Let the wholesale changes begin.

With a key Western Conference clash coming up this weekend in Los Angeles, Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger has some major lineup tinkering up his sleeve for tonight's exhibition game with Universidad Catolica of the Chilean First Division.

"With them, we'll mix the lineup a little bit and see how it goes," said Ellinger about tonight's 7:30 kickoff at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "The result doesn't really matter, it's just a matter of making it work."

He, along with all of his players, desperately hope it goes well, because RSL has been stuck in a massive rut. Salt Lake hasn't scored a goal since the 39th minute of a 2-0 victory over Chivas on May 18, a span of 321 minutes — 3 1/2 games.

"It's natural for us to be frustrated, we're all proud individuals and proud professional soccer players," RSL striker Jason Kreis said. "In the end, we have to realize that it's only us that's going to get us out of it. We have to stay positive enough and have a good mentality, and that's the only thing that's going to get us out of the rut we're in."

Lineup changes may not hurt either.

After experimenting with a 3-5-2 lineup in Saturday's loss to FC Dallas, Ellinger is reverting to the 4-4-2 formation he utilized in the opening four games of the season. The personnel, however, will be different.

The most noticeable difference will be who is and who is not starting up top. In a surprising move, Ellinger is dropping Kreis into an attacking midfield role, while starting Clint Mathis and Dante Washington up top.

The move is all about trying to get Kreis, MLS's all-time leading scorer, more touches on the ball and perhaps more scoring opportunities. During a 25-minute scrimmage at Tuesday's training session, Kreis enjoyed more scoring opportunities than he had in the previous three games, Ellinger said.

"Jason came into the league as a center mid, and he's willing to be an engine, so we're going to see how it goes," Ellinger said.

While increasing his own opportunities is important, Kreis' new position also puts an added responsibility on his passing.

The chief complaint among Real Salt Lake's players has been the final pass. After working out a few kinks in the opening games of the season, Salt Lake has been relatively decent from the goalkeeper to attacking midfield. But once RSL gets the ball into the attacking third, things break down far too quickly and easily.

"The final pass isn't good enough," Kreis said.

To make room for Kreis, Ellinger is moving Andy Williams to left midfielder. As strange as it may seem to move perhaps RSL's most creative player out wide, Ellinger points out that Williams enjoyed his most successful season as a right midfielder with Chicago a few years ago.

One of the biggest boosts to having Williams wide is his crossing ability. In the first 11 games of the season, Marlon Rojas, Luke Kreamalmeyer, Leslie Fitzpatrick and Seth Trembly have all started wide left for Salt Lake. Among all four, one probably could count on fingers the number of dangerous balls that have been played into the box.

In fact, of RSL's eight goals this year, not a single one came on a cross during open play. That could change with Williams doing the crossing.

"With Andy, he's got enough ability to run at people. He can hold the ball and get in behind people," Ellinger said. "He's good with crossing the ball obviously, and he's a good finisher when he gets good looks at goal."

The changes aren't limited to the offense, either.

After starting 10 of the 11 games at holding midfield, Brian Kamler is dropping back into the defense as a left back.

"It's kind of been a position we've struggled with all year," Ellinger said,. "Brian has played there a lot in his career. We like him at holding mid, but we're trying to mix it up to see what gives us better balance."

The move means that 16-year-old Nikolas Besagno tonight will get his second straight start at holding midfield. This time, however, RSL will be in a 4-4-2 formation, so he'll be the only holding mid.

"Now we're just going to put him out there by himself on an island and see how he does," said Ellinger.

Assuming all goes well with the lineup changes against Catolica, Ellinger likely will keep it in tact for this Saturday's game at Los Angeles. Eddie Pope, who is playing with the U.S. National Team in Panama today, is scheduled to rejoin Real in time for Saturday's game and likely will start.

ENDLINES: Ellinger said RSL defender Rusty Pierce likely will be out three weeks after injuring his right hamstring during the second half of Saturday's loss to Dallas . . . Season-ticket holders are reminded that their ticket to tonight's exhibition game is listed as "Bonus Game A" on their tickets. Single-game ticket prices are the same as for regular season MLS games . . . Dipsy Selolwane returned to Salt Lake City on Tuesday afternoon after starting for his native Botswana in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday.

Who is Universidad Catolica?

The Chilean professional team, based in Santiago, recently put the finishing touches on the First Division title with a 3-1 victory to finish the regular season with a 14-2-3 record.

Catolica also qualified for the Copa Sudamericana tournament and will face Deportes Concepcion (Chile) in the quarterfinals of the playoffs this weekend. Most of Catolica's top players will not participate in tonight's friendly with Real Salt Lake because of preparations for the Copa Sudamericana.

One player who will be available is Sebastian Rozental, a legend in Chile.

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In 1996 he was voted "Best of the Best" by Chilean sportswriters, before heading to Europe to pursue his professional career. Injuries derailed his career overseas, but he's returned to his productive self since joining Catolica a few years ago.

On Saturday, Catolica dropped a 4-1 decision at the Columbus Crew during the first of its two games against Major League Soccer competition.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com