Match Preview:RSL, Crew set for CCL opener
2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, first leg
Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew, Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Tuesday, 8 p.m., FSC; concacaf.com TV (live streaming video)
Columbus moved into the quarterfinals for the second straight season by finishing second to Santos (Mexico) in Group B with four wins in six matches. They've been in this position before, earning a 1-1 draw against Toluca in the first game of the 2010 quarterfinals before losing 3-2 in the series finale and bowing out of the tournament.
Real Salt Lake are in the quarterfinals for the first time after they became the first MLS team to win a group stage last fall. They won four of six games in the group stage, including two wins over Toronto FC and one over runners-up Cruz Azul.
The winner of the series becomes the first MLS team to advance to the two-leg CCL semifinals and will play either Olimpia (Honduras) or Saprissa (Costa Rica) from March 15-17 and April 5-7. The finals will be played from April 19-21 with the second match April 26-28.
These teams will meet in the return leg on March 1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in
How much has changed for the Crew in almost a year since they faced Toluca in the first quarterfinal match? Seven of the 11 starters and one of the three subs from that game are either no longer with the club or injured and unavailable Tuesday.
Gone are mainstays as Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Gino Padula, Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart. Both goalkeepers from last season – William Hesmer (right shoulder fracture) and Andy Gruenebaum (groin/hip) - are ailing, although Hesmer will likely be on the bench.
Defender Shaun Francis (hamstring) and midfielder Kevin Burns (ribs) are also out and midfielder Dilly Duka (abdomen) is questionable.
Needless to say, some of the 14 newcomers – including nine rookies – will see action.
“The young guys have stepped up and really shown they can help us (in preseason) and they’re going to need to do it come Tuesday,” defender Chad Marshall said.
Real Salt Lake
Compared to the Crew, it’s been a tranquil offseason for RSL. Standout Javier Morales suffered an ankle injury last week but should be called on and Brazilian Paulo Junior may team up top with Alvaro Saborio for a combination that should cause trouble for the Crew’s patchwork defense.
“I expect a lot of movement from them, a lot of creative play,” Crew goalkeeper Ray Burse Jr. said of the Real Salt Lake attack.
One deterrent to the free-flowing style could be the condition of the Crew Stadium field but the home players Monday said it played better than they hoped considering there is still a month before the official start of spring.
“We just have to go with it no matter what happens,” defender Chris Wingert said. “We've got to be ready to battle. If it ends up being more of a fight than a nice soccer match, then so be it."
Heroes & Villains
Ray Burse Jr. vs. Nick Rimando - In the battle between the posts, RSL have a decided advantage. Rimando has two MLS Cup rings, while the former Ohio State star Burse – signed to a temporary contract while Hesmer and Gruenebaum heal – played 25 games for FC Dallas from 2006-09.
Rich Balchan vs. Kyle Beckerman – Another mismatch in terms of experience. Beckerman is the heart and soul in the midfield while Balchan, a rookie from Indiana, may play a defensive midfield role or on the backline.
Stat that makes you go “Hmm...”
The kickoff temperature Tuesday is forecast to be 26 degrees, even three degrees colder than the infamous US vs. Mexico World Cup qualifier on Feb. 28, 2001 in Crew Stadium. The US defeated Mexico 2-0 in the “La Guerra Fria” or “Cold War.”
Join the chat on MLSsoccer.com for the Columbus Crew-Real Salt Lake CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday, beginning at 7:45 pm ET!