As daunting as it may seem, Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers can't wait to get this week's Eastern Conference double-dip underway.
"We've been at home long enough. I think we're ready to be on the road and start getting some points on the road," said Borchers.
The circumstances are less than ideal for the difficult road swing in Columbus tonight and Philadelphia on Saturday. National team call-ups and injuries continue to limit the players available for selection, and RSL coach Jason Kreis admits he isn't quite sure the best way to approach things.
During its busy schedule last fall and this spring while juggling league play and the Champions League, Real Salt Lake was deep enough to field nearly two completely different lineups when playing twice in four nights.
With only 17 field players available this week — and several of them vastly inexperienced — Kreis' lineup options are slim. He might be forced to start most players both games.
"I think it's very feasible, and I think they're capable of it. These guys are extremely fit, we know that. They're also extremely resilient. Maybe they play a few more games this month, and maybe we'll look for rest for them down the road," said Kreis.
With six league games and one U.S. Open Cup match this month, June could end up being the busiest stretch of the season. RSL figures to be without Alvaro Saborio, Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez for at least two more matches because of the Gold Cup, and potentially longer if their respective National Teams are successful.
Nobody seems to be complaining internally about the absences.
"It's going to be important for those guys on the bench to step up. They've been asked to do that in the past, so I think it's going to be even more important this month," said Borchers.
Those reserves played a key role in last week's 2-0 victory over Vancouver, a result that seems to have lifted the spirits of the entire team following a 1-3-2 combined record in its previous six matches.
"I feel a breath of fresh air in the team. … I'm hopeful that we can turn what was a very positive match on Saturday into a couple of positive matches in a row," said Kreis.
Getting a result in Columbus has never been easy for Real Salt Lake. Even though its 3-2 victory at Crew Stadium in the 2009 playoffs is regarded as one of the best wins in team history, RSL's all-time record in Columbus in the regular season is 1-5.
That lopsided tally could change tonight though. Columbus hasn't won since April 30, and even though it's coming off a tie at New York last weekend, inconsistency has been an issue for the Crew all year. That's not a good sign going up against the stingiest defense in MLS, which has only conceded four goals in 10 games this season.
There's no sign of the RSL defense letting up either, as all of the injuries and call-ups have been to attacking players.
Even those replacement players are feeling good about themselves after running circles through and around Vancouver's porous team defense last week.
"There were times in that game against Vancouver we did play well and we showed we're still hungry and we can still play that brand of soccer we like to play, something to build on for these next two road games," said Borchers.1 comment on this story
This will actually be the third meeting between RSL and Columbus this season, having previously met in a home-and-home Champions League quarterfinal series. After a 0-0 draw in Columbus in the first leg, RSL trounced the Crew 4-1 in the second leg.
Kreis doesn't expect Columbus to take the field with vengeance.
"They know they played a lot of players that were fresh and new and young and inexperienced, and they kind of had to scrap things together to even put out a starting lineup against us," said Kreis. "So I don't think they're going to feel any angst or there's going to be too many players out there without something to prove."