Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — During most of its existence, Real Salt Lake has not been a very good road team. In fact the word coach Jason Kreis uses to describe his team's road woes is "horrible."
In its first seven seasons, RSL won just 19 road games, an average of just 2.7 per year.
Things are different so far this year. With a win Saturday evening (6:30 p.m. MT, CW30-TV) against Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park, Real can surpass its all-time season average.
In its only two games away from Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL came up with victories, a 3-1 win against the L.A. Galaxy and a 3-2 comeback win at Portland. Kreis hopes it keeps up against the league's top team.
"We've been taking steps in the right direction for a couple of years now," Kreis said. "It used to be three years ago that we were Jekyll and Hyde. We were extremely good at home and we'd go away and we were horrible. We've been bridging that gap every since."
In fact, in three consecutive seasons 2007-09, RSL won as many games each season as it has won already this year before getting four and five the past two years, respectively.
The RSL players know it won't be easy beating Kansas City, which is 5-0 and has allowed just one goal all year.
"We look at it as a big challenge to play away against a team that has really dominated everybody else in the league this year," said Nat Borchers. "I know it's going to be a really tough challenge for us."
Sporting KC is a much better team since moving into its new stadium last year after playing in non-soccer stadiums such as Arrowhead Stadium (1996-2007) and CommunityAmerica Ballpark (2008-10).
"If you look at their record they're a much better team when they play on a soccer field than not," said Kyle Beckerman. "It probably hurt them more to play on a baseball field. We would come in and play one game and get out of there, they had to play there 17 games. Since they've been on a full-size soccer field, they've always been a really tough team."
Aside from the field, RSL must put up with a well-coached team that has dominated every opponent this season.
"They're difficult to play against," Kreis said. "They are a very disruptive team — they put a lot of players in your half of the field and don't allow you to play. That can be difficult for us, because we like to knock the ball around and have possessions for long stretches. Against a team like KC maybe that's not possible."
In allowing just one goal, you'd think goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is doing an outstanding job, but the fact is, he hasn't seen many shots. Kansas City has put together a record streak of 245 minutes without allowing a shot on goal.
A lot of the credit has to go to the starting back four of Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic, the latter who participated at RSL camp a year ago but was allowed to go to KC. Up front, Kansas City has a solid line of Bobby Convey, C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara, who leads the league in shots on goal and is fifth in goals with three.
After Saturday's game, RSL plays at San Jose April 21 and at Dallas April 25 before returning home to play Toronto on April 28.
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