Even if Real Salt Lake had taken care of business in the waning minutes last weekend, the scenario facing the club in Southern California tonight really would not have changed.
In taking on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center at 8:30 p.m. (MDT), RSL is not only facing the best team in the Western Conference a year ago but is paying a visit to the building that's produced some of the worst losses in team history.
In Week 3 last season Chivas crushed RSL 4-0, while on two other occasions the past three years it lost 5-1 and 3-0. Overall, Real's nightmarish record at the Home Depot Center is 2-9-1 including an 0-5-1 mark and minus-13 goal differential against Chivas.
Fortunately for RSL, not many players remain from those disastrous encounters.
"I know the team has lost badly there in the past, but this is a new era for this club, and we've got to go there not thinking in the past of what's happened," said defender Ian Joy.
Joy, who has spent his entire professional career in Europe, admits he's never seen the Home Depot Center so it's hard for him to be all that intimidated by it.
RSL's losing ways at the Home Depot Center aren't a coincidence, according to coach Jason Kreis.
"Because it's such a big field, and because Chivas is such a good team technically, it presents some real tactical issues for a team," said Kreis, who added his past teams didn't deal with those tactical issues well at all.
On such a big field, it's really all about possession and no one does it better in MLS than Chivas USA.
"If you don't do a good job possessing the ball you're going to be a very tired team," Kreis said. "All you're going to be doing is chasing the ball for 90 minutes. We've got to use that big field when we get the ball to keep it, and I think we have a team this year and players this year that are quite capable of that."
It the past, RSL didn't have the players, as Kreis alluded to. Previous teams also had a strange knack for giving the ball away far too easily, and on such a big field and with Chivas' speed it led to numerous counterattack goals.
During his postgame news conference following the season opener, Kreis said he had no intention of going to Chivas and bunkering in defensively. He wants his players to have a positive mind-set.
"I think we're already excited to get on some grass and get on a bigger field and really be able to pass and move," said midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
Despite a dominant regular season in 2007, especially at home with a 10-1-4 record, Chivas bowed out of the playoffs in the first round when its lack of depth up top was exposed due to some ill-timed injuries.
Chivas addressed that depth by acquiring a pair of former RSL forwards, Atiba Harris and Alecko Eskandarian. Harris started and played 55 minutes in Chivas' 1-1 draw at FC Dallas last Sunday. Eskandarian, meanwhile, is nursing a groin strain and will miss his second straight game. Star striker Ante Razov is on the injury report as well with a calf strain but is listed as probable.
The scenario is much different for Salt Lake without a single player listed on the injury report."It's obviously a good thing for us to have everybody healthy and pretty darn sharp right now. It does make things a little difficult to manage in the training sessions but all and all a good thing," said Kreis.
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