Pregame 18: RSL @ Crew
Real Salt Lake comes to town just as the Crew are showing signs of vulnerability. The list of unavailable players is long. The offensive leader Guillermo Barros Schelotto has a bad hamstring and other forward Alejandro Moreno has a strained groin. Starting wingers Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo are out. Defender Chad Marshall joins Rogers with the National Team. The Crew has had problems scoring even with a full roster.
Just as the team looks thin, they can tie a record (with San Jose) for most games without a loss at home at 18. They also can go along way to securing a playoff birth. Even being only a point off the Eastern Conference lead, they sit on the playoff bubble. These are the games where a record would be nice, but the team will want to secure it with a win and a valuable three points than another tie.
Crew on Offense: There are a lot of holes and not a lot of options. Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart will have to lead the offense up front. Neither of them will break down defenders individually, but they are hardworking forwards that work better in a two striker setup. Garey has struggled with injury and poor form this year while Lenhart has grown into a dependable offensive sub off the bench. The two will have to work well together to set up the offense if the team will be successful.
The midfield is still a mix of of out of place pieces. Eddie Gaven had one of his best games of the year last week; he will have to do that again since there is little proven offensive talent in the lineup. The best offensive chances the Crew had last week were when Gaven was able to break down the wing and pull the defense out of shape.
The biggest question will be who lines up at the other wing. Alex Grendi and Cory Elenio are wingers, but have not featured in the first team for more than a handful of minutes. It may be athletic defender Jed Zayner that gets the call. He looked good in the closing minutes of last week’s game. He has skill on the ball and is quick. In the middle, it will be the defensive pair of Brian Carroll and Danny O’Rourke. With the defensive posture in the center, offense from the wings is a priority.
Crew on Defense: With Marshall out, it again falls to the youthful, towering center back combination of Andy Iro and Eric Brunner. Iro had a very good game last week against Chicago and Brunner has been very solid all year. They won’t have to face as fierce an offensive combo this week. Clint Mathis has returned to solid form and can create a lot of offense.
Gino Padula and Frankie Hejduk are tasked with securing the wings. Hejduk has been solid since his return from injury. Padula has been mostly solid, but can get caught out of position a little more than last year. It’s a little more concerning against speedy wingers like Robbie Findley. Teams have looked towards his side more and more. Look for Salt Lake to test him again.
Final Thoughts: The Crew can set some records and get some valuable points toward the playoff push. The offensive reserves are going to have to step up big for that to happen. The defense is solid enough to shut down most teams. I expect the Crew to at least squeak out a tie, but they will need the three points. I think they have just enough firepower to do it.
RSL 0 – Crew 1