It appeared like things were starting to turn around for Columbus Crew SC.
Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Philadelphia Union, the Black & Gold had won three out of four games, including two straight shutout victories after moving to a three-man backline.
But with Wednesday night came a realization that Columbus is still as inconsistent as ever in a 3-0 loss to the Union.
Crew SC is now in Utah to take on Real Salt Lake, a team unbeaten in three matches, including two wins on the road. The Black & Gold come into this game on short rest and shorthanded after red cards to defenders Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar midweek.
Both teams need points form this one, Columbus to stay above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference and Salt Lake to have any hope of climbing up to it in the West.
Does the Massive Report staff think Crew SC can get back to winning ways, or will it be another disappointing road trip?
Having watched a lot of Real Salt Lake this week and witnessing the tragedy that Crew SC experienced on Wednesday, I don't feel confident about this game at all. Columbus is coming in on short rest, traveling west and are shorthanded. And quite frankly Real Salt Lake is hitting its stride at the right time.
RSL has three capable attackers in Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino. The trio has 10 goals and 9 assists in just over 2,500 minutes of play. The Claret and Cobalt average 1.45 expected goals per game and rank in the top five of the league. Columbus will need to stay compact, defensively sound and limit mental errors.
Real Salt Lake 2 Columbus Crew SC 0
So this one is gonna be a fun one. Is it crazy for me to say that I am more excited for this match than any other this season? Primarily because I have no idea what to expect in all of this chaos. No Federico Higuain, Jonathan Mensah, Lalas Abubakar and even possibly no Harrison Afful. What does this team do?
Until I see the lineup, I am at a loss.
And there's RSL — a team that started the season arguably worse than it's USL counterpart. So they took the club’s USL coach, Mike Petke, and appointed him leader of the chosen land, Salt Lake City (Mormon Joke). Under his watch, the Royals have created an identifiable style, in a short time might I add, after searching for one for years. At the top of this is the false No. 9 used with the preferred striker Luis Silva.
This brings a lot of question marks for me for Columbus. How does the team manage the false No. 9? How do Columbus counter RSL's aggressive play? There's a lot of uncertainty for Crew SC while Salt Lake just drew against Sporting Kansas City at home, beat the Portland Timbers 4-1 in Portland, and the LA Galaxy 6-2 in Los Angeles. This is a club in peak form.
Real Salt Lake 4 Columbus Crew SC 2
After getting thumped at Philadelphia, it's hard to feel very positive about this one. The record player is broken again — it's also hard to pick against a home team. Salt Lake has been playing better during the last month or so, and it's not crazy to think the players may have a strong reaction to Mike Petke's outburst last week when he made a major effort to stick up for his guys. Plus the altitude factor.
Columbus will be shorthanded in multiple places, while Salt Lake should have most everyone, minus Petke. It all adds up to a matchup that I think will be problematic for Columbus.
Real Salt Lake 2 Columbus Crew SC 1
The Black & Gold pushed one hell of a bowel movement through its system on Wednesday. Yellow and red cards were raised and post-match shots were fired from head coach Gregg Berhalter at MLS officiating, or lack thereof.
It's a new day, though. While Crew SC will be without the help of Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar, there are defensive replacements fully capable of holding the reigns for 90 minutes. I still find the three-man blackline to be convincing. Philly was fluke.
Now to this weekend's opposition.
Real Salt Lake is finding a semblance of form, thanks in large part to Kyle Beckerman's magic dreadlocks. With a tired Crew SC and a handful of suspensions and key injuries, this Columbus team will likely have to dig deep just to find a draw. However, I don't think a draw is in the cards.
Real Salt Lake 3 Columbus Crew SC 1
I don’t really buy that RSL is turning things around. I think this is a club that is more inconsistent than Crew SC and playing in a weaker Western Conference. There are recent big wins over the Portland Timbers and the LA Galaxy on the road, but neither of those teams is in great form.
With that said, getting results breeds confidence and Real is doing just that.
On top of that, this is Columbus’ third game in a week and the team will be without two defensive options in Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar. I expect rotation, but maybe not as much as if Gregg Berhalter’s side had achieved a result in Philly.
Road games in MLS are always tough and I don’t expect this game to be any exception. I’m not sure what the Black & Gold’s approach will be after the big defeat on Wednesday, but I don’t see a great response in Salt Lake City.
Real Salt Lake 3 Columbus Crew SC 2
Crew SC will be down Federico Higuain, Jonathan Mensah Lalas Abubakar and maybe Harrison Afful. Those that are available are pushing through the fatigue of a third game in eight days and long distance travel.
Winning on the road is tough, winning when Real Salt Lake has shown signs of stabilizing it is well rested is even tougher. Barring an unlikely hero like Adam Jahn or Christian Martinez, Crew SC might have a tough night.
Real Salt Lake 3 Columbus Crew SC 1
Not an optimistic group for Crew SC today. Do you feel the same? Let us know in the comments below.