Life is good when you have Major League Soccer’s leading goal scorer and the current king of assists on your side.
As Ethan Finlay keeps serving poisonous passes to Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC’s (5-6-5) offense is becoming potent. And there couldn’t be a more appropriate time, as the Black & Gold prepare to face one of the League’s most consistent defensive lines in Real Salt Lake.
Coming off of Wednesday’s electrifying 2-1 comeback win over New England at home, Crew SC carries its momentum into Rio Tinto Stadium, which is a challenging place to compete, according to captain Michael Parkhurst.
“It’s a tougher environment to play for sure. You’re dealing with altitude, [it’s] always a packed house; they play very well at home,” Parkhurst said. “It’ll be a difficult game for us, especially with the travel. I know they have to travel as well though, so that’ll help us.”
As the Black & Gold journey to Sandy, Utah on Thursday, RSL faces the same task heading home from New York the day after its match against the Red Bulls. The Claret-and-Cobalt return home with two of their players suspended after receiving red cards in their 2-1 loss. To Crew SC’s advantage, defender Demar Phillips and team-co-leading goal-scorer Javier Morales will sit out Saturday’s match.
Despite their absence, Crew SC’s Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter says it still leaves Real dangerous.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s [Morales] not playing, but you move on,” Berhalter said. “You plan for the other guys and I’m sure that whoever comes in is going to want to take their chance. It’s not going to be easy.”
One area where Columbus can capitalize is RSL’s tendency to spread the field, creating space for Crew SC to penetrate on offense.
“It’s a team where we think we can play and there will be space out there like always,” Parkhurst said. “I think the ownness is on us to take the game to them, impose our style, and usually the games against the Western Conference teams are a little bit more open. We’re able to possess the ball a little bit, so hopefully the same will be true.”
As a team that excels playing possession-based, that will be key for the Black & Gold. Although the Claret-and-Cobalt are in the Western Conference, Berhalter says their style of play is comparable to his club’s.
“I think it’s going to be a great game,” Berhalter said. “I saw them play [against Kansas City on Sunday] and they were fantastic. They had a really good performance and they like to attack; we like to attack, we like to keep the ball, so do they. What I see is teams fighting to keep the ball, and it should be attractive soccer.”
If last year’s match is any inclination of Saturday’s contest, Berhalter’s prediction of attractive soccer is likely spot on. Columbus hosted the match last season on June 4, where the two clubs battled to a 1-1 draw, as Ethan Finlay evened the score in the 88th minute with a chip shot.
Crew SC supporters welcome goals and assists from Finlay, especially when he’s contributing to three points for Columbus. As Wednesday’s win resulted in the Black & Gold climbing a spot in the Eastern Conference, their head coach says points take on a different meaning in inter-conference competition.
“The point implications are a little bit different when you’re talking about out of conference teams, so that could be the case,” Berhalter said of Saturday’s match. “You’re more inclined to take risks later in the game to try to get a win, instead of settling for a point, so we’re looking forward to that game. The fans are certainly going to enjoy this one.”
Don’t miss the action on Saturday night. Tune in to Time Warner Cable SportsChannel, CD102.5 FM or La Mega 103.1 FM at 10 p.m. ET.