Pregame: Crew @ Salt Lake
The Crew open up their MLS Cup defense out west against a dangerous Real Salt Lake team. Columbus is in a very bad run of form; three losses this month with one fluke goal in four games. Either they are starting to tire after a packed late season schedule or they let up after they raced ahead in the Supporters Shield standings. Either way, they will have to elevate their play a couple of notches at Salt Lake will be gunning for an upset at Rio Tinto Stadium, a place they have lost once all year.
Crew on Offense: Warzycha says practice would be key in deciding who starts at forward this week. He certainly has options. Schelotto is looking sharper as he comes off of injury and starts to develop a rhythm. He was was massive in last year’s playoffs, and seems to be able to play the best in the biggest games.
Alejandro Moreno, Schelotto’s normal strike partner has been off form all year. With only four goals and not really holding up the ball as well as he has in the past, I expect that Warzycha will look to Steven Lenhart or even Emilio Renteria as the other option. They are a little quicker than Moreno and hold up the ball very well. Lenhart has three goals in over 1000 minutes, not a great rate of return, but it is better than Moreno’s output.
The team desperately needs the midfield to step up on the offensive end as well. Salt Lake is at altitude and that will cause fatigue to set in earlier. Having Rogers and Gaven run around on the wings won’t be an answer for the entire game. The central midfield must play a more polished passing game. Moffat looked good in the center with Carroll last week as he was able to move the ball around well. Whoever lines up in that spot will have to play with an eye to springing the wingers and forwards a little quicker than the Crew have as of late.
Crew on Defense: Robbie Findley scored 3 of his 12 goals against the Crew in April as Real Salt Lake demolished the Crew 4-1. Columbus will need to guard against the speedy counterattack was so successful the last time the teams met out west. This will have to start with the speed the team transitions from offense to defense. They will have to match the unbelievable pace that Salt Lake has over the field.
Unlike the anemic attack, there is reason to believe the defense is well prepared to handle the challenge. Chad Marshall returns to the lineup for the first time since September 13th. Other players have stepped up, but no one can compare to the skill and presence that the MLS Defender of the Year brings to the table. He is a force on the offensive and defensive ends of the field.
The Columbus midfield will also have double duty to shut down deep lying playmakers Clint Mathis and Andy Williams. They have the ability to spring the attack from anywhere on the field. Moffat and Carroll neutralized Joseph last week, but will have to be vigilant against the dynamic pair’s ability to turn a defensive third possession into a fast break offensive threat.
Final Thoughts: This is a dangerous game for the Crew. They have looked sluggish and disinterested over the past month and Salt Lake won’t have the same pressure on them, coming in as the 8th seed. If the Crew can salvage two goals, they have a good chance at the win, but since this is a two game series, I can see the Crew trying to bog down the Real Salt Lake offense and get back to Crew Stadium with a tie.
Crew 1 – RSL 2