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Real Salt Lake nudged its nose in front of Columbus with a late goal in Saturday's 1-0 first leg win. Kyle McCarthy chats with RSL coach Jason Kreis to see how he hopes to seal an Eastern Conference championship berth in the return leg on Thursday night and ruminates on Tom Soehn's departure from D.C.

By Kyle McCarthy

Many thought Real Salt Lake would need two or three goals in its home leg to stand a chance of advancing to the Eastern Conference final. Given Columbus' approach in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, RSL coach Jason Kreis is happy enough to carry a one-goal cushion into Crew Stadium tomorrow night.

In RSL's 1-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, the Crew set out its stall to defend by dropping Guillermo Barros Schelotto and asking all 11 players to contribute to the defensive effort. Crew coach Robert Warzycha's tactical approach worked because every player in a yellow shirt submitted a determined shift and restricted RSL's time and space on the ball. Aside from the one lapse that led to Robbie Findley's 88th minute matchwinner, the Crew stuck to its plan and implemented it effectively.

“That's one of the reasons why we have to feel fantastically well about scoring,” Kreis said yesterday afternoon after his side wrapped up a training session in suburban Columbus. “Columbus is going to have to come out and play. I don't think they did that in Salt Lake. I never felt like they were committed to trying to score a goal or trying to get the lead. They seemed to be more than content – you can read all of the comments after the game about how they'd have loved to walk out of there at 0-0.”

Findley's late winner handed RSL a wafer-thin margin for error heading into the decisive match. A draw in Sandy would have placed the Crew in firm control of the series, but the one-goal loss still gives the defending champions a good chance to overturn the tie at Crew Stadium considering their formidable home record.

In order to pull the upset and advance to a second consecutive conference final, RSL will have to overcome its regular season road struggles (2-11-2 with nine goals scored and 24 goals allowed) and its tendency to start slowly on its travels in order to have a chance to hold out over the 90 minutes. Kreis said RSL needs to avoid mistakes and gauge the risks it takes going forward in order to maintain its defensive shape.

If RSL can accomplish those two goals and maintain some possession, the match should provide opportunities for the visitors to break the other way, according to Kreis.

“In this game, they have to score,” Kreis said. “Any time you expose yourself because you have to score, there's going to be space in behind you. That should open things up and lend itself well to our team.”

Kreis said he thinks his side can use its pace up top to exploit those gaps to perhaps grab a goal or two on the counterattack.

“It's a huge advantage that we have,” Kreis said. “I don't think there are too many teams in the league that have three players – Fabian Espindola has excellent pace, Robbie Findley has excellent pace, Yura Movisysian – all these guys have excellent pace and they can be a real threat to get in behind. That's a big advantage for us.”

On a night where RSL will hold few advantages in the face of the fervent Crew support and a home side expected to include Barros Schelotto, the question is whether Kreis' side can use the one or two edges it does possess to maintain the one-goal advantage that matters the most.

Soehn parting inevitable in D.C.

D.C. United coach Tom Soehn has removed his name from consideration for the 2010 coaching position, United announced yesterday. Soehn leaves United after three years as coach with a Supporters' Shield, an Open Cup title and a record of 55-48-31 on his resume.

Soehn's move is classy and appropriate given the situation. With Soehn's contract set to expire at the end of the year, he faced the difficult decision of holding out hope for an improbable contract extension after two consecutive years out of the playoffs or facing the prospect of twisting around until United made its decision. In the end, Soehn chose to end his six-year association with the club instead of forcing United into an uncomfortable spot.

Now that Soehn is officially out of the picture, United can embark on a coaching search in earnest. Expect former Kansas City coach Curt Onalfo and New York interim boss Richie Williams to generate substantial buzz because of their United links, though there should be plenty of room for others – Puerto Rico coach Colin Clarke, Chicago coach Denis Hamlett, Chivas USA coach Preki, Los Angeles assistant Dave Sarachan and Houston assistant John Spencer to name a few – on the list.

Two caveats to remember as D.C. starts its search: United president and CEO Kevin Payne prefers his side to play attacking football and the club tends to employ South American players. Those tendencies would appear to favor some candidates (Onalfo speaks Spanish and likes his teams to attack, for instance) over others.

Then again, D.C. probably lists one qualification for the job over all others at this point: the ability to return United to the upper echelons of the league. 

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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