Herriman • Real Salt Lake on Saturday completed the first step to what it hopes is a long playoff run: beating the Portland Timbers in the first round of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
But with just three days in between their next opponent, the Seattle Sounders, Real is somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place. Interim coach Freddy Juarez said after Saturday’s game that the short turnaround makes it difficult to field the same 11 players Wednesday against the Sounders.
Even if the starting lineup needs some rotation, though, there might be a different element that could help RSL push through any lingering fatigue from going all out to beat the Timbers.
“We’ve been talking a lot about the mental aspect of the game because when it gets to this, that’s what pushes you through,” Juarez said Monday after training. “That’s what lets you have perseverance in the tough moments.”
Despite the snowy weather and a lackluster start to the second half, Salt Lake managed to beat a Portland team it hadn’t beaten in four previous games. Juarez said the mental aspect of the game is what got the team through to the next round.
The two days of training between games for RSL will likely involve more time for recovery than hard training. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who will retire at the end of the season, said he will spend time in various pools, his steamer at home and on an exercise bike. At this stage in his career, it’s about listening to his body, he said.
It’s unclear how much of the starting 11 from Saturday will start Wednesday. Juarez said if everyone is healthy, he sees no problem bringing out the same group. But if changes are necessary, he’ll do that as well.
Juarez also said his roster of players has allowed him to insert someone when needed, and he trusts that they can make an impact on any given game.
“We’ve managed to do that all season and this game isn’t any different,” Juarez said. “I know it’s a playoff game. We want to put the best chemistry team out there. But at the same time, if the person isn’t 100 percent, then we have to make some adjustment.”
Rimando thinks those decisions might be difficult for Juarez to make.
“Freddy’s in a tough position because these playoffs, everybody wants to be on the field,” Rimando said. “I’m sure everybody’s going to say that they’re fine to play. But it’s up to Freddy to put the best 11 out there for that game.”
Captain Kyle Beckerman said adrenaline could become a factor — especially in the opening minutes of Wednesday’s game — for both RSL and Seattle, which needed extra time to beat FC Dallas.
“It’ll just make the game fun,” Beckerman said.
The team knows the challenge that lies ahead, and that the Sounders are awaiting Real’s arrival, itching to advance to the next round as well.
“Once these playoffs come around, especially after the first round, everybody’s feeling a bit confident right now thinking this is their year,” Beckerman said. “So we know it’s just going to be an all-out battle. It’s going to be a really extremely tough game, but one that we’re really looking forward to.”