FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis planned out this challenge for his reserves about two weeks ago.
He took one look at the compressed schedule — including an arduous and ultimately successful CONCACAF Champions League second-leg tie against Deportivo Saprissa last Tuesday and a difficult home derby against Colorado next Wednesday — and concluded that this game at New England represented the best chance to get his regulars some necessary rest during a hectic period that included two consecutive matches on artificial surfaces.
The task may have proved too difficult for other MLS sides, but those trusted reserves showed why Kreis had the faith to make such wholesale changes by submitting a determined and organized performance in a 2-0 victory over the Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
"They did an excellent job," Kreis said. "I'm very, very pleased with all of them. We really put the question to them and put the challenge to them to rise to this occasion, to step out and step up, to make a statement for themselves, to us and to everybody else in the league about what kind of players they are."
It did not take long for this makeshift lineup — a group that included only Will Johnson and Robbie Russell from the starting 11 for Tuesday's history-making exertions in Costa Rica — to reinforce the common perception that the Claret-and-Cobalt possesses the deepest roster in the league.
After consolidating its position in the opening stages, RSL grasped the lead with a well-taken set piece on 27 minutes. Ned Grabavoy's stinging drive off the right post set up a sequence that concluded when Chris Schuler capped a powerful near post run by heading home Collen Warner's corner kick for his first MLS goal.
"It feels good to get on the board, definitely," Schuler said. "I'm a bigger guy and it's kind of expected. It's good to come through. I've got to give a shout out to (RSL assistant) C,J. Brown for helping me out a lot after practice working on that. I'm a big guy. I feel that if I don't score a goal every now and then, I'm doing something wrong."
The early goal allowed RSL's makeshift lineup to play from in front and manage the game. Kreis said he and his technical staff reinforced how the group should approach the second half from a mental and tactical standpoint during the halftime interval.
The guidance apparently took hold quickly as RSL scored its second goal two minutes after play resumed. Arturo Alvarez collected the ball on the right side line after the Claret-and-Cobalt harassed the Revs into a turnover at midfield and quickly played the ball back to Warner. The second-year midfielder played Paulo Jr. through to slot home his second goal of the season.
"For some reason, they had a really high line on that (play)," Warner said. "It was a really simple ball, but Paulo did well to stay onside."
RSL retained its shape for the remainder of the contest as New England grew increasingly frustrated with its inability to construct any coherent moves in the attacking third and started to lose its composure. Shalrie Joseph produced the first of three red cards from Jasen Anno by poking his finger into substitute Kyle Beckerman's face with 20 minutes to play, while Pat Phelan picked up the Revolution's second dismissal for his two-footed challenge on Robbie Russell with five minutes to play.
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RSL stand-in captain Will Johnson handed Kreis an unnecessary cause for concern ahead of the Rapids' visit on Wednesday by drawing his second yellow card in the subsequent scrum, but the reduction to ten men did not stop RSL from extending its unbeaten run in MLS to 17 matches (including nine straight results on the road) or Kreis from lauding the way his reserves approached their duties.
"We see them every single day in training," Kreis said. "We have a whole lot of belief in them, but a lot of people don't see those players enough. I think they made a big statement for themselves and for our club tonight."