Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
CARSON CITY, Calif. — Three weeks since its last MLS game and 18 days since crashing out of the U.S. Open Cup, a very anxious Real Salt Lake finally steps back on the field Saturday night at Chivas USA.
RSL went into a two-week FIFA break with the best record in Major League Soccer and feeling great about itself, which made the timing of the layoff less than ideal.
"The break was good to get some time off, but at the same time you kind of wish you could keep playing because you feel like you're in good form," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy.
Excluding its stunning U.S. Open Cup ouster to Minnesota, RSL went into the break on a six-game unbeaten streak in league play (4-0-2) dating back to April 21 at San Jose. The consistent form vaulted the club to the top of the MLS heap, and against Chivas it has a chance to avenge one of its rare losses this season.
Back in late March, Chivas USA strolled into Rio Tinto Stadium and stunned a sold-out crowd with a 1-0 victory. It seemed like a fluke at the time, but the Goats have proven themselves to be a quality road team this year with a 3-1-2 record away from the Home Depot Center.
It's at home were Chivas has really struggled with just one win in seven matches.
Since acquiring Danny Califf and Juan Agudelo in a pair of trades on May 17 though, the Goats have suddenly become a much more consistent team. They're 1-0-2 in league play since the trade and won both their U.S. Open cup matches.
"That makes them better both defensively and offensively," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "I think they're going to be a lot tougher than last time."
Even though Real Salt Lake hasn't played a match in nearly three weeks, the players have been plenty busy.
Coach Jason Kreis has worked his non-international players extremely hard the past few weeks to re-focus everyone after the Minnesota debacle.
"I know all the guys that have been here for two-and-a-half weeks that have been training under me are pretty hungry right now. I think they're sick of me. They'd like to get off the training field and onto the game field," said Kreis.
As for the four players away on international duty, they've been busy as well. Alvaro Saborio scored four goals for his native Costa Rica during a pair of World Cup-qualifying matches in the past week. Will Johnson played 90 minutes in both matches for Canada, a win and a draw.
Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman have been away the longest, but even though they've rarely seen the field with the U.S. National Team, by all accounts the training sessions under coach Jurgen Klinsmann were very rigorous.
The grind doesn't stop for the quartet either just because they're home.
Following a bizarre schedule in which it played one league game over a five-week stretch, RSL plays three games over the next eight days. After Saturday's road match, Kreis' team returns home to host the L.A. Galaxy next Wednesday and then San Jose next Saturday.
"Guys need to be ready. Different guys are probably going to be called upon, so everyone needs to be ready starting Saturday when we go on the road and face a hungry Chivas team that's playing better," said Grabavoy.
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