Most people associate a trip to Los Angeles, California, with Hollywood stars, great weather, and beautiful beaches. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for Columbus Crew SC last Saturday night. The Black & Gold had a less than memorable trip to Banc of California Stadium for an inaugural date with Los Angeles Football Club.
Crew SC couldn’t recover from a dreadful start that doomed the visitors en route to a 2-0 scoreline and a second consecutive loss. Now the Black & Gold are winless in five matches heading into the heat of summer and looking to turn the tide against Real Salt Lake.
Mike Petke came into Sandy, Utah, on a mission to change the culture at Rio Tinto Stadium and he’s done just that. Petke relieved former head coach Jeff Cassar and led RSL to an 8-4-3 record in 2017, barely missing a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
Like Crew SC, Salt Lake are in the midst of a youth movement with much of the starting line up at age 23 year old or younger. Let’s take a look at what the Black & Gold can expect from its Western Conference visitors on Saturday night.
RSL at a glance
Leading Scorer: Corey Baird (4)
Assists Leader: Albert Rusnák (3)
Rusnak is one of the more underrated attackers in Major League Soccer. The Slovakian possesses an innate ability to create quality scoring chances for his time. Since his arrival in 2017, Rusnak is responsible for the creation of 99 chances from open play, 13 more than any other MLS player in that time.
One of his favorite targets is forward Corey Baird. Throughout the season, both players continue to demonstrate their chemistry with one another. Rusnak often works the balls into spaces where Baird throws any body part he can at the ball to create a deflection on goal.
It’s also not uncommon for Rusnak to work the ball wide and utilize RSL’s width to create space for Baird as well. The duo thrive on creating chaos in the final third and pounce when the defense can’t recover.
Youth may dominate up front for the Claret-and-Cobalt but Nick Rimando has been a model of consistency at the back for several years. The 39 year old is normally very sure handed when making saves or diving for loose shots but appears prone to allowing more rebounds this season. Rimando struggled against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy during their match on June 9. He struggled to clear the ball out of the area and paid the price for a poor clearance.
Weeks later, the trend continued against the San Jose Earthquakes, as Rimando’s inability to control his rebounds ultimately left two points on the table for RSL. These problems could be alleviated with stronger play from the backline.
While outside backs Danilo Acosta and Brooks Lennon do an excellent job of patrolling the sidelines and assisting when needed on defense, stronger play is needed from Justin Glad and Marcelo Silva at the heart of the backline. The center backs are prone to losing their mark and subsequently their shape. This creates an opening for the opposition, which often leads to a quality shot on target.
How Crew SC win
The Black & Gold need to utilize their width on Saturday night for any chance of success against another skilled Western Conference opponent. Crew SC players need to be more adventurous when attacking the RSL defense, low line drives and constant shots will do the trick in this match. As mentioned previously, Rimando is prone to spilling the ball in front of net. If Crew SC follows its shots and plays the secondary balls, it should yield results on the scoreboard.
Columbus must close down on Rusnak and not allow space for him to create. Wil Trapp and Artur will be imperative in stopping the Slovakian and limiting his chances. Crew SC should look at fouling Rusnak early and often to frustrate the midfielder. The two Columbus center backs (presumably Lalas Abubakar and Jonathan Mensah) possess a considerable size advantage over Baird. Expect the two Crew SC brutes to body up on the forward and limit his chances on Saturday night.
This game will be either a defensive struggle or an absolute shootout, and there will be fireworks on and off the pitch. Crew SC have one chance remaining to claim a win in the month of June. Will Saturday be that day?