Sandy • Hey, look. The soccer players are back.
After a bizarre Major League Soccer schedule limited the team to just one league game in a five-week span, Real Salt Lake — still leading the league standings — is finally ready to resume its long season at Chivas USA on Saturday, commencing a stretch of 13 straight weeks in which it will play at least one game.
RSL at Chivas USASaturday, 8:30 p.m.
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"We know we start fresh again," defender Nat Borchers said.
Not only that, but the team expects to have most of its top players back from international duty, perhaps in time to take on the Goats at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Forward Alvaro Saborio, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson, and goalkeeper Nick Rimando all were en route to Utah after joining their respective national teams for World Cup qualifying games on Tuesday.
Coach Jason Kreis said he will evaluate all of the internationals once they return, to see if any will be featured against Chivas. Injured midfielder Javier Morales has a chance to return, as well, after playing 45 minutes in a reserve game on Tuesday.
"It’s just good to kind of have the whole family back," Kreis said.
Saborio, in particular, was amazing while he was away, scoring four goals in two qualifiers for Costa Rica, including three in a victory at Guyana. Johnson played the full 90 minutes in both qualifiers for Canada, while Beckerman played barely a minute in two games for the United States, and Rimando did not play at all.
While they were out, RSL battled a long list of nagging injuries, and learned midfielder Luis Gil will be out perhaps another couple of weeks recovering from a sprained knee ligament.
"It’s certainly been a piecemeal group," Kreis said.
But now, things can start getting back to normal.
So normal, that RSL right off the bat will play three games in eight days for the fourth time this season, with home games against the Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose following the trip to Chivas next week.
That’s where all the time off comes into play.
The team should be healthy and rested, after including plenty of extra days off in the training schedule over the past month or so.
Since a 1-0 victory at Seattle on May 12, RSL has played only twice, once in a dramatic 3-2 league win over FC Dallas at home on May 26, and then in a crushing 3-1 home loss to the minor-league Minnesota Stars in a U.S. Open Cup game May 29 that the team had paid thousands of dollars to move to Rio Tinto Stadium.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy acknowledged it was "weird" having so few games in that stretch, but "at the same time, we got back to some basic principles" in training — "things that we need to do, to be successful. … I do think it was important, especially after that result in the Open Cup."
"It was strange, for sure, not to be training during the week with the purpose of playing against another team at the weekend," Borchers agreed. "But I think it was good for us. We got after each other. We competed with each other, got frustrated with each other, for sure. But I think that’s good. Everybody’s hungry. Everybody wants to get back after it."
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