RSL: Opponent looms United
It was only two weeks ago that Real Salt Lake handed D.C. United one of the worst defeats in its illustratious Major League Soccer history, so nobody expects that United will have forgotten about it by the time the teams meet again tonight.
"We will get the full brunt of their frustration," coach Jason Kreis said, "and the full brunt of their abilities."
And though many around the league have started to question United as it sits at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings mere months after winning the regular-season title, RSL believes it's facing a daunting task when the teams play at RFK Stadium in Washington - for a variety of reasons.
Not only will United be motivated after back-to-back losses, but it will be relatively rested and at full strength, after holding out several key starters from the last meeting, just three days after a CONCACAF Champions Cup game. RSL probably can expect to see midfielder Marcelo Gallardo and goalkeeper Zach Wells, two of the players who sat out the last meeting, though midfielder Ben Olsen is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery.
"There's no doubt that they're going to come out on fire and just trying to really get after it," RSL's Chris Wingert said. "Especially at home. They're one of the toughest teams - if not the toughest team - to play at home in the league, so we just have to be prepared."
Don't expect RSL to bunker down and play conservatively again, either.
Coach Kreis acknowledged this week that his ill-fated strategy in a 1-0 loss at Toronto FC last weekend may have convinced him that even on the road, he should unleash his aggressive players and not force them into a defensive tactic that "they probably don't want to play."
"We learned our lesson a little bit last week," Wingert said. "We need to play soccer."
And score goals.
Wingert noted that the difference between RSL's 4-0 blowout of D.C. United at Rice-Eccles Stadium and its other three games was early goals. RSL scored twice in the first 20 minutes against United; it has scored only two goals in its other three games combined, none before halftime.
"I don't think we had more chances in that game than we did in these other games," Wingert said, "we were just able to finish, and we need to be ready to finish, right from the start."
Especially against a team that RSL still regards as dangerous.
Although many critics have assailed United's porous defense - it has allowed a league-worst nine goals in four games - Kreis believes the team simply has failed to finish the scoring chances it has created with a lineup loaded with talent, from strikers Jaime Moreno and Luciano Emilio to midfielder Fred.
"They have players who can change the game," RSL's Kyle Beckerman said.
Midfielder Carey Talley is expected to start for RSL in place of injured Nathan Sturgis, who's out with a hamstring injury, and striker Fabian Espindola is uncertain with his own hamstring problem. His potential absence leaves either Robbie Findley or Yura Movsisyan to likely pair with striker Kenny Deuchar up top, as RSL pursues its first road point of the season.