SANDY — Following Real Salt Lake's first practice of the year in late-January, Will Johnson was asked what it was going to take to dethrone the L.A. Galaxy's two-year Supporters Shield run. His answer was pretty simple.
"The one thing they've done better than anyone else is win road games. They find ways to grind out games on the road," said Johnson.
Los Angeles isn't doing that this year, and it's no coincidence the defending MLS Cup champs find themselves 12 points behind the Western Conference leaders.
RSL, meanwhile, has been decent on the road with a 2-2-1 record, grinding out a 1-1 draw in Dallas in its most recent jaunt away from Rio Tinto Stadium.
With a third of the season nearly in the books, Real Salt Lake finds itself tied with San Jose for the best record in MLS and is very much in the Supporters Shield race. If RSL expects to stay in the hunt over the final two-thirds of the season, continued success on the road is vital.
That certainly won't be easy this week.
Following its 2-1 victory over New England last Saturday, Real Salt Lake hits the road for a pair of games this week, beginning tonight in Chicago and concluding Saturday night in Seattle. The Fire are 2-1-1 over their last four matches, while Seattle has won four straight.
Both will be difficult tests, and against Chicago, RSL coach Jason Kreis' squad won't be close to full strength.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando didn't travel with the team because of a shoulder injury he sustained last weekend, while Johnson will be unavailable as he serves a one-game red-card suspension.
"We're going to leave (Rimando) back here and get him some treatment, and the thought is he should be ready for Saturday," Kreis told the team website on Monday. "A player that has really deserved an opportunity is going to get one this week in Kyle Reynish. I had been looking for a chance to get him a game."
Reynish has been a back-up 'keeper with RSL since 2007, but he's only started four career MLS games — and only one last year. He might be one of several players who crack the Starting 11 in Chicago after watching most of last week's New England win from the bench.
Heading into the middle game of yet another three-game, eight-day stretch, Kreis acknowledges that some lineup shuffling might be necessary.
"I am considering some rotation. I do think that playing three games is very difficult on the players. We did it last week and I think we did pretty well," said Kreis. "Towards the end of that third match, we had some guys that were really dying, but we also have some other players that have contributed and need the opportunity."
Regardless of who starts, a low-scoring affair is very likely. In seven all-time meetings between these teams at Toyota Park, they've combined to score just five goals. Four of the games have been 0-0 draws, including last year's June match.
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