SANDY — This weekend Major League Soccer is doing something fans have been begging for for years — it's shutting things down so MLS teams don't have to play meaningful September matches shorthanded during a FIFA international weekend.
The shutdown is in effect everywhere but Utah, though.
Real Salt Lake hosts Philadelphia tonight at 7 in a match that was originally scheduled for April but was pushed back so RSL could focus on the CONCACAF Champions League.
Nobody is complaining about the schedule change because it was advantageous five months ago, but RSL is sure paying the price this weekend.
Already missing four players to injuries and Nat Borchers to a red-card suspension, Real Salt Lake will be without four additional players tonight who are on international duty.
"We make do with what we have. We know we're a thoroughly depleted side, but we also think we're a thoroughly deep side," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "We have a lot of faith in our guys and believe in anybody on our roster to step in and do the job. Some guys are going to get an opportunity, but it's not like they haven't had opportunities before this season."
RSL hosts Philadelphia with only 15 available field players, which includes Ned Grabavoy, who is still questionable.
In MLS where injuries are a huge part of the game, nobody wants to hear excuses, which is why RSL isn't giving them.
"This is one of those games in hand and we have to take full advantage of it," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Real Salt Lake still sits in fifth place in the Western Conference, but it's played two fewer games than first-place L.A., three fewer than second-place Seattle and third-place Dallas and four fewer than fourth-place Colorado. Securing the full three points against the Union would be huge for RSL as it tries to climb into the Western Conference top three to avoid playing in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
Philadelphia comes into the match rejuvenated after two weeks rest and almost at full strength, with the exception of suspended defender Carlos Valdes.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia was the top team in the East, but it has tumbled down the standings as of late. After starting the year 6-3-2, they've won just twice since May 28 and are 0-2-3 since July 17.
A familiar face could be in the line-up for Philadelphia tonight.
Freddy Adu, who spent half a season with RSL in 2007 before moving overseas, returned to MLS last month and has appeared in two games with Philadelphia since his return.
"He's an extremely talented player, he's able to break players down one on one, he's able to make plays in the attacking third of the field," said Kreis.1 comment on this story
Kreis played briefly with Adu in 2007 before retiring to take over as coach, and he can't imagine that RSL fans have any ill feelings toward the former phenom.
"He left on very good terms. He snapped up an opportunity to go play first division in Portugal and I don't think anybody can hold that against him," said Kreis, who said RSL used the transfer fee and allocation money from the Adu departure to begin to rebuild the team.
After tonight, RSL plays six of its final nine regular season games on the road.