Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leg 1 Done, Now It’s Halftime

Real Salt Lake struggled to break down the savvy Columbus team on Saturday. They generated precious few chances. At times the team looked content to play direct, but with the compact formation and physical play of the Crew this was unlikely to be successful. Finally in the 88th minute, the team that had been beaten off of quick throw-ins 2 or 3 times during the regular season, turned the tables on an opponent and generated a goal from the situation.

Will Johnson's quick throw-in found second half substitute Yura Movsisyan, who did well with the chance, and whipped in a low cross with his left foot. Robbie Findley was able to get his foot on the cross at the near post, putting RSL ahead at halftime.

Halftime? Well, yes, halftime - of the series. To Real Salt Lake's credit, that is all they talked about after the game. The 1-0 lead is somewhat meaningless as the series is essentially at halftime, with the return leg being played on Thursday at Columbus.

As one of the seemingly few fans of Yura's recent form, I think he showed that he deserves more time on the pitch. As much as I love the hustle, tenacity and heart of Fabian Espindola, I just think that Yura brings a little more quality to the table.

Going into this match my thoughts were that RSL needed to finish this one with at least a two-goal advantage. I still think that may be the case, but I'm less sure of Columbus' ability to score goals, even at home. I'm starting to think that the lack of scoring by Columbus is a real concern to that team. Frankie Hejduk mentioned this on a conference call before the game, and Coach Warzycha mentioned this in his post game comments,

“Well we didn’t score any goals in the last 5 games and they (Schelotto, Moreno) were on the field, and so I felt like maybe we go with a different combination.”

“Sometimes during the season you’re in a position that you are not winning, where everything you do is not working. Maybe that’s the time that we are in right now.”

Captain Kyle Beckerman, and Coach Kreis recognized that there may be some discord or frustration at Columbus due to the lack of scoring,

"But I don’t know the inside of the Crew locker room. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t have all of the information that goes into that decision. But yeah, we’re feeling good about it. We felt good when he (Schelotto) wasn’t in the lineup, and we felt good when he didn’t come in late in the game. I thought for sure he’d come in late in the game.” (Kreis)

“They’ve been going through a little tough patch right now. They’re trying to find themselves again. And this isn’t the best time for that to happen, but it’s what they’re going through right now.” (Beckerman)

I do think that RSL can manage to move on in this one, despite only leaving RTS with a one-goal advantage, but I don't think they can go into Game 2 with a mentality of living off of the one goal. It is very likely that they will need to score at least one to keep things as they are. Fortunately, several players, Coach Kreis and Garth Lagerewey referred to this,

“It’s big. It gets our foot out there and I think it gives us a little cushion. Although I’m not sure that I’m going to approach that match thinking about that cushion to be honest.” (Kreis)

“it was important to get that one goal, but again going into Columbus it’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be an easy place to play. So we are glad that we got that one goal, but now it’s a new game. Now it’s a 0-0 game.” (Movsisyan)

“Right now it’s halftime – we’ve got a one-nil lead. We just need to stay focused, stay organized, and capitalize on any scoring chances that we get.” (Beckerman)

"The thing about Columbus is they are so disciplined, and you saw today even when they pushed they don’t leave themselves open at the back. They are very good at staying compact, and keeping the spacing in terms of the whole group pushing forward and pushing back. They are a tough team to break down that way, and look they are the Supporter’s Shield winners and the defending Champs for a reason and they are not going to go down without a fight." (Lagerwey)

The key to Real Salt Lake’s ultimate success in this series will likely be their composure.  They showed that composure last year at Chivas when Chivas was desperate for a go-ahead goal in the second half.  But this is a whole new level.  Chivas was struggling last year.  Columbus may have some struggles of their own currently, but they are a very dangerous team.  They feature the current MLS MVP, they are reigning MLS Cup champs, and they won the Supporters Shield this year.  It won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but thanks to the late magic created by Yura (again), they at least have a chance.