Galaxy.

To read Massive Report’s answers to RSL Soapbox, check out their Three Questions piece.