Massive Scouting Report: Real Salt Lake

The Columbus Crew emphatically thumped Atlanta United last Saturday at Field. The 6-1 victory marked the first time in 20 years that the Black & Gold scored six goals in a match and the team had multiple first-time goal scorers who stepped up in place of some key missing pieces.

Columbus gets some of those players back this week. Goalkeeper Eloy Room, center back Milos Degenek and midfielder Lucas Zelarayan all returned from international duty and are likely to slot back into Wilfried Nancy’s starting lineup on Saturday.

The vibes are high in Ohio’s capital and the Crew looks to continue to ride that wave as the team welcomes Real Salt Lake to town on Saturday. Here’s everything you need to know for Matchday 6.

Real Salt Lake at a Glance:

Record: 1-0-3, 3 points

League Form: L-L-L-W

Leading Scorer: Justen Glad (2)

Assist Leader: Maikel Change Ramirez, Jefferson Savarino, Damir Kreilach (1)

Player to Watch: Damir Kreilach

Kreilach is probably the most well-known player for RSL and for good reason. The midfielder, who is in his sixth season in Salt Lake, has become a Real star over the last six seasons.

Kreilach exploded onto the scene in 2021 with 16 goals and eight assists in league play, which helped him to an MLS All-Star selection that year. Kreilach is 33 years old but is still capable of pulling the strings and creating (or finishing) some magic moments for Salt Lake.

Usually operating in the central attacking midfield, Kreilach looks to spring passes into dangerous areas for his teammates in build-up. In the final third, Kreilach is clinical in the penalty box and rarely misses good opportunities. The Crew will need to be well aware of Kreilach on Saturday as the RSL offense often flows through him.

How Real Salt Lake plays: 

Pablo Mastroeni is in his second full season in charge of Real in 2023. Mastroeni, who previously coached the Colorado Rapids, took the helm as an interim coach in the summer of 2021 and hasn’t looked back since.

In his tenure, Mastroeni has led RSL to the playoffs in both years as head coach, including a run to the Western Conference Final in 2021. Mastroeni has done a good job evolving his team over the past few years. When he took over in 2021, Mastroeni tried to solidify things by being compact defensively and launching dangerous counter attacks. Mastroeni has built from that foundation and now has a Real side that places a big emphasis on having possession in 2023.

Defensively, Salt Lake looks to defend in a mid-block to limit penetration through the thirds of the field for their opponent. This is similar to teams like Toronto FC and Atlanta that the Crew has faced so far. 

How the Crew can win:

Following last weekend’s win against United, the Black & Gold look to continue in the same vein against Real. With Degenek and Zelarayan returning from international duty, Columbus will be close to full strength for this match as well. There are a few points of emphasis for the Crew to focus on to stay in the win column this Saturday. 

Salt Lake has only scored three goals all year, and two of thoose came off of set pieces. Thus, the Black & Gold will need to be dialed in on defensive set pieces this Saturday. RSL defender Justen Glad scored both of those goals off setpieces, so his whereabouts will be important for Columbus on Saturday. 

When in possession, the Crew needs to do a good job of getting in behind Real on Saturday, like the team did against Atlanta. This has been the Black & Gold’s biggest offensive struggle so far in 2023. In the team’s first four matches, the Crew struggled to get dangerous runners in behind the opponent. Last week, the Black & Gold did so with ease. Columbus needs to prove that the team has turned a corner and continues to get in behind RSL in dangerous ways. 

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