Sandy, UT – Real Salt Lake will be attempting to preserve its position atop the overall MLS table on Saturday when the club welcomes an improving Columbus Crew side to Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Claret and Cobalt were fortunate to maintain the top spot after playing to a dramatic 3-3 draw with the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field on Wednesday. The two sides were tied at two goals apiece until Kalif Alhassan scored in the 86th minute, but a late strike from Cole Grossman saw the visitors earn a share of the spoils to come away with a valuable point.
The late goal was made all the more impressive by the fact that Salt Lake was playing down a man after Yordany Alvarez was sent off in the 79th minute for a rash challenge on Diego Chara.
"I'm feeling a little bit sorry for the guys, I really was," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said after the match. "I thought that they deserved more than what they were going to be getting. Had we walked out of here with a loss, I think the guys would have worked harder than that and deserved more. So, I'm really, really pleased that we scored that late goal and have them hold on to maintain the draw."
The result keeps Portland within striking distance of first place as Salt Lake, on 42 points for the season, stays three points ahead of the Timbers.
Columbus, meanwhile, is on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Crew enter the weekend on 29 points, just seven points back of the Houston Dynamo for the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.
But while Columbus has won two straight matches by 2-0 scorelines, the club is without a point in its last five road matches, losing all five by combined score of 13-5.
Federico Higuain figures to be the man most likely to pull the Crew out of their road funk, though. The Argentine striker has scored the club's last four goals as his braces against Red Bull New York and Toronto FC helped Columbus take six points from a possible six in the lead-up to Saturday's showdown with RSL, but he was quick to reflect the light back on his teammates despite his own individual success.
"Since I have got here, I have always said the same thing," Higuain said through an interpreter. "Eighteen players come together the day of the game, thirty players who train during the week, eleven players who come out onto the pitch. The responsibility falls on the whole team. And it's the whole team that gets us victories."