SANDY — Jason Kreis has been a part of MLS as either a player or coach for all 17 seasons of the league's existence, and the Real Salt Lake coach said the excitement of a homer opener never dwindles.
Even though the season officially got underway with last week's dramatic come-from-behind win at defending champion Los Angeles, Kreis said there's something extra special about walking into your stadium for the first time after a long offseason.
"We're obviously very excited to have our home opener this weekend in front of our crowd and against a fantastic opponent in the New York Red Bulls and Thierry Henry," said Kreis. "It should be a fantastic occasion."
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, with the match also being televised on Ch. 4.
Thanks to one of RSL's celebrity fans, there's a very unique buzz about the home opener from players and fans alike. Branden Steineckert, the drummer from Rancid, wrote an RSL anthem in the offseason called "Believe."
The video has been viewed over 58,000 times on You Tube. If it catches on tonight at Rio Tinto Stadium like so many expect, it could become the club's unofficial anthem with fans singing and chanting like a European crowd.
"We're all hopeful that the crowd is going to be there early and signing that song and give us something real special to come out to, 'cause it's always an emotional moment to come out for the first game of a new season," said Kreis.
Realistically, the players don't need anything extra to get fired up for the match. A week after playing the team with the highest payroll in MLS, Real Salt Lake faces a New York team with the second-highest payroll.
Unlike the Galaxy though, a high payroll hasn't translated into success for New York as it finished fifth in the East last year. Last week the Red Bulls opened the season with a 2-1 loss at Dallas, and it doesn't get any easier at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"One of the most interesting things about playing in L.A. or playing in New York, it's not just their 11 vs. our 11, it's our philosophy vs. their philosophy. That's what I think is really interesting," said Kreis. "They've built their teams exactly the opposite way that we've built our team. I think it's a little bit extra motivation for me and hopefully for the players. This is a chance for us to put our flag in the ground and say we're doing it the right way."
RSL lost an uncharacteristic three games at home last year, and being mindful of New York's counter-attack will be key to avoiding a loss in the opener.
Even though New York has had plenty of roster turnover through the years, RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said there's no shortage of talent up top for the Red Bulls with the likes of Henry, Kenny Cooper, Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere.
"Those teams can be dangerous 'cause you can control the game, control the game, control the game, and they make something out of nothing. We need to be careful of that 'cause they may let us possess the ball a little bit, but when it turns over we've got to be weary of where a couple of those guys are in the attack," said Grabavoy.
New York midfielder Rafael Marquez is unavailable as he serves the final game of a three-game suspension stemming from last year's playoff scuffle with Los Angeles.
RSL will be without Will Johnson who continues to recover from sports hernia surgery, while Tony Beltran is most likely out as well after picking up a slight knee injury in the opener.
Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales, who came off the bench for the final 23 minutes in Los Angeles, could be in line for more minutes according to Kreis as they continue to work their way back to full fitness after offseason surgeries.
RSL vs. Red Bulls
Today, 8 p.m.
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