SANDY — Coming off a relatively relaxing Memorial Day in which Real Salt Lake's players went through a light training session before getting the rest of the holiday off, they should be recharged from Saturday's thrilling win over FC Dallas to take on Minnesota Stars FC in tonight's U.S. Open Cup third-round match.
It sure beats the alternative.
Had things unfolded as originally scheduled, Minnesota would be hosting Tuesday's match and RSL would've spent the past two nights in a hotel instead of relaxing at home. Plus, getting roughly 30 people to Minnesota last minute on Memorial Day weekend was going to be a disaster according to coach Jason Kreis, something he was really dreading.
Instead, RSL management worked out a deal with Minnesota for the right to host Tuesday's match, which kicks off at Rio Tinto Stadium at 7 p.m.
"Extremely pleased that our ownership and our management stepped forward to make that happen for us. With this break, we need games. It's an opportunity for us to win this first round and get ourselves another game to keep ourselves in the flow," said Kreis.
If Real Salt Lake takes care of business against lower-division Minnesota, it would advance to the fourth round next Tuesday against the winner of San Jose and lower-division Fort Lauderdale.
First things first though.
"The club has made efforts to make sure this game is at home so we have to pick up our end of the deal and make sure we get the job done," said Nat Borchers
RSL's all-time record in Open Cup competition is 5-7, but it's 2-1 against lower division teams. In Minnesota, Real Salt Lake is facing arguably the best team in the North American Soccer League.
Not only are the Stars the defending NASL champions, but they're also the only unbeaten team in the league this year at 4-0-4.
"You can expect a very organized and disciplined team. … This is the best lower-division team in the country that we're facing so it's a stiff challenge," said Kreis.
The only tournament Kreis won as a player was the U.S. Open Cup, so it means something special to him and he's committed to trying to win the 2012 tourney this summer. RSL would only need to win five games to do so, and along with it comes a berth in the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League.
Kreis plans on putting his best available lineup on the field. However, with Alvaro Saborio, Nick Rimando, Will Johnson and Kyle Beckerman away on national team duty, and Javier Morales and Chris Wingert a question mark as they recover from injury, RSL certainly won't be at full strength.
"I wouldn't say it's a concern, I think it's just an opportunity for other guys to step in and play a game at home and show what they can do to people outside of the locker room 'cause we all know what they're capable of," said Tony Beltran.
Beltran said the toughest aspect of playing lower-division teams isn't motivation, but rather the unfamiliarity of the players. Even though MLS players are generally better, RSL has seen those players numerous times and knows what to expect. That isn't the case against the Stars, whose players will be hungry to prove themselves on a bigger stage
"These guys want to play in our league, these guys want to show they're good enough to be here. Pressure's on us, we're the ones who have to play our game and play well and get the result," said Borchers.