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Crossing the Touchline: Crew vs Real Salt Lake

Let’s get to know tonight’s Crew opponents from those who know them best.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC has another opportunity to end this terrible run of results that has seen the team earn just four points in the previous 12 matches. It will not come easy for the Black & Gold — not that anything has of late — as Columbus travels west to do battle with Real Salt Lake.

Real has been inconsistent in 2019, with just one win in the last four matches. But the Claret and Cobalt had three wins prior to that. Heading into this match, Salt Lake sits on 23 points through 17 matches and is in eighth place in the Western Conference.

To get a deeper look at the Crew’s Wednesday night opponent, we turned to our friends at RSL Soapbox, specifically editor Lucas Muller. Here is what we learned:

Questions for RSL Soapbox

Massive Report: Sam Johnson appears to be a big addition for the club this year, leading the team in scoring. What impact has he made that maybe goes beyond the stat sheet?

RSL Soapbox: Sam Johnson has been a solid addition to the team this season. RSL hasn’t had a true and reliable center forward since Álvaro Saborío was traded to D.C. United in 2015. Johnson is a fast, hard working attacker who keeps defenders on their toes.

RSL has a few other good goal scorers in Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, Damir Kreilach, Sebastian “Bofo” Saucedo, etc. When Sam draws defenders into himself, he helps to open up space for other attackers. Johnson’s nose for goal is the best on the team. In Saturday’s match against Sporting Kansas City, he took the ball off the foot of fellow teammate Damir Kreilach to get his second goal of the night.

His time with the team started off slow. He was coming off a preseason injury and it took several games until he received a start. He’s certainly grown more comfortable with his teammates, even after a press conference where he said they wouldn’t pass to him or didn’t trust him. Those internal issues seem to have been worked out and his production has been fun to watch.

MR: Mike Petke’s had an interesting career since retiring from playing, working his way up with the Red Bulls and then doing it again in Salt Lake. What has made him work for this club since taking over in 2017?

RSLS: Mike Petke’s time with Real Salt Lake has been somewhat mixed. The team has had a number of credible teams, such as beating the Rapids 6-2 in Colorado then LA Galaxy at home 6-2 the next week. On the flip side, the team has seen some of their worst defeats under Petke.

Petke was originally brought on to coach their club’s USL team, Real Monarchs. He coached one game, a win against Timbers 2 in Portland, then was given the head coaching job for Real.

Mike isn’t the strongest tactician, but he is a good leader. If you’ve ever seen a post match interview with him, you’ll know he’s a straight forward kind of guy. He’s also a young coach. He’s been working on his next coaching license through USSF and he’s spoken very highly of that program and it might be why we’ve seen some the team’s successes this season.

MR: RSL is just outside the playoffs right now. What were the expectations for where this team would finish coming into the year and have those changed at all now that we’re halfway through the season?

RSLS: RSL seems to dance around the playoff line the last several years. Last season was the first time since 2016 that the team had made the playoffs, but they didn’t go far that year. Life as an RSL fan as been overall a bit frustrating since Jason Kreis’ departed in 2013. The team was one of the best sides in MLS and made it to the final that year. Since then, they’ve slipped into a mid table spot that feels lackluster. They’ve never been a garbage team, though. There has been some really exciting signing and fantastic youth development, along side the building of an incredible academy at the south end of Salt Lake Valley.

The expectations going into this year were that of cautious optimism. The signing of forward Sam Johnson and midfielder Everton Luiz addressed specific needs on the field that the academy could not supplement. The team has stayed true to a mid table role; they’ve had some great wins and embarrassing losses, but should finish right around the playoff line.

To read Massive Report’s answers to RSL Soapbox’s questions about the Crew, check out their Three Questions story.