Preparing for the first games of a new season is always tricky. While both teams have played scrimmages, they rarely have been televised. Roster turnover can make it hard to know what to expect, even from teams that have faced off frequently in the past. To help Crew fans see this series from the other side, I traded questions with Denzel Eslinger of RSLsoapbox.com, looking for some insight on what to expect come Tuesday night.
Question: How much of a role do you think the weather will play tomorrow night? Platitudes about “both teams have to play in it” aside, do you know if any of the players on RSL spent the winter in Salt Lake City, or are otherwise ready to deal with temperatures in the mid-20s and potentially sleeting/icing conditions?
I don’t think it will play a deciding role, RSL has practiced here in Salt Lake both indoors and outdoors several times and many of the players have spent the off season in town and dealing with less than perfect conditions is something they have done in the past (the match in Mexico City against Cruz Azul comes to mind). We usually end up with one or two matches where it is snowing or very bad weather here in Salt Lake. The big thing is that both teams will have to play in the conditions, I do think this early in the year it may be a very dangerous match for injuries.
Question: Looking over the roster for Real Salt Lake, the most notable change has been the departure of Robbie Findley. How do you think the team is handling that gap, and who should Crew fans expect to see instead?
I think RSL will miss Robbie, but he had an off year last year (for a number of reasons) and with the extension of the Paulo Jr. loan and trade for Arturo Alvarez we should see the most lethal offense in MLS continue their ability to score goals. I also think that this year you will see even more of Alvaro Saborio, it is often said that it takes players a year to 18 months to adjust fully to a new team, if that is the case then it could be a blockbuster year for Sabo. A big question for RSL fans will be if Alvarez can live up to his potential, he seems to be very comfortable with the style of play that RSL offers. The guy to watch tomorrow will be Paulo Jr. he has been a real spark plug for RSL everytime he is on the pitch, and 3 CCL goals in 2 matches is nothing to laugh at.
Question: There’s been a bit of heat generated between these two teams over the last 12-18 months, to the point where some have asked whether this is becoming a real rivalry. How does this issue look from out in Salt Lake City? Are the Crew really becoming a rival for your team?
I think it was no big deal between the two teams until Hesmer started talking trash, yes you won the Supporters Shield, but when facing RSL in the playoffs it was a clean sweep for Salt Lake. His comments coming after a match that was “gifted” to Columbus last year, were just bad timing but I think any team that you play multiple times with high stakes can become a rivalry and if it wasn’t one before, this series to be the first MLS team to advance to the Semi-Finals might just be enough to make it one.
Question: Lastly, what do you think RSL needs to do tomorrow, given their recent home record over the Crew, to advance from the series?
I think a win is what they need, listen you never want to have to rely on getting a win at home. RSL has played every CCL match the same way, going for broke. It is why the match in Mexico City is considered an instant classic by many, and while the final result didn’t go RSL’s way they were clearly the better team that day. I would expect that RSL will come out and go for the win, they know they are facing a team with many new faces and inexperienced players and getting the win on the road would put even more pressure on the Crew to do something they haven’t done, get a win at Rio Tinto.
To read more from Denzel, be sure to read his preview of Tuesday night’s game on RSLsoapbox.com