Sandy • Between facing the L.A. Galaxy in the home opener and the much-anticipated trip back to Sporting Park for a rematch of last year’s 2013 MLS Cup final against Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake faces a showdown that in previous years could be considered buffer match.
But this Toronto FC team set to roll into Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday certainly isn’t the Toronto FC of old. Coming off of its 1-1 draw against the Galaxy in the 2014 home opener, Real Salt Lake’s arduous early-season slate continues when Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and the suddenly star-studded Reds make their only visit to Sandy in Week 4 of the regular season.
Toronto FC at Real Salt LakeSaturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV » Ch. 4
"They’re all the rage right now," said defender Tony Beltran. "It’ll be an exciting game. I’m excited to play against a couple of big players in that new team."
And the offseason splash of signing American star Bradley from Italy’s AS Roma and English forward Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League has been a sizable one. Toronto is off to one of the best starts in club history with back-to-back wins at Seattle and most recently at home against D.C. United. And Defoe has looked every bit as advertised as the striker has notched three goals, helping Toronto earn six points thus far.
"He’s fast," said defender Nat Borchers. "When you’re able to time your runs well like he does, and he’s able to get into good spots and he’s clinical. He’s like Robbie Keane, but with more pace, and that’s really difficult to account for."
As anticipated, it’ll be an upstart team RSL isn’t exactly familiar with. While American-based players may know Bradley’s game, Defoe, and Toronto’s other offseason Designated Player signing, Gilberto, will need to be scouted thoroughly ahead of the match Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"I saw a little bit of their game last week, but haven’t watched much of them," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "I’m sure we’ll practice this week and look at some video and get a little bit more familiar with them."
Having already faced the Galaxy twice in three weeks — and taking four out of a possible six points against its Southern California rivals — RSL (1-0-2) preps for a string of matches that includes Toronto at home, away at Kansas City, away at Philadelphia and home against Portland.
"Especially at the beginning of the season, everyone has hope and belief," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "Whether you’re a team that did well last year and you’re looking to build off that or you’re a team that made a ton of changes and you’re hoping for better days ahead."
Toronto made countless changes, reportedly spending upward of $100 million to reel in Bradley, Defoe, Gilberto and others, and better days are at the forefront. And it’s paying off.
"It’s going to be a fun one," Borchers said.
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