Columbus isn’t in a free fall, but Crew SC has taken a few tumbles of late that dropped it to fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The Crew (7-5-6) are winless in their last five MLS matches — draws in three straight and 2-0 defeats in the past two games — entering Saturday’s home match against Real Salt Lake.
RSL (7-7-2) is in better form with three wins and last Saturday’s 1-1 tie with visiting San Jose in its past five MLS matches. But it was a frustrating outing against the Earthquakes as Real Salt Lake dominated the stats yet couldn’t get the full points.
“I feel like we’re in a great situation going forward to the next game,” RSL midfielder Sebastian Saucedo said. “Everyone is still motivated to get three points in Columbus. Not every game is going to be perfect at home, but we have to go through slumps to be able to achieve those three points anywhere else.”
Real Salt Lake is in a three-way tie for fourth in the Western Conference with Portland and Vancouver at 23 points.
RSL is bogged down by a 1-6-1 road record and has one win in the past 12 away matches (nine losses, two ties) since last season.
The Crew have worries at both ends of the pitch. Opponents have effectively concentrated on stopping leading scorer Gyasi Zardes (10 goals) and playmaker Federico Higuain (four goals, seven assists) while the rest of the team struggles offensively. The Crew has been blanked seven times.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, the 23-year-old rising star for the U.S. National Team, will miss his second straight Crew match because of a knee injury sustained June 21 in practice. He underwent surgery on his left knee on Monday and his status for the July 7 match at the Los Angeles Galaxy is in question.
Steffen (6-4-4, 0.79 goals-against average) had a team-record 525-minute shutout streak from April 28 to June 13. Jon Kempin (1-1-2, 1.75) started against Los Angeles FC last week and allowed two quick goals from which the Crew was never able to recover.
“(To) not give up two goals in the first eight minutes would help,” Crew captain Wil Trapp said. “I think once that happens, it changes the complexion of how we’re trying to address the game.”
The Crew will also be without defender Milton Valenzuela because of yellow-card accumulation.