SANDY — Just a few days removed from the most convincing first-leg victory in league history, there's quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding Real Salt Lake as it prepares for Wednesday's second leg in Seattle. It has everything to do with health of its center backs.
With Nat Borchers' injury being reclassified as a quad strain and not a knee strain, he and Jamison Olave's quadriceps will be the two most watched muscles in MLS over the next two days.
"Both of them are still questionable," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "We'll make decisions as we get closer to the match."
RSL left for Seattle on Monday and will hold what figures to be a relatively light training session today. The coaching staff will probably re-evaluate Borchers and Olave on Wednesday afternoon to determine their status for the Wednesday night kickoff at 8 p.m. (MDT).
Teams aren't required to announce their lineups until an hour before kickoff. So for all those RSL fans desperate to know the status of "Bor-Lave," you probably won't get your answer until 7 p.m. (MDT).
Borchers isn't sure how the injury will respond to treatment over the next two days, but he's more encouraged today than he was Saturday night after leaving the match in the 84th minute.
"I feel better. On Saturday night I was thinking, 'Wow, there's no chance for me next week.' Sunday I got some ice on my leg, got it elevated, got it taken care of. I'm feeling better. It's just one of those things we'll have to see how I feel tomorrow at training," said Borchers.
The decision about whether to start Borchers and Olave certainly has some gray areas to it.
With a 3-0 lead after Game 1, Real Salt Lake has put itself in a great position to advance. Even a 2-0 loss at Seattle would be good enough. If RSL prevails, it has a very short turnaround to the Western Conference Championship on Sunday.
No lead is safe in MLS, but with as much as Kreis raves about the depth of his team, you can bet there's temptation to rest Borchers and Olave regardless of their status to ensure they're both close to 100 percent for Sunday's likely match.
As expected, though, Kreis doesn't want to publicly admit considering that an option.
"I don't think we're in a position to do that. We're taking nothing for granted, making no assumptions about this game, and so we'll play our longest lineup possible and hopefully get the result we need," said Kreis.
If neither can go, the coaching staff has a few options. Chris Schuler would be one of the obvious starters. He's had plenty of experience this year starting 16 matches, and he replaced Olave in the 32nd minute last Saturday when Olave's injury forced him to leave the match.
RSL's only other natural center back on the team is Rauwshan McKenzie, 24, who has only started two matches this year. The coaching staff has seemed reluctant to start McKenzie during other situations this year, and that may be the case again this week.4 comments on this story
Another option would be to start Chris Wingert at center back. He slid over into that spot for the final minutes of last Saturday's match when Borchers left in the 84th minute, and he started several games in the middle during his Colorado Rapids playing days.
"I have to be ready for anything. I'll have to be prepared to play in the center or outside," said Wingert. "The positioning is different, the timing is a little bit different and my mentality will have to be a little different in the way I play, but I've played there before, not a lot recently."