Photo by Rick Osentoski/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew will play their first meaningful game in almost four months when Crew Stadium opens its doors for the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel).
The Crew isn't being given much of a chance, considering the offseason moves the team has made and the amount of injuries that have piled up during the MLS preseason.
Conversely, Real Salt Lake is in pretty good health, added veteran depth to its midfield and figures to enter the 2011 MLS season as one of the favorites to reach the MLS Cup final.
Here's a closer look at how the two teams line up ahead of Tuesday night's match in Columbus:
COLUMBUS CREW VS. REAL SALT LAKE
KEY OFFSEASON LOSES
Real Salt Lake – Robbie Findley, David Horst
Columbus Crew – Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Steven Lenhart, Brian Carroll, Gino Padula, Jason Garey, Eric Brunner
KEY OFFSEASON ACQUISITIONS
Real Salt Lake – Arturo Alvarez, Cody Arnoux
Columbus Crew – Jeff Cunningham, Sebastian Miranda, Cole Grossman, Rich Balchan, Justin Meram, Korey Veeder, Josh Gardner
Real Salt Lake – Javier Morales (ankle), Arnoux (knee), Alvarez (adductor strain)
Columbus Crew – Will Hesmer (shoulder), Andy Gruenebaum (groin/hip), Shaun Francis (hamstring), Kevin Burns (ribs), Dilly Duka (abdomen), Danny O'Rourke (knee)
PATH TO THE QUARTERFINALS
Real Salt Lake – Won Group A; Went 4-1-1 against Cruz Azul, Toronto FC and Arabe Unido
Columbus Crew – Finished second in Group B; Went 4-2-0 against Santos Laguna, Municipal and Joe Public
Real Salt Lake
The overpowering consensus seems to be that Real Salt Lake will go into Columbus and thrash the Crew, but it likely won't be that simple.
Both teams are still in preseason mode and temperatures are expected to be in the mid-20s, which should level the playing field a bit and play into the Crew's favor to help offset the experience/continuity/talent gap. Columbus also has Chad Marshall in central defense, and while he can't do everything himself, he's capable of thwarting numerous chances in his own end alongside Andy Iro.
That being said, the untested Ray Burse will be getting the start in goal, there's little to no continuity from the successful squads of years past and previous role players like Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo will have to grow into starring roles for the Crew to hang tough – not just tonight, but all season long.
While Columbus' lineup will barely resemeble anything like its 2010 version, the same cannot be said for Real Salt Lake. Coach Jason Kreis has the luxury of relying on a starting XI he knows can get the job done, and it likely will despite being on the road playing under less-than-ideal conditions.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake 2, Columbus Crew 0
Who do you think will win tonight's match? What's your prediction for the final score?
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