In the mid-week interconference battle, Real Salt Lake will be in search of a fourth consecutive home win, while Columbus Crew SC looks to collect the team’s first win in seven matches. Both teams are on the outside looking in of their respective conference playoff pictures. However, RSL has collected points in seven of their last 11 matches, while Columbus has a paltry one win in their last 12 contests.
Salt Lake is coached by much-respected MLS veteran, Mike Petke. For RSL to climb back into playoff position, they must pick up points at Rio Tinto Stadium. At one point in the team’s history, Rio Tinto was a fortress, where opposing teams rarely found ways to collect points, let alone pull off a win. Petke is seeking to return the franchise to the glory days of old. Thus far in 2019, RSL has compiled a 5-2-0 record at home. The Crew is a troubling 1-6-0 away from MAPFRE Stadium.
Real Salt Lake at a glance
Record: 7-8-2, 23 points (8th in Western Conference)
Leading Scorers: Sam Johnson (7) Albert Rusnak (6)
Assists Leader: Damir Kreilach (3)
Barring an MLS Cup Final of Real and Columbus, this will be the last time the Black & Gold will see MLS super keeper, Nick Rimando. After two decades between the pipes, the former U.S. international is retiring at the conclusion of this season. Considered by many soccer pundits to be the best goalkeeper in the history of Major League Soccer, Rimando inexplicably has yet to ever win an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award. Regardless, his accomplishments have cemented his place in MLS history. He will retire having the most saves, wins, shutouts, starts and minutes played in league history. Bon voyage to the MLS star.
How RSL Play
Real is stout down the spine, from goalkeeper through to their lone striker. Rimando mans the net and young U.S. Men’s National Team prospect Justen Glad and former Manchester City product Nedum Onuoha at center back, along with All-MLS defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman hold down the center of the pitch. Damir Kreilach and Designated Player Sam Johnson carry the RSL attack. And not to forget 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year Cory Baird, scoring isn’t an issue for Petke’s squad.
In their most recent match against Sporting Kansas City, RSL made it a point to send long balls over the top of the SKC defense. Petke wants his attackers to keep seeking such opportunities. The three-pronged attack of Johnson, Rusnak and Sebastian Saucedo is dynamic and capable in front of goal. The trio will look to overwhelm the Crew’s backline with diagonal and penetrating runs. Petke recently implemented a counter-press offensive system, a new wrinkle Columbus must be cognizant of.
Defensively, the Claret and Cobalt have conceded 28 goals in 17 matches, certainly not the numbers one would expect with Rimando, Glad, Onuoha and Beckerman in tow. It is especially perplexing given Petke was a rough and tumble shutdown center back.
Of all the names mentioned, however, Glad may be the most critical piece to the RSL puzzle. Glad missed an extended period of time at the start of the season due to a broken toe. In the 10 matches he has started since, only once did Salt Lake surrender more than two goals. In his 10 starts this year, RSL is +9 in goal differential. The Salt Lake Homegrown player been extremely impactful for his hometown club.
Projected RSL Lineup
Mid-week lineups are always difficult to predict, as RSL will be playing three matches in a span of eight days. Petke may want to rotate players to keep his men fresh and healthy, but below is our best-educated guess:
How the Crew Can Win
This one is simple. The Crew can win by actually finishing the chances they create. Period! They have consistently generated more chances than their opponent and have sent in an obscene number of crosses from the flanks but have been unable to consistently finish.
Head coach Caleb Porter insisted that the team’s plan of attack has been executed effectively between the 18-yard boxes, but the lack of clinical finishing offensively and the inability to keep the ball out of their own net has been detrimental. The Crew has left a collection of points on the table at home. In order to make up for the loss of those points and salvage the 2019 campaign, Columbus must absolutely steal points on the road.
In their previous two clashes in Salt Lake, the Black & Gold mustered up back to back 2-2 draws. Certainly a win would be ideal, but even a draw at this point would be a welcoming change for a struggling Black & Gold squad.