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Storylines to Watch: Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus Crew SC

Ghosts of Tournaments Past

Although Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew SC (who rebranded at the end of the 2014 season) have played in opposite conferences since RSL came into the league in 2005, that hasn’t precluded the two clubs from meeting in a pair of tournaments.  The first such meeting came in the 2009 MLS Cup Playoffs.  Columbus was coming off of a double, winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2008 and were the top seed in the East after winning the Supporters’ Shield again in 2009.  Meanwhile RSL crept into the postseason with the eighth-best record in the league and shifted over to the East bracket back when the format allowed for one team to cross over to the opposite conference in the event that the fifth-place finisher from one conference was better than the fourth-place finisher in the other.  After taking a 1-0 lead in the home leg of the playoff series on an 88th minute goal by Robbie Findley, RSL went to Columbus and fell behind 2-1 in the series on two goals from Guillermo Barros-Schelotto before staging a comeback and posting a 3-2 win in the match for a 4-2 win in the series.

Their next tournament faceoff came in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.  After the two teams qualified for the 2010-11 tournament in the 2009 season – Columbus with the Supporters’ Shield and RSL with MLS Cup – the Crew finished second in Group B while RSL was first in Group A and the only two MLS teams to advance out of the group stage were drawn against each other in the quarterfinals.  With both teams coming into the tournament in preseason form, the first leg finished scoreless at Crew Stadium (now Mapfre Stadium) before coming to Rio Tinto Stadium where RSL trounced Columbus 4-1 to advance to the semifinal round.

A Tale of Two Crews

Crew SC is 5-2-2 at home and has looked very good doing it.  At Mapfre Stadium, the Crew holds a 19-11 scoring edge, but on the road is a completely different tale.  Away from home, Columbus is 0-4-3 and has been outscored 12-4.  The home slate is dotted with impressive results like wins over Seattle Sounders FC and the New England Revolution.  However, on the road, Crew SC has been shut out in five of its seven away matches.

Although Real Salt Lake is accustomed to getting more from its home schedule, only two teams in MLS have fewer than the one loss RSL has suffered at home this season.  At 3-1-4, RSL has posted victories over Toronto FC, New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City already this season.  Will it add Crew SC to that list Saturday?

Musical Chairs in the Midfield

Captain Kyle Beckerman is back in the lineup for Real Salt Lake after serving a one-match suspension for yellow-card accumulation on Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls.  His return comes at a good time too, as RSL is playing its third match in seven days and could use some fresh legs in the midfield.

It also comes as top offensive threat Javier Morales is set to serve a one-game suspension for a first-half red card drawn against New York on Wednesday.  It was the first sending-off in 197 career MLS matches for Morales, who tops RSL with three goals and five assists this season.

Send-off for U.S. Stars

Just as Beckerman returns, he is set to depart again, joining Nick Rimando and the U.S. National Team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup following the match on Saturday.  This will be the third Gold Cup tournament for both players, who along with Tony Beltran helped the U.S. win the 2013 Gold Cup.

Alvaro Saborio has already joined Costa Rica and Elias Vasquez is with Guatemala after visa problems prevented him from returning to Utah after World Cup qualifying matches earlier this month.  Demar Phillips will also join Jamaica, but possibly not until after RSL’s U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday against the Portland Timbers.