Consistently one of the League’s most successful clubs, Real Salt Lake travels to Crew Stadium without many of its most influential players. Consider that Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are with the United States National Team, and Alvaro Saborio would be with the Crew’s Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis at Costa Rica if not for a recent injury. Speedy forward Joao Plata also remains unlikely to play with a hamstring injury.
Although the RSL machine takes to the pitch devoid of many of the cogs that have turned it into one of the League’s perennial contenders, the Crew has shown nothing but respect for their opposition, knowing that a perfect effort is needed to beat a side that has earned 24 points from its first 13 matches, second in the League.
“They’ve lost one game all year. That’s tremendous; that’s saying something for [Head Coach] Jeff Cassar,” said Justin Meram. “They play an interesting style, it’s a fun way to play soccer. We play excellent soccer as well, so it’s going to be a great game on Wednesday.”
“No matter who RSL puts on the field, that’s a team that’s traditionally very good,” added Eric Gehrig. “They’re very well-coached, they have their core that’s kind of instilled their mindset and the way they play for the last five, six, seven years.
“Whether they’re fully loaded or whether the cabinet’s empty, RSL is going to bring it every time they play, and I think that shows," continued Gehrig. "They’ve been missing guys for a little while now, and [even though] they lost last week, that was their first loss of the year. It’s going to be a tough game. We’ve done our homework and we’re ready to go tomorrow.”
So what makes Real Salt Lake consistently effective? Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has a few ideas.
“The first thing is that they have a core group of players that has by and large stuck together," said the Crew boss. "They have a system that they play that hasn’t changed much and they have a consistent coaching staff, even with Jason [Kreis] gone. Jeff [Cassar] has been around that operation for a long time. They have a consistent front office. When you look at [General Manager & Senior VP of Soccer Operations] Garth [Lagerwey], what he’s done, he’s certainly a good thinker in this league and goes about his business in a good way.”
RSL started the season 6-0-6 before suffering a 4-0 defeat last weekend away to Seattle Sounders FC, a result that was a tad surprising given the club’s strong start. Despite the large margin, Berhalter said that the loss didn’t alter his perception of Wednesday’s opponent in any way.
“They’re still a really good group, probably one of the best groups in the league, and it’s going to be a tough game. I look at their last game as more of a one-off: they were on turf and it was a little bit of an uncomfortable surface, maybe, but this is a tough team.”
Much of the focus has been on who RSL does not have available Wednesday, but that takes away from who the club does have: Javier Morales, one of MLS’ most influential attacking midfielders, a player who Berhalter likened to Columbus’ own Federico Higuain.
“They’re very comparable. [Morales] is one of the best players in the League for the last five years. He’s a very good player, very instrumental in their attack. I have a lot of respect for him as a player. I think he’s done a great job.”
With RSL also playing a stretch of three matches over a week’s time, the fatigue factor is level on both sides. The Crew, however, has the home field advantage, something that could prove to be decisive in the midweek clash.
“It’s a home game, so we have to go out there like any other game, give 100% and be committed to it with the same attitude,” said Bernardo Anor. “We’ve been playing well, we just have to do a better job in terms of taking care of small details. The same conviction and the same energy that we’ve been bringing to practice will translate into the game. We’ll be fine no matter who’s on the field.”