Carson, Calif. • As Real Salt Lake strolls into the StubHub Center Saturday evening, the reality of Jeff Cassar’s plea with the front office days after the MLS Cup final in early December will come to fruition. In the wake of Jason Kreis’ departure to New York, Cassar asked the RSL front office to keep continuity with its veteran core.
That was three months ago. Saturday’s season-opening match here against the L.A. Galaxy is the official start to Cassar’s ride as coach of an MLS Cup title contender.
Real Salt Lake at L.A. GalaxyAt StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
Kickoff » Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV » Ch. 4
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL (0-0), L.A. (0-0)
Last meeting » RSL 2, L.A. 0 (Western Conference semifinal, Nov. 7, 2013)
About RSL » Real Salt Lake is out to win its fifth consecutive MLS season-opener as it takes on Western Conference rival L.A. Galaxy. … RSL will be without forwards Robbie Findley (knee) and Devon Sandoval (foot), while center back Chris Schuler remains questionable. … Carlos Salcedo and Aaron Maund are in the mix to start in place of Schuler along the back line. … Forward Alvaro Saborio has scored four goals in his last three matches in RSL preseason and with the Costa Rican national team. … This will be RSL’s first game under first-time coach Jeff Cassar and his new coaching staff.
About Los Angeles » The Galaxy were eliminated by RSL in last year’s Western Conference semifinal series. Despite owning a 1-0 lead after the first leg, L.A. lost 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Nov. 7, 2013, and was eliminated. … To shore up its already-potent attack, the Galaxy added two strikers this offseason, including 6-foot-5 Canadian forward Rob Friend and 23-year-old Brazilian striker Samuel on loan. … Forward Robbie Keane had an MVP-caliber season in 2013, scoring 16 goals and dishing out 11 assists.
A self-described "basket case" at times, the first-year coach understands the poignancy in the years of hard work will certainly surface.
"It’s going to be really emotional," Cassar said during RSL’s first week of preseason in late January. "It can sometimes take over a little bit, but I have a job to do, so I’ll have to keep them under wraps."
Six weeks later, most of which was spent away from home in training camps in Arizona and Southern California, have things changed?
"I’m sure I’ll have some butterflies in my stomach," Cassar said Wednesday, "but I’m really confident in this group of men, so that leaves me at ease. Really, it’s about putting the best team out on the field to give us the best chance to win on that day."
As has been the case for the start of the last few seasons, RSL will be need to plug holes due to injuries. Center back Chris Schuler, who dominated play in the MLS Cup playoffs a year ago, is still recovering from offseason foot surgery. He is questionable. Forwards Robbie Findley (knee surgery) and Devon Sandoval (foot injury) will miss RSL’s season-opener at L.A., leaving the first-year head coach with some difficult decisions in his first official match as boss.
"We definitely have some injuries — some important injuries — so we know guys are going to have to step up and we hope those guys are ready," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Young forwards Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata are odds-on to start alongside veteran forward Alvaro Saborio. The Costa Rican star scored in a 2-0 friendly win over Paraguay on Wednesday and flew to Los Angeles to meet RSL this week. In the back, young center back Carlos Salcedo and Aaron Maund are in the mix to start next to veteran Nat Borchers and will be tasked with again slowing down the Galaxy’s counterattacking abilities.
"When you’re in this league and you’re on the road, you want to get as many points as you can, whether it’s one or three," Borchers said. "I think that’s one of the hardest things that teams don’t realize: You have to take care of your business on the road and we’re starting out with a real tough schedule."
Which means the first real test for Cassar and his staff means a bit more, considering four of RSL’s six matches are on the road. But he remains confident in his group as RSL tries to push its opening-day win streak to five consecutive seasons.
As for goal celebrations if RSL is to bury one in the back of the net?
"I’ll get into it," Cassar said. "I don’t know if I’ll dance like Plata or Garcia, but I’ll definitely get into it."
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