Real Salt Lake: 'Max pressure' on RSL heading into big week
It could be the most important and memorable week of the entire year for Real Salt Lake.
Or it could be a nightmare.
But coach Jason Kreis said his team isn't feeling any more pressure heading into the crucial stretch than it has for the past three weeks, when it has been preparing for games as if it's already in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
"I don't believe we can talk about added pressure at this time of the year," Kreis said. "It's max pressure, all the time."
The big week starts when RSL plays at Seattle on Wednesday night, knowing that a victory will clinch a spot in the top three of the MLS Western Conference and keep it out of the dreaded new wild-card playoff game.
Six days later, RSL plays CS Herediano of Costa Rica at home, knowing it must win and by certain margins Â in order to advance to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, one of the team's biggest goals for the season.
"At this point, we can take care of our own destiny and we'll do our best to make that happen," defender Chris Wingert said.
It won't be easy.
Against the Sounders, RSL will be playing without forward Alvaro Saborio and midfielder Will Johnson, both away playing World Cup qualifiers for their home countries, Costa Rica and Canada, respectively.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando should be available, since they didn't log any minutes as the U.S. beat Guatemala 3-1 on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kan. RSL co-owner Dell Loy Hansen sent his private plane to whisk the players along with the Sounders' Eddie Johnson to Seattle after the qualifier, in the hope they can contribute.
"It's the right thing to do," Kreis said.
It's widely expected that Johnson will have played too much for the national team to be available for the Sounders, seemingly limiting the possibility that he could wind up punishing RSL for its kindness. Johnson is the leading scorer for the Sounders, with 14 goals and two assists.
So the Sounders without him could be similar to RSL without Saborio, who leads the team with 17 goals this season. But like the Sounders still having Fredy Montero up top, RSL still has striker Fabian Espindola, who has been on fire lately with three goals with three assists during a three-game league winning streak.
"I feel like over the past three weeks, or four weeks, he's been a little bit more relaxed," Kreis said, "and just been a little bit more at ease, all the time the training field, the game field. All the time."
The teams are playing on a date that conflicts with the World Cup qualifiers because they agreed in February to move the game from July 18, to accommodate the Sounders' friendly against Chelsea of the English Premier League.
"We did discuss the fact that both teams would likely be missing players and that it's just one of those compromises, I guess, that had to be made to accommodate" the friendly that drew 53,303 fans, Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer told The Seattle Times. "Certainly big thanks to RSL, because they didn't have to move the game and find themselves in this situation."
Johnson isn't the only regular who could be missing for the Sounders, though.
Central defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and left back Leo Gonazelez could be out with injuries, while right back Adam Johansson is on international duty with Sweden. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning will meet RSL for the first time, after missing the previous two meetings with a hip injury.
So will RSL target a makeshift back line?
Maybe, maybe not.
The team knows that while a win clinches a top-three finish in its conference, a draw isn't really damaging and even a loss wouldn't necessarily doom them to fourth place.
Real Salt Lake at Seattle
P At CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Kickoff • Wednesday 8 p.m. MDT
TV • NBC Sports Network
CW30 (delayed at 9 p.m.)
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 102.3 FM
Records • RSL 17-11-4, Sounders 14-7-10
Regular-Season Series • RSL leads, 3-2-3
Last Meeting • RSL 0, Seattle 0 (July 4)
About RSL • It has won three straight and four out of five, with a combined 9-3 score in that span. â¦ With forward Alvaro Saborio gone, forward Fabian Espindola is the leading scorer, with nine goals and seven assists.
About the Sounders • They have lost only twice in their last 15 games (7-2-6), and 10-4-1 at home this season. â¦ Forward Eddie Johnson leads the team with 14 goals, but fellow striker Fredy Montero has 13 and six assists.