CCL Preview: RSL, Crew eye semifinal berth
Columbus Crew at Real Salt Lake, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, second leg (series is tied, 0-0)
Tuesday, 10 pm ET, FSC; Galavisión; concacaf.com (live streaming video)
Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew battled to a 0-0 draw in last week’s opener at Crew Stadium amid frigid conditions.
Although the weather was below freezing, there was plenty of heat in this game courtesy of a second-half confrontation between RSL defender Nat Borchers and Crew forward Emilio Renteria. This prompted RSL head coach Jason Kreis to claim it was "was more of a battle than it was a soccer game."
As for the second and deciding leg, another 0-0 result in regulation would mean two 15-minute overtime sessions, followed by penalty kicks (if still tied) to determine the winner. However, if the Crew score a goal and the match finishes tied at the end of 90 minutes, they will advance to the semifinals based on the “away goal” rule for tiebreakers.
The winner of the series will advance to the two-legged CCL semifinals and will play either Olimpia (Honduras) or Saprissa (Costa Rica) on March 15-17 and April 5-7.
Though the Crew have seen a lot of roster turnover this offseason, they showed a stronger attack than their more established MLS opponents in the opening stages of the first leg. They also did so with five new faces in the starting lineup, including two rookies in Cole Grossman and Rich Balchan.
“We know we have a very, very good team but we also knew we had to actually go out there and show that,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said.
Despite the positive showing, the Crew — who have not won in Utah since May 6, 2006 — failed to capitalize and take a goal advantage into Salt Lake. However, they do hold the precious advantage afforded due to the away-goals rule.
In addition to a number of incoming players, the Crew have also had to deal with a rash of injuries to Will Hesmer (right shoulder fracture), Andy Gruenebaum (groin/hip), Chad Marshall (concussion-like symptoms), Shaun Francis (hamstring), Kevin Burns (ribs) and Dilly Duka (abdomen).
The Crew will be without forward Rentería, who is unavailable due to his red card in the series opener.
Real Salt Lake
RSL met the unexpected in Columbus in what they considered to be less-than-desirable conditions on a frozen pitch. But Kreis said that though the conditions hampered their possession-oriented play, they certainly weren't the only factor in the sub-par outing.
“I’m not so certain that it’s our lack of ability to possess the ball, as much as it is quality in the final third of the field,” he said.
Of course, the ejections of defender Tony Beltran early in the second half followed by the sending off of Borchers certainly had an impact on the visitors' showing.
In addition to replacing Borchers with Rauwshan McKenzie, it’s likely Kreis will try to get Paulo Jr. and/or Arturo Alvarez involved in the attack since his team knows it must score in order to advance.
Heroes & Villains
Andres Mendoza vs. Rauwshan McKenzie: RSL’s least experienced starter will be inserted into a critical role. He replaces Borchers, who is the primary communicator and organizer on the back line. He showed well in a couple of outings late last season, but can he deal with the pressure and intensity of such a crucial match?
Mendoza, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise for the new-look Crew. The Peruvian made several strong passes and showed a good sense of positioning in the attack. Though he failed to convert on a couple of chances, he showed he can be dangerous.
Stat that makes you go “Hmm...”
Last Tuesday’s match was the first time ever that Real Salt Lake has had zero shots on goal and zero corner kicks (200 matches).