LEHI — When the 2011 MLS schedule was released several months ago, this Saturday's clash at Rio Tinto Stadium between Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles was a game fans across the country had circled on their calendars — and for good reason.
Not only was it a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup, but it's an early-season clash of arguably the two best teams in the league.
Unfortunately for fans, the two best teams won't necessarily be on display this weekend.
For whatever reason, the league scheduled one of its true marquee matches on a FIFA friendly date. What does it mean for fans? It means that L.A. star Landon Donovan will be on the East Coast with the U.S. National Team. It also means that Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio, Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez will be away with their respective national teams.
It's like the NBA scheduling a Heat-Lakers game on a date it knew Lebron James and Kobe Bryant wouldn't be available.
"I think it's going to be an adjustment for both teams, but it's fair. We're just going to have to make due," said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
But why should the two best teams be forced to make due in such a big game?
As expected, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis refuses to view the absences as a negative.
"I'm not somebody who buys into the whole big-name player thing. I guess I look at it and say it's always the teams that people should be coming to watch, it's never the individual players," said Kreis. "For me, it's just an opportunity for some other players on our team to make huge steps forward and make huge contributions in front of what should be a fantastic crowd and an international television audience."
RSL's level of play shouldn't drop off much at all, with Williams and Paulo Jr. expected to start in place of Johnson and Saborio.
For Johnson, he's disappointed to be missing the match but understands the situation.
"We already have games on Wednesday nights, and we have three games in a week. It's one of those things you pick your poison. With the Gold Cup this summer and World Cup qualifiers, playing on a friendly date probably makes since. There's only so many weeks in the season," said Johnson.
"(MLS) is not naive about the international calender and FIFA. They're definitely aware of it and trying to do the best they can. So I'm not frustrated with them."
REYNISH READY: Nick Rimando, the hero of last weekend's season-opening victory at San Jose, is questionable this weekend with a bone spur in his ankle.
He'll eventually need minor surgery that will keep him out for two weeks, but for the time being, he's hoping to tolerate the pain to be available for Real Salt Lake's numerous important matches in the coming month.
If he's unable to go Saturday, backup keeper Kyle Reynish will be ready.
"You try and be little more focused. But knowing the nature of that position, you always gotta be ready in case it happens in the first minute or if you get a few days' heads up," said Reynish. "I'll be ready like I always am. You always hope Nick's OK, but if he's not, I look forward to any opportunity I can get."
Reynish participated in six matches over all competitions last year, recording a 1-1-4 record along the way.
INTERNATIONAL TV: Saturday's match won't be broadcast locally, but it will be carried on the Galaxy's regional TV partner, Prime Ticket. Fifty-eight countries receive Prime Ticket, including France, United Kingdom, Brazil and Spain.
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