Crew newcomers seek end to Utah drought

New signings set to experience RSL's home dominance firsthand

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Crew newcomer Cole Grossman has yet to experience his club's futility in Utah.

The midfielder is all of one game into his pro career, that being last Tuesday’s first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

After going the distance in the scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake, Grossman could get the start again Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium as the Crew seek their first win in Utah since May 6, 2006.

Not that the Crew are alone in coming up empty.

RSL are unbeaten in 33 home games in all competitions, including 25 in MLS play.

“I’ve heard from different people about Rio Tinto and how hard it is to win there, the altitude and whatever,” rookie Grossman said. “I don’t know why it’s so hard to win there. I don’t know what to expect. ... Maybe that’s a good thing.”

He won’t be alone in experiencing RSL's homefield advantage for the first time.

Although the Crew are slowly getting healthy, the absences of defenders Chad Marshall (concussion) and Shaun Francis (hamstring) could mean rookie Rich Balchan will be in the first XI again alongside longtime minor leaguer Josh Gardner and Chilean veteran right back Sebastián Miranda.

Like Grossman, all three are in their first season with Columbus.

“The good thing is Sebastian and Josh, even though they are new players, are really experienced,” Grossman said. “Sebastián, especially, has played so many games on the back line. Rich played great Tuesday. As rookies we stayed together and had each other’s back.”

The Crew should have second-year midfielder Dilly Duka back after he missed the first game due to an abdomen strain.

Goalkeeper William Hesmer is a possibility. He is recovering from a fractured right shoulder suffered on Oct. 24 and was on the bench as third-string emergency goalkeeper Ray Burse faced RSL last week.

Forward Emilio Rentería will miss the match after he and RSL defender Nat Borchers were ejected for a second-half skirmish. That could leave Jeff Cunningham to partner Andres Mendoza in attempt to do what the Crew rarely do in Utah – score.

Columbus have a tie and four straight losses at RSL in the past five meetings while being outscored 9-1. The three most recent games have been at Rio Tinto Stadium, where the Crew have scored just once while allowing seven goals.

“A lot of people don’t expect us to come out with a win,” Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “I think we can.”

Thanks in part to the frozen pitch at Crew Stadium, it’s no secret Real Salt Lake struggled to establish the possession game that led them to the 2009 MLS Cup and one of the best records in the league last season.

“They know how they want to play. We know how they want to play,” Rogers said. “The key would be to stopping their game plan and putting our footprint on that and make sure it’s at our tempo and our speed.”

If there is an advantage for the Crew, it’s that away goals count as the tiebreaker. If the Crew can put one on the board, it will force the home side to score twice to advance.

“We’re not going to sit back and defend,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said.

Think you know the game? Test your powers of prediction with MLSsoccer.com's fantasy game, Pro Soccer Picks. Play NOW!