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RSL looking to take advantage of four-game home stretch

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Donny Toia (4) goes for the ball as Los Angeles FC defender Andy Najar defends, in MLS soccer action between Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles FC at Rio Tinto Stadium, on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

Real Salt Lake has been a team that’s thrived at home in recent years. But with the two restarts after the hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team hasn’t been able to enjoy as much time playing at Rio Tinto Stadium.

But with the latest schedule release Friday by Major League Soccer, RSL will have played four consecutive home games by the end of the September. Salt Lake beat LAFC at home on Wednesday, host the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, and also get the Vancouver Whitecaps and L.A. Galaxy at Rio Tinto on Sept. 19 and 23, respectively.

Generally, the most consecutive home games MLS teams get in a given season is three.

Coach Freddy Juarez pumped both fists in the air during a videoconference with media as a reporter mentioned the four straight home games. He said various factors come into play when it comes to the impact that many games at home has on a team.

“Being at home and not having to travel and being around family and playing in front of family, a lot of times that’s the extra,” Juarez said. “You get fans, so you play for fans — that’s extra in these time and days because not everyone gets that luxury.”

RSL VS. COLORADO RAPIDS

At Rio Tinto Stadium


When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

TV • KMYU

RSL is one of the few teams that is allowed fans at home games in MLS. Since returning from the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, the two games at Rio Tinto have averaged 4,087 fans. Against LAFC, supporter group La Barra Real played its drums and chanted loud enough for the entire stadium to hear.

RSL in recent years has been most dangerous at home. In the last two seasons, it has won 23 of its 34 home games. That prowess proved crucial when it came to qualifying for the postseason in 2018 and 2019.

“We always want to maximize points at home,” defender Aaron Herrera said. “If we win the majority of our home games, it always gives us a good chance to get into the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to make a run there. So definitely having four in a row is huge.”

Road games have been handled differently for the league since leaving the Orlando bubble. Teams leave on game day and return home right afterwards. They rest for just a couple of hours at the hotel before heading to the stadium to prepare for a game, and are flying back to their home markets well after midnight.

“It’s just a lot on the body, a lot on your mind — it’s almost just too much,” Herrera said. “So whenever you’re at home, you really have to take advantage because we know the other team’s traveling on the same day so we obviously definitely have an advantage. We just really need to take as many points as possible.”

RSL sits in seventh place in the Western Conference through 10 games and has a 2-1-3 record at home. But this season’s team has also ground out results on the road, where they traditionally have played poorly.

The win at Colorado and the comeback draw at Seattle are two potential examples that RSL’s road form is inching closer to how it plays at home. But Rio Tinto is still the friendly confines for Salt Lake.

“We’re a very good team at home,” Juarez said. “We feel good at home.”

UPDATED RSL SCHEDULE


Sept. 19 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. L.A. Galaxy, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Minnesota United, 6 p.m.

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