FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Real Salt Lake was the toast of MLS on Wednesday night, but it's back to reality Saturday.
Three nights after making league history by getting past Saprissa to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League final, RSL must dive right back into league play (5:30 p.m., KUTV) against an improved New England team.
"Right now we gotta focus on New England, we have another task at hand," said RSL keeper Nick Rimando. "We want to get a result here."
For all the reasons a letdown seems likely following Wednesday's emotional match in Costa Rica, there are plenty of reasons to believe it won't happen.
First and foremost, no team in MLS grinds out results like Real Salt Lake regardless of who's on the field. The team is in the midst of a 16-game unbeaten streak in league play — third-best in league history — which includes an eight-game unbeaten run (2-0-6) on the road.
The streak is all the more impressive when you consider it survived despite a brutal stretch last September and October when RSL was juggling league play with CCL group play. One of those road results late last season was a 2-1 win over New England at Gillette Stadium.
RSL is heading into a similarly busy stretch in which coach Jason Kreis must make tough line-up choices to keep his players fresh for the two-leg Champions League final later this month.
After today, RSL returns home for a Wednesday match against defending MLS champion Colorado, and will then take a week off to prepare for the CCL final first leg in Monterrey, Mexico on April 20. After that, it returns home for a league match on Wednesday, April 23 against Philadelphia before hosting Monterrey in the final match of the 2010-2011 Champions League on April 27.
Adding to the cluster, RSL must travel to Portland for a league match on April 30.
Tonight, Kreis can seemingly go one of two ways with his line-up — which he doesn't reveal until an hour before kickoff.
With arch rival Colorado visiting Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday, Kreis could give the bulk of his starters from Saprissa the night off while giving younger talents like Collen Warner, Chris Schuler and Paulo Jr. a chance to make their mark. This would give his first-choice guys plenty of time to recover for the Rapids match, and then ample time to recover physically again for a trip to Mexico seven days later.
Kreis' other option is to start most of his preferred starting 11 this Saturday and Wednesday, and then hope a week is enough time for them to recover before the Champions League match in Mexico.
New England, which could be equally as fatigued after playing in Vancouver on Wednesday night, believes RSL will put its best foot forward.
"I think they're still going to bring their starting 11, hopefully, tomorrow," said New England midfielder Sainey Nyassi. "They're a good team, but we are also ready for them tactically, mentally and physically. I think we're ready for the game."
New England scored in the third minute of stoppage time against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps to salvage a 1-1 draw. The point vaulted the Revolution (1-0-3, 6 points) into first place in the Eastern Conference, even though every other team in the conference has played one fewer game.
"We're going to have to be smart because they're good with the ball. There's no doubt they're a good football team and they pass the ball," said Revs coach Steve Nicol. "That means that we have to be smart and get in good positions when we don't have the ball, and obviously when we have it, try and do as much as we can and be as creative as possible."
The match will be RSL's second straight on turf, which should help the team tonight.
"We just gotta come into this game and battle and let the soccer come out," said Rimando.