Real Salt Lake looks to avoid letdown against Chivas USA

Published: Friday, March 23 2012 6:50 p.m. MDT

Head coach Jason Kreis of Real Salt Lake honors the flag with his team prior to their matchup against the New York Red Bulls during the home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Saturday, March 17, 2012. RSL defeated the Red Bulls, 2-0.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SANDY — Just two weeks into the MLS campaign, Chivas USA is the only team in the Western Conference without a goal or a point in the standings. Most figured the Goats would struggle, and an 0-2 start doesn't bode well for proving people wrong in the remaining 32 games.

It would be easy for Real Salt Lake to get caught looking past Chivas USA today, but the players and coaches are saying and doing all the right things to avoid a letdown.

"The fact they've lost two games at home and now they go on the road, I think that always makes a team a little bit dangerous. They come in with the mindset of maybe they don't have much to lose," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy.

Beating Real Salt Lake will be a tall order at Rio Tinto Stadium this Saturday at 7 p.m. RSL is 2-0 with a plus-four goal differential, and dominated Los Angeles and New York to earn those two victories.

Fabian Espindola has scored a goal in both games and is playing great, while reserves like Chris Schuler, Luis Gil and Paulo Jr. have been excellent the first two weeks. With the potential return of Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio to the starting 11, there will be no shortage of motivation regardless of the opponent.

As for the potential extra motivation for Morales as he faces the team that broke his ankle last season, Kreis deflected that notion immediately.

"I think we need to move past it. Not think about it. Not talk about it," said Kreis.

Like he's been all preseason, RSL's coach is honed in completely on his team.

"We avoid a letdown by focusing on ourselves and continuing to harp away at the same message as the first two weeks; it's not so much about the opponents right now, it's about us," said Kreis.

The formula has been pretty successful the first two weekends, but no one is content. Even in the locker room after the New York victory, Grabavoy said the players were more interested in talking about the struggles of the final 30 minutes than the dominance in the opening hour that led to the 2-0 lead.

"I feel like we did a lot of good things in both games, but I feel like we're probably our toughest critics though," said Grabavoy.

Real Salt Lake is one of five teams along with Colorado, Vancouver, Houston and Kansas City with the maximum six points in the standings. RSL's best-ever season start was last year when it opened with a 4-0-0 record in league play.

A Chivas team that's led by former RSL assistant coach Robin Fraser and former reserves Rauwshan McKenzie and Tim Melia will be hungry to spoil those aspirations.

"We know the quality they have and how dangerous they can be, and they're going to be giving a maximum effort for sure after a couple tough results," said RSL defender Chris Wingert.

Both Chivas losses this year were 1-0 setbacks at home, with Houston scoring the winner in the 90th minute and Vancouver scoring in the 68th minute last week.

RSL would prefer not to wait until the second half to break down the Goats' defense. Grabavoy said one of the keys to that in every game is simplicity at the back.

"Sometimes I honestly feel we're at our best when our back 6, 7 guys do their job and they don't try and do anything spectacular in the back two-thirds of the field. (That) is when we find space for our front three, front four, to make some magic and to take guys on one-v-one, to combine and look to goal a little bit," said Grabavoy.

"We've done pretty well with that in my mind in first few games of keeping it somewhat simple in possession in our back two-thirds, but in the final third showing a little flair."

email: jedward@desnews.com

TWITTER: @DesNewsReal

Chivas USA at RSL

Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV: Ch. 30

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