Columbus Crew Vs. Real Salt Lake, CONCACAF Champions League: Who Will Carry MLS's Flag

There was a point during the 2010 MLS season were the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake both seemed capable of winning multiple trophies. Both were among the leaders in the Supporters' Shield race, had a proven record in the playoffs and were humming along in CONCACAF Champions League. The Crew had even advanced to the U.S. Open Cup finals.

Although their paths starting taking divergent paths around September, both ultimately ended up in the same place: Just two more teams without a single trophy in 2010. The CCL quarterfinals, in a sense, are the final opportunity to make sure their efforts in 2010 are not entirely wasted.

The Crew, as you may remember, watched their season crumble around them as the strain of the crowded schedule seemed to get the best of them. After being just a few points short of the Supporters' Shield as late as August, the Crew finished the season by claiming six points in their final seven regular-season matches before crashing out of the playoffs in the first round and losing the Open Cup final along the way. 

RSL, on the other hand, finished the regular season strong and came up just three points shy of the LA Galaxy's Shield-winning point total. Those efforts ultimately went for naught, though, as RSL couldn't find a way to beat FC Dallas in the playoffs.

For the Crew, CCL probably represents their best chance at winning silverware anytime in the foreseeable future. For RSL, this is potentially the beginning of a history-making season. Either way, both teams will have plenty of motivation.

How they got here
  • Crew: Despite their struggles toward the end of the regular season, the Crew were pretty consistent in the CCL group. They won four of their six matches, including a victory over Santos Laguna at Crew Stadium, and finished second in the group.
  • RSL: The only blemish on the Lions' CCL resume was a loss at Cruz Azul that was being played in hurricane-like conditions. Even then, it took three goals from Cruz Azul after the 87th minute to pull out the victory and keep U.S. teams winless in Mexico. RSL ultimately repaid the favor at home and won the group, the first MLS team of the current CCL era to do so.
What's changed since CCL Group Stage 
  • Crew: It might be better to ask, What hasn't changed? Columbus has already cut ties with 10 players from last year's team, nine of whom played significant roles. They are also missing starting goalkeeper William Hesmer and backup Andy Gruenebaum, which means recently signed Ray Burse is likely going to get the start. Possible starters Shaun Francis, Dilly Duka, Eddie Gaven, Kevin Burns and Danny O'Rourke have all been battling injuries and it's still unclear which of them might play.
  • RSL: Very little has changed for RSL, other than perhaps gaining motivation. Robbie Findley is probably the most significant player to leave the team in the off-season, but he was only a part-time starter anyway. Fabian Espindola, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio are all listed as probable, but it seems unlikely they'd all miss what the team has been trumpeting as one of their biggest games in their history.
Probable lineups
Head to head
  • The Crew wins if: Keeping it low scoring has to be the focus of the Crew. Their best hope probably lies in grinding out a 1-0 win in Columbus and then holding on for dear life at Rio Tinto Stadium. There's no question they are considerable underdogs, which could really play into their favor if they grab an early lead. People have been waiting for Rogers to break out for a couple years now, Tuesday would be a nice time for him to start showing his capable of being a leader.
  • RSL wins if: There's no question they are the more experience, talented and confident team. The key will be not panicking if things don't go their way early. Getting out of Crew Stadium tied, especially if they score a goal, should be enough.

Prediction: Is it impossible for the Crew to win this matchup? No, of course it isn't. But for anyone to pretend that a Crew victory would be anything less than a huge upset is just not being honest. RSL's biggest problem might be how they react to an early deficit. A loss on Tuesday wouldn't destroy their chances, but getting shut out is obviously problematic with the away-goal tiebreaker. Expect RSL to come out with a 1-0 victory.

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